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August 12, 2010

Chipper Jones...Career Over?

Tuesday night, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones tweaked his left knee fielding a sixth inning grounder against Houston.

Today, he had an MRI...and it's not good.

According to Atlanta's 790 The Zone, the 38 year-old has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season. But let me throw this his career over as well?

If so, we’ve had the honor of watching one of this generation’s best third basemen. And no, Yankees fans…I am not talking about Alex Rodriguez.

Initially a shortstop and occasionally a left fielder…Jones has anchored the hot corner for the Atlanta Braves for more than 80% of the games he’s played. But why doesn’t he get mentioned in the same breath as baseball’s elite?

Here’s a guy who isn’t stuck in a smaller market. Atlanta is on the East coast and TBS (or the Turner Broadcast System to you high brow muckety-mucks) carried “America’s Team” from 1972 until 2007, so obviously Jones got his fair share of exposure.

He hasn’t bounced around from team to team every year a la Matt Stairs or Royce Clayton (both played for close to a dozen teams)…he’s been with ONE team since he was selected with the first overall pick in the 1990 amateur draft.

There is absolutely no need to look at the transaction wire to see where Number 10 is suiting up next.

And arguably, while he his status as one of baseball’s best hitters has dimished slightly (he was batting just .265 with ten bombs this season)…he is possibly the greatest switch hitter the game has ever seen. With all apologies to Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray…it’s Jones who holds the distinction of being the ONLY switch hitter to have a career batting average of .300 (currently .306) and 400 or more home runs.

Add to that the fact that Jones’ 2008 league leading batting average of .364 is only one tick off of Mantle’s season best .365 for a switch hitter and you’ve got more than just a great hitter from both sides of the dish…you’ve got one heck of a ball player.

From 1996 to 2008, Jones has hit .295 or higher in all but one season. Prior to 2009, he had 14 straight seasons with 20 or more home runs and eight straight seasons (nine total) of 100 or more RBI.

And speaking of streaks, Jones also played in an amazing ELEVEN straight post seasons from 1995 to 2005.

Incidentally (perhaps coincidentally), the Braves brought Atlanta their lone World Series championship in Jones’ rookie year, 1995. That post-season, he hit .364 and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Hideo Nomo. As a sidenote, Nomo lost his only start that post-season as the Dodgers were swept by the Reds.

Four seasons later, in 1999, Jones brought home the MVP trophy when he hit .319 with 45 home runs and 110 RBI. He also swiped 25 of 28 bases! And not to sound like a broken record, but in 12 of his 14 seasons…he’s nabbed some MVP votes.

For his career, Jones has belted 436 home runs…third most for a switch hitter behind Mantle (536) and Murray (504). 358 of them coming as a third baseman.

I wrote before that by the end of this season, he’d have easily surpassed 1500 RBI and 2500 hits. Unfortuantely, it might be stuck at 1491 and 2490. His career OPS of .941 is 30th all-time and the only two players ahead of him that are Hall eligible and NOT enshrined are Mark McGwire and Lefty O'Doul.

The six-time All-Star holds most of the ATLANTA Braves team records and is situated alongside Hank Aaron and Mathews atop many of their franchise records. Should he come back, he’ll have eclipsed most of Mathews’ numbers except home runs. It’s safe to say he’ll never touch what “Hammerin’ Hank” did.

That being said…the dude is a lock for Cooperstown. He could retire today and waltz in without any more icing needed for the top of the proverbial Hall of Fame cake.

Hopefully, it'll be on his terms and not because of injury.

BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

Dean Hybl said...

No question Chipper is a Hall of Famer. I think his legacy as an all-time great third baseman is hurt somewhat by his own unselfishness. He made five All-Star appearances during his first seven seasons in the league all playing third base. He moved to the outfield in 2002 and didn't make another All-Star team until 2008. His numbers were elite for a third baseman, but not overwhelming when he played the outfield.