The MLB playoffs are well underway and lost in the craziness that was the Wild Card games and the two to four games a day stretch that has been the National and American League Divisional Series is the end of the road for one of the games classiest and underrated players, Chipper Jones.
Jones was the first overall pick in the 1990 MLB draft and unlike many prospects who flame out after being picked in the top selections of the draft, Jones delivered every bit of promise throughout his career after making the Braves team in 1993 after a short two season stint in the minors. The resume speaks for itself; a career .303 batting average, one National League MVP, one batting title, 2,727 hits and 468 home runs. Jones is a lock for the hall of fame and will go down as a legend for an Atlanta Braves team that has been a benchmark for consistency in the nearly twenty years Jones has played for the ballclub.
However, Jones has one blemish on his list of accomplishments that holds him back from the upper echelon of great ballplayers, and that is the fact that he has only one World Series ring in his nineteen year run with the Braves. The Atlanta Braves themselves were a model of regular season consistency and post season shortcomings, winning fourteen straight division titles and only one World Series. To put that into perspective, the Braves were one of the eight best teams in baseball for fourteen consecutive years, but only once did they have that extra something that makes a team a champion. It isn’t fair, but if Chipper won two to three more championships with the Braves in that time frame, a lot of writers would have been elevating him up the list of all-time greats upon his retirement at the end of the NL Wild Card Game.
This type of value for rings is a tricky issue that has plagued handfuls of great athletes throughout the years. It is both fair and unfair to value championships when discussing who the best player is in sports. Surely we all know Peyton Manning has been a better quarterback than his little brother Eli, but Eli’s two Super Bowl rings to Peyton’s one has changed the opinion of many in Eli’s favor. Sometimes a player never has the supporting cast to win a title, or falls victim to a run of dominance by a vastly superior opponent as John Stockton and Karl Malone were when they ran into the Houston Rockets and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls squads in the prime of their careers, both teams preventing them from getting their hands on that elusive championship.
The point is, if you are truly one of the best it is painfully clear with or without being on the best team. Especially in the case of Chipper Jones. His consistency combined with the pitching of his Hall of Fame teammates in Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine led the Atlanta Braves to fourteen straight NL East titles. In a 162 game season the consistency that Jones brought to third base year in and year out was as valuable as any of his contemporaries with more postseason success.
Jones might only have the 1995 championship win over the Cleveland Indians as his postseason peak, he may not have 3, 000 hits, 500 home runs, or any of the cliched measures of an “automatic Hall of Famer” that fill baseball. But there is a reason that usually one quarter to half empty Turner Field was filled for the last two weeks of Jones’ last season, and that when the final out was put on his career, not one person has questioned that Jones will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible. That is because in an era where steroids and HGH allowed for flash in the pan players to put up big numbers fast and fade into the spotlight, Jones year in and year out gave you exactly what you expected from him. At the end of the day people are going to remember the Atlanta Braves of the 90s and the 00s for fourteen straight NL East titles, Bobby Cox in the bullpen, Greg Maddux on the mound, and Chipper Jones playing third base, and isn’t that type of legacy that makes a player great? Goodbye Chipper, baseball is going to miss players like you.