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Updated Mar 23, 2012 - 9:22 pm

Chipper Jones leaves behind quite a legacy

It’s with a heavy heart that I will say goodbye to my muse
after the conclusion of the baseball season.

Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones announced his
retirement Thursday, effective at the end of the 2012
baseball season, marking the end of a truly remarkable
era.

Chipper Jones, as a former teammate said Thursday, is the
face of the Atlanta Braves. And he is truly the epitome
of a franchise player. As he enters his 19th season in the
Major Leagues — all with the Braves– Jones exemplifies
what it means to be a winner, a champion. As a lifelong
fan and supporter, it is fitting for me to pay homage to
his exceptional legacy and the indelible mark he’s left on
the game of baseball.

I was one of the many legions of Braves fans that didn’t
grow up in the state of Georgia. Instead I watched every
game on TBS with my beloved grandmother back in the day
when the station carried the broadcasts. My love and
passion for baseball stemmed from the many nights I
watched Chipper Jones man third base so effortlessly for
the Atlanta Braves.

He was an All-American boy-next-door from DeLand, Florida,
drafted by the Braves with the first overall selection in
the 1990 draft. Then-general manager Bobby Cox chose
Chipper over the popular choice, pitcher Todd Van Poppel.
From that day forward, Cox and Jones forged a father-son
like bond that remains intact today.

Chipper joined a Braves dynasty already in the making.
Atlanta had already won two division titles from 1991-92
before Jones made his Major League debut on September 11,
1993. But due to a season-ending knee injury in 1994,
Chipper didn’t start for the Braves until 1995.

Instantly, he won the hearts of the Braves faithful. His
larger-than-life persona, infectious personality and sweet
stroke at the plate caused swarms of admirers to laud him
at ballparks around the league. He also elicited boos and
chants of ‘Laaa-ry’ by impassioned, rival fans (most
notably those in Queens) whose teams were tortured by his
bat.

Whether you loved him — or loved to hate him– Chipper
was a relatable hero. He wasn’t flashy, pompous or
outspoken, but he did exude an unshakable confidence that
resulted in one of the most impressive rookie seasons in
recent memory.

Though Jones narrowly lost the 1995 Rookie of the Year
Award to Los Angeles Dodgers pitching phenom Hideo Nomo,
he did accomplish something other Braves icons Tom
Glavine, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and David Justice failed
to do in the years that preceded him: He helped lead the
Braves to their first — and only — World Series
championship in 1995.

From there, Chipper’s career was off and running. He
played an instrumental role in helping the Braves extend
their division title streak to an unprecedented 14
straight victories. The Braves dynasty and Jones’ part in
it helped to define an era of baseball in a positive,
profound way that was otherwise marred by controversy.

Chipper was the exception — not the norm — for
superstars in his day. He played the game cleanly and
consistently in an era where performance-enhancing drugs
and steroids were prevalent. Jones was never a subject of
suspicion and his statistics and records were never called
into question. Not many players can say they impacted a
franchise and a sport the way Chipper Jones has. His 18
years with the same team leads all active major league
players. The Yankees’ Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera rank
second with 17 years.

The next stop in his illustrious career will be
Cooperstown. Jones is, without question, a Hall of Famer –
– arguably a first ballot selection. He won the National
League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1999, and was in
the top 10 in the voting five other times. In 2008, he was
crowned the NL Batting Champion with a .364 batting
average. He was selected to seven All-Star games and twice
won the Silver Slugger Award.

Chipper’s career numbers are staggering: .304 BA with 454
home runs, 526 doubles, 1,561 RBIs and 1,455 walks in
2,387 games. Most notably, his 454 home runs rank third
all-time among switch hitters, behind Hall of Famers
Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray.

Chipper’s storied career has been significantly impacted
by numerous injuries in his later years, yet his
dedication to his teammates and the Braves organization
often pushed him to try to play through the pain — no
matter how severe.

As Jones nears his 40th birthday on April 24, age has
finally caught up to a man who never wanted to put a
timetable on his retirement. After watching him struggle
to keep up with the fastballs he’s seen this spring, I
know he is making the right decision. Jones will never
abandon his team or his word. That’s not the kind of man
or teammate he is. That’s not what a winner would do.

But knowing when to walk away, knowing when to hang up
those cleats — takes guts, strength and courage —
qualities Jones has possessed since he ascended to the
Majors as a wide-eyed rookie all those years ago.
Jones was asked in his press conference following the
retirement announcement what he wanted his legacy to be.

“All of us want to be known as a winner,” Jones said. He
then mentioned how he tried to honor both the name on the
front and the name on the back of his uniform. You don’t
find players much classier than that.

Jones doesn’t have to worry about his legacy. He made sure
of that when he decided to retire on his own terms. He was
never the athlete that chased the money and he wasn’t
going to be the one who stayed too long out of greed.

The Braves are working to have Jones re-join the
organization in some capacity. It’s been such a happy
marriage for 23 years, since the day he was drafted, I
can’t imagine #10 being away too long. He’s expressed
interest in becoming a hitting coach someday. For a man
that had mastered the craft, I think it would be an ideal
post-baseball job for him.

Chipper Jones is a champion, on the field and at heart.
Major League Baseball is losing not only a great player,
but also a tremendous teammate and an extraordinary
ambassador for the game. I am thankful I had the privilege
to watch Jones shatter records — along with the hearts of
New York Mets fans in the 1990s– firsthand. His work
ethic, leadership, humility, dedication and passion for
the game inspire me and transcend the sport.

Thank you Chipper, it’s been an unbelievable ride.

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