Chipper Jones announced that he will retire at the end of the 2012 season. Throughout the course of his 18, now going on 19, year career, Chipper has been the embodiment of the American ballplayer. He seems to have been pulled straight out of baseball from a bygone era, when players truly had loyalty to a franchise, and all it encompassed. An era when players were loyal to their teammates and did whatever they could to help the team win. An era when the brightest stars in the game were poignant, polite, and for the most part clean. Chipper Jones has represented the Atlanta Braves organization with hard work, class, and dignity and in my mind is a first-ballot, no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer.
Chipper was drafted 1st overall in 1990 by the Atlanta Braves, straight out of high school, the organization became his home. This will be his 22nd year with the organization, and one can easily imagine him getting a post-retirement position on the club. He would seem to be well-suited to the role of hitting coach, as he has been a fantastic batsman, with a world-class batting eye. Chipper Jones is one of 2 active players along with Albert Pujols to have slugged over 400 homers while walking more than he has struck out. His career average is .304 and he has a sublime career OPS+ of 141. In his MVP season he hit .319/.441/.633 with 45 homers, 110 RBI, and 25 steals.
Chipper has always been, in my mind, an above average defender at one of the more demanding positions on the field. When he was younger in his career he was particularly adept at taking away the bunt from opposing teams because he possessed a strong arm. Chipper has also always possessed world-class hand quickness which allowed him to be particularly adept at snagging sharp smashes down the line. Chipper moved positions, to leftfield, when he was asked by Bobby Cox to do so and he did without argument, although he wasn’t always graceful in playing the position.
His career accomplishments put him in the top 30 players of all time based on offensive Wins Above Replacement, sitting just behind contemporary Derek Jeter, with 84.9. Only three 3rd basemen rank above Jones in oWAR, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, and Alex Rodriguez. Chipper is easily one of five best to ever play the hot corner and he is rarely talked about in that fashion. He has only won a single World Series and has only two top-5 finishes, which does cast him as a player who never truly dominated the game. He was foiled twice by the Yankees, in 1996 and 1999, to win a second World Series. But he was remarkably consistent (examples: from 1998-2003 he hit over .300, he has never posted below 2 wins above replacement, and from 1996 to 2003 he played in at least 150 games), and was a modern day pariah for loyalty to the team that drafted you.
Chipper Jones should immediately be elected into the Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible. He was one of baseball’s outstanding, clean characters during the steroid era. He is one of the few players to remain with one franchise for over 15 years in the entirety of sport. Chipper was always considered a great teammate and a great leader by his long-time manager Bobby Cox. If you get a chance to catch him one last time during the 2012 season, I suggest go, because they don’t make ‘em like Chipper very often anymore.