Atlanta Braves Retire Chipper Jones’ #10
ATLANTA — Tom Glavine admits he was skeptical when he heard the talk about the wiry switch-hitter the Braves had taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 draft. The belief was the kid would make a major and immediate impact.
“It’s kind of that ‘OK, we’ll see when he gets here,’ kind of thing,” he said.
Chipper Jones more than proved he belong, spending an entire 19-year career in Atlanta that reached its pinnacle Friday night. His No. 10 was retired, added along the facade on the third base line with his former teammates, Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, and manager Bobby Cox.
“It still doesn’t seem real,” Jones said. “I play baseball. It’s not like I cure cancer or anything. It’s almost embarrassing to be getting all this attention, all the accolades and whatnot. It’s so humbling.”
Jones sat on a stage behind the Turner Field mound before the night’s game against the Diamondbacks joined by his family, current second baseman Dan Uggla and an assortment of luminaries from the franchise’s past. It was a moment, he said, that makes “the hair on the back of your neck stand up. You get chill bump.” Three oversized baseballs bearing his number were on the stage, while a massive No. 10 was mowed into the centerfield grass behind them.
“He’s a winner. He’s a champion and few players have ever made such a profound impact on one franchise,” team president John Schuerholz said.
Jones took the podium, and in a speech in which he thanked his parents, sons and former teammates, he also mentioned a long-forgotten player that would ultimately paved the way for Chipper to become synonymous with the franchise.
“I want to thank Todd Van Poppel tonight,” Jones said, laughing.
It was Van Poppel whom the Braves wanted to take with the top pick in ’90. Cox, then the general manager, had spent a weekend in Texas trying to convince the high-schooler to sign. But Van Poppel was adamant that he would not become a Brave and if they took him he would instead go to college and play for the Longhorns. Atlanta was instead forced to go with Plan B.
They went with Larry Wayne Jones Jr., a shortstop out of Bolles High School in Jacksonville, and the results, by every measurable standard, are the stuff of Cooperstown.
“He was born to play the game,” said Atlanta pitcher Tim Hudson. “He was born to hit. His career showed it.”
Jones was the 1999 National League MVP, an eight-time All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner and the only switch hitter in history to own a career average over .300 (.303) and hit at least 300 home runs (468). He has more RBI than any other third basemen in the history of the game.
His OPS of .903 is the highest of any Braves player, 0.0019 points better than Hank Aaron and 0.0881 higher than Dale Murphy.
“You lived it for two years, but then you see John Schuerholz talking about passing Lou Gehrig (on the all-time hits list) and all the great third basemen,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was with Jones in his final seasons. “And you don’t realize all the great stuff that he’s done and who he’s passed. You can sit there and 10-12 years down the road and tell your grandkids, ‘This guy played for me for two years.'”
Jones won’t appear on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot until 2018, an honor Glavine and Maddux are eligible for next year and Smoltz in ’15. It was those players, along with Cox, who Jones could one day be enshrined alongside that he says set the standard for him.
“I watched greatness,” Jones said. “The four guys that are up on that side with me (Cox, Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz), I watched them. I knew what greatness was all about and those guys were truly great and they helped me be great at times and I’m extremely thankful for them.”
These days, Jones spends his time hunting and tweeting — he said of his 300,000-plus followers, “it seemed like 100,000 of them were coming to the game (tonight)” — but he and baseball aren’t through. They’re simply taking a break as he waits to rekindle the flame.
“I think it will come back,” he said. “I’m not in a hurry. When it does come back, I’ll make a phone call and say I’m ready to do this or that and hopefully there’s a spot for me somewhere.”
Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” Jones’ longtime walk-up music, blared as Jones was driven around the filed, sitting on the back of a white Camaro as he waved to the fans. The car passed the just-unveiled No. 10 sign and above it, the section of fans all held aloft white signs emblazoned with his number.
He had been away for months and the Braves have moved on. His old spot in the lineup now belongs to Chris Johnson and he’s no longer the face of the franchise. But this was a moment that seemed to signify the official end of an era as the team honored the last major piece of its run of 14 straight division titles and 1995 World Series title.
“After Chipper you’ve got to look around now and you wonder when the next one’s going to be,” Glavine said. “It might be a while.”