Chipper Jones is the greatest Atlanta Brave of all time.
(Take a moment to let that sink in and formulate your dissenting opinions)
Selected No. 1 overall in the 1990 MLB Draft at the ripe age of 18, Jones has spent his entire 20-year professional baseball career in the Atlanta organization—unlike the seven former Braves whose numbers now reside in the Turner Field plaza.
Loyalty is one thing, but Chipper's numbers ain't bad either.
In the 45-year history of Atlanta Braves baseball, no one has played in more games (2,261), delivered more hits (2,490), hit more home runs (436) or doubles (493), knocked in more runs (1,491) or scored more times (1,505) than Chipper Jones.
And then there's the 2005 offseason, when Jones accepted a self-induced pay cut of about $6 million in order to free up more spending money for the Braves front office to spread around.
As if Chipper's selflessness, statistics and loyalty weren't enough to tab him as the greatest Atlanta Brave of all time, Jones' career time line itself suggests that he is the most vital and influential player in franchise history.
Let's start at the beginning...
June 4, 1990:
The Braves were 46-68 and mired in one of their worst seasons since moving to Atlanta a quarter century earlier—finishing with a league-worst 65-97 record.
Enter a wiry, switch-hitting shortstop from DeLand, Florida, into the Braves minor league system and in less than 16 months, the Braves became the first team in National League history to ascend from last place to first place in the span of just one season.
While Chipper didn't play for the big league club in 1990, it's hardly coincidental that after selecting Jones with the No. 1 overall pick, the Braves would go on to win 14 consecutive division titles.
Fast forward four-and-a-half years.
A 23-year-old Jones had just completed his rookie season in the Majors and sure enough, the Braves were celebrating their first World Series title since moving to Atlanta.
First full season in a Braves uniform for Chipper. First professional championship for the city of Atlanta.
Now, with the previously-announced retirement of Bobby Cox—the only manager Jones has ever played for—set to take effect at the end of the 2010 season, it appears that Chipper may end up following him into the proverbial sunset.
What better way to bookend the most successful 20-year run in Georgia sports history?
Chipper was there at the beginning in 1990, the peak in 1995 and hopefully, the conclusion in 2010.
That last part's left for No. 10 to decide.
As disappointing as it would be for Chipper to end his career due to injury, the thought of Jones, 38, rehabbing for six months in order to hang around and hit .250 in 2011 is downright depressing.
Sure, he'd shown some signs of improvement recently—batting .307 with 7 HR in his last 44 games—but Chipper will be 39 years old next April and would be playing on a left ACL that's been torn twice.
The end has been fast approaching for Chipper over the past six-plus seasons as he has suffered injuries to his oblique, thigh, toe, back, hamstring, finger, groin, ankle and seemingly just about every other body part forcing the third baseman to miss a number of games.
In fact, after averaging 571 at-bats a year from his first full season in 1995 until 2003, Jones has averaged just 446 trips to the plate since 2004 and made six (now seven) trips to the disabled list over that same stretch—compared to zero DL stints during his first nine seasons.
Dwindling production, a serious injury and perfect timing.
If Chipper doesn't call it quits now, will he ever?
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