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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ten iconic moments from Chipper Jones' career

On Sept. 13, 1993, Chipper Jones made his major league debut. He entered the game as a ninth-inning defensive replacement for starting shortstop Jeff Blauser in a 13-1 blowout — a forgettable game by most measures. Despite that start, the young third base prospect would soon epitomize consistency within one of the greatest professional sports dynasties ever. Along the way, he became an eight-time all-star, MVP, batting champion and a future hall of famer.

As the 2012 season winds down, Chipper Jones’ 19-year run also comes to an end. While you’ll have to wait a couple days before reading CL’s Chipper Jones cover story, we're taking a look back today at 10 great moments from no. 10’s career with the Atlanta Braves.

1990: Three years before his major-league debut, the Atlanta Braves chose Chipper Jones in the 1990 MLB draft. Leading up to the draft, the organization had briefly considered choosing top pitching prospect Todd Van Poppel. After the Texas pitcher refused to sign with the Braves, the ultimately ended up selecting Jones with the first overall pick.

1993: Two games after his professional debut, Jones notched his first-ever career hit. As former Braves outfielder recalls: "My best memory [of Chipper] was him getting his first base hit. I think I went three-for-four or four-for-four in the game. I drove in like [four] RBIs or something. He had gotten a little dribbler or something, an infield hit for his first major league hit."

1995: Following a season marred by a devastating ACL tear, Chipper Jones returned with a vengeance in 1995, leading all rookies that year in RBIs, runs scored, and plate appearances. While he fell just short of winning the National League Rookie of the Year award, he proved to be a staple of that year’s championship team. It would be his one and only World Series title.

1997: While Jones has done the bulk of his damage as one of the game’s premier switch hitters, he used to steal his fair share of bases. In his third full season, he swiped enough to get his first 20-20 season — a feat that he would accomplish only one more time in his career.

1999: Chipper Jones’ 1999 second-half run was so impressive, just consider this fact: he didn’t make the all-star team that season, yet stormed back to claim his lone National League MVP award. Then-teammate Tom Glavine remembers Jones’ second-half tear: “I’ve played long enough where other guys have gone on tears from time to time, but for that length of time, I can’t think of any off the top of my head and certainly not under those circumstances.”

1999: That season also marked the pinnacle of the Braves-Mets rivalry — a series that has defined Jones’ career. In addition to his dominating hitting, Jones also fired out at Mets fans upon eliminating them from playoff contention, saying that it was time for them to go put on their “Yankee garb.”

2003: One of Jones’ most memorable performances came against the Chicago Cubs in game four of the 2003 NLDS. During the matchup, Jones carried the team with his two home run, four RBI performance. While the Braves would ultimately fall the Cubs in the following game, the series would never have returned to Atlanta if not for Jones’ valiant efforts the day before.

2006: In the middle of the 2006 season, Chipper went on one of his signature tears, getting an extra-base hit in 14 consecutive games — a major league record that still stands today.

2008: At age 36, Jones’ 15th season shouldn’t have been one of his finest. But it was a late-career renaissance as he set a pair of career records — including a .364 batting average and a .470 on-base percentage — on his way to winning his one and only batting title.

2012: No one — not even Chipper — expected his swan song of a season to go this well. Despite early season injuries, he has surpassed nearly all expectations on his farewell tour. His defining 2012 moment came earlier this month against the Phillies, hitting a two-out, three-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth to steal a win from their division rivals. We’ll leave you with Atlanta Braves Radio Network broadcaster Jim Powell’s reflection on that play:

The Braves were losing by four runs in the ninth inning and it was a terrible game. They had no chance to win—it was impossible. I’m broadcasting the game, and we’re counting down how many people we’d need to get on base... you always want to get the tying run to the on-deck circle. The Braves got down to their final strike a couple of times and then they got a couple of guys on, and Prado hits a ball down the third base line that knocks in two. There’s second and third, and all of the sudden Chipper’s at the plate. All you need is a single to tie the game. I’m thinking: get the single and tie the game. Here’s a guy that whenever he wants a single, he goes and gets a single. He can get hit...

Anyway, I’m thinking he’s just going to flare one. The first strike that was thrown to him was belt high, middle in, fastball, and he just threw it right past him, and Chipper had a big cut. I said, “ok, he took one shot at the bomb, now he’ll flare one to left.” But as he said after the game, he was thinking home run. He wanted to win the game right there and he knew because the guy had thrown one fastball past him that, sooner or later, he had decided that this old 40 year old can’t catch up to my heater. Papelbon... I mean it’s a logical conclusion on his part. So he threw one ball, then he came back with a fastball closer to thigh high, middle in. Chipper just absolutely destroyed it, hit it out to right center field, way back in the stands. The hair on my arms went immediately up, the stadium went absolutely bezerk. Some people had left, but there were enough. It was just a great moment, watching him circle the bases. He said afterwards that after he touched third and looked up and saw the team waiting for him at home plate, that it was the first time it occurred to him that it might be his last walk-off home run. That’s the way he’s having to think through the whole season. He comes in they smear mud in his hair and all over his face... It was a game-winning home run, and it goes back to what I said, that whatever he decides he’s going to do out there, he just does. He decided he was going to win the game. And he did.

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