Life without Chipper Jones seems unimaginable. The Hall-of-Fame bound third baseman — who has manned the hot corner at Turner Field for nearly two decades — isn't just an Atlanta Brave. He defines the Atlanta Braves.
For all intents and purposes, the player and the team are one in the same. As one rival player succinctly stated to CL for this piece, "If you think of the Atlanta Braves, you think of Chipper Jones." For nearly two decades, that couldn't be more accurate.
Life without the face of the Braves' franchise, however, remains inevitable. Sometime during the next month — depending on the length of their playoff run — Larry Wayne Jones Jr., will play his last game as the Atlanta Braves' third baseman. After 19 years in the majors, number 10 will hang up his jersey entirely on his own terms.
As an integral part of the Braves' dynasty, Jones helped lead the organization to the 1995 World Series title and 11 straight division titles from 1995-2005. Along the way, Jones earned numerous accolades for his performance — eight All-Star appearances, two Silver Slugger honors, the NL MVP award in 1999 and the NL batting title in 2008 — as well as compiled his fair share of extraordinary numbers [see By the Numbers sidebar].
CL talked to more than 20 people — including his friends, current teammates, former peers, coaches, front office members, broadcasters, writers, and opposing players — who helped piece together an oral history depicting the life and times of Chipper Jones. While individuals have varying perspectives, they all agreed with an unwavering conviction that when Chipper retires, he leaves behind a void that few, if any, will ever fill.
Draft and Minors
John Schuerholz (Braves General Manager, 1990-2007; President, 2007-Present): When I first joined the organization, he had already been drafted prior to me getting here ... Bobby, Paul Snyder, and other scouts, Tony DeMacio, had seen a lot of him and liked everything they saw about him.
Tony DeMacio (Braves Director of Scouting, 2009-Present; scout that signed Jones in 1990): The first time I went to see him it was at Bolles [School] where he played. You could see he was a gifted athlete, first of all. He made things look easy on the field.
B.B. Abbott (agent and longtime friend): He always played up. When I say that, as an eight-year-old he played with 10-year-olds, as a 10-year-old he played with 12-year-olds. As an eighth-grader in high school ... he played with varsity guys.
Tom Glavine (Braves Starting Pitcher, 1987-2002, 2008; FOX Sports South and SportSouth broadcaster): The first time I remember any recollection of Chipper was when that draft approached that year. It was him and Todd Van Poppel on a lot of people's lists. We had heard that [Van Poppel] wasn't going to sign with the Braves if they drafted him. Then Chipper was next in line.
Todd Van Poppel (Pitcher 1991-2004; picked No. 14 in the 1990 MLB draft): I played in the Mickey Mantle World Series, the Connie Mack World Series. I wanted to go play in the Olympics; I wanted to go play in the College World Series, and someday the World Series. I wanted to go to college and do the college thing. I was going to school.
I was pretty much dead set on that. [Following the draft], the A's came in and made me realize my ultimate goal, at the time, was to play major league baseball ... It really had nothing to do with telling [the Braves] no, because as far as that goes, I told everybody no.
B.B. Abbott: Bobby Cox has said it the best. When he came into see him there were some thoughts that maybe he wasn't tough because he was at a private school and maybe he wasn't ready. But I think he answered all of those questions his senior year.
John Schuerholz: Bobby said to me that it was never a matter of wondering who we were going to pick, we were certain we were going to pick Chipper ... When I saw him, it was easy to see the physical talent.
B.B. Abbott: He hit .220-something his first year ... As an 18-year-old kid, there are very, very few kids who come out and go to the Gulf Coast League and really perform at a high level. So that first half season down there, he really struggled, like most kids do.
Ron Gant (Braves Outfielder, 1987-1993; FOX Sports South/SportSouth Analyst, MLB Network Analyst): It's hard to live up to those expectations. I've seen a lot of top prospects not even make it past AA ... For me, guys like Chipper, you see what they really are, especially those guys who get all the pressure put on them to excel.
B.B. Abbott: At triple-A, everything really came together, and at 21 years old, he's in Richmond and hitting over .300, stealing over 20 bases, a ton of doubles, a ton of home runs. I think at that point, they made the switch to third base.
John Smoltz (Braves Pitcher, 1988-2008; MLB Network Analyst): [Chipper was] eager to do whatever he could do, switching from shortstop to third. It always seemed like it was meant to be from the first time he got called up.
Ron Gant: He was quiet, he learned a lot, he asked questions. When you ask questions to learn about the game, you know that person's on the right track. Chipper was that guy.
Tom Glavine: You knew obviously his pedigree as a No. 1 pick and knew he was doing well in the minor leagues. There was a curiosity factor.
Ron Gant: He used to idolize Dale Murphy, myself, Dave Justice and those guys ... just seeing how mesmerized he was when he first met Dale Murphy — that was the funniest thing to me. It was like a deer in the headlights.
John Smoltz: I think [an early moment] that's the funniest for me is when Greg Maddux was pitching — this is Chipper's first year — a pop up came over towards the first base line and Greg was standing there directing traffic on who to get it. [He comes] flying out of nowhere, Chipper, and runs right into the back of Maddux's calf and buckles him. Maddux had some choice words for the young third basemen that was a little too eager to try and help this team.
Ron Gant: The first time I [saw] him swing a bat in the cage, he finished with his first round and came out of the cage. I said, "man, let me see this bat, you're using." He gave the bat and I said, "man, don't ever use that bat again." I gave him one of my bats to use — it was this big old tree bat. I mean a huge bat ... I always say the bat I gave him had all the leaves and limbs and stuff on it.
He got in the cage and started hitting with that bat. After that, he never put that bat down. He used the same sized bat pretty much his whole career after I told him not to use a small bat again.
David O'Brien (Atlanta Journal-Constitution Braves beat writer, 2002-Present): He had that beautiful swing — it's not the kind of swing you can teach a kid because it's a little unorthodox — but it's so smooth. It's a beautiful swing, to watch it, especially from both sides. Most switch hitters struggle from one side or the other and he really didn't.
Tom Glavine: You always look at guys like that and say, "hey, he's a good player, he's got a chance to be around for a long time." You know the only variable in the equation is obviously injuries. You never know what's going to happen to a guy, but you knew he had the talent, you know he had the makeup to have a long career. Did any of us foresee it being this good? Probably not. I don't know that you ever do.
Terry Pendleton (Braves Third Baseman, 1991-1994; Coach 2002-Present): [He was] very talented. He was a baseball kid. I mean, he knew the game of baseball. He was a student of the game. He was just a talented kid and you could see it in him. He could do some great things out here, if he stayed healthy.
Early Career (1994-1998)
John Smoltz: I remember spring training [in 1994], coming to camp, and seeing this pretty thin switch hitter with a lot of potential to try and make the club [full-time]. Of course, he had that bad knee injury that started everything off but he had this ability to just swing the bat that was pretty raw and pretty incredible.
Tom Glavine: I think he showed a lot of what his makeup was to not only come back, but to come back and have the kind of year that he had. He should've been the rookie of the year — he had a heck of a year.
John Schuerholz: When you come as a young guy to the big leagues and you separate yourself like that through your consistent productivity, you're demonstrating at a very young age that when the times get tough and the situation gets competitive, you're the guy that the team wants to have up there, you're the guy that the team relies on to make a play in his very first year in the big leagues.
Ron Gant: Consistency was Chipper's best asset — that goes back to how smart he was, how smart he is.
Jim Powell (Atlanta Braves Radio Network broadcaster): I'm not suggesting he would go to work for NASA — but in terms of baseball intelligence, he's off the charts.
David O'Brien: Applied to baseball, he gets everything — he's a savant when it comes to memory. I can ask him about the game where he hit two homers in Chicago [2003 NLDS, Game 4]. I can ask about the first home run and he can tell me who the pitcher was, he can go through the pitch sequence. Man, it is frightening.
Jim Powell: I always wondered what kind of power he would end up with. You could see this was a batting champion waiting to happen, and I'm sure if he wanted to hit .350 every year of his career, he probably could've been a little bit more like Wade Boggs. He wanted to be a run producer — you could see he made the decision that he was going to be a run producer.
Chip Caray (FOX Sports South and SportSouth broadcaster): He's said [that] baseball is very, very easy in this regard: "I know what pitch I want to hit and when I get that pitch, three times out of 10 I don't miss it." That's really the essence of being a .300 hitter.
Ryan Langerhans (Braves Outfielder, 2002-2003, 2005-2007): He has an incredible mind for hitting and an incredible eye to see the tiniest of mechanical flaws.
Randy Wolf (Opposing Pitcher, 1999-Present; Jones batted .377/.493/.736 in 53 at bats against Wolf): I know he's always enjoyed facing me. For my first couple of years, I felt like he was nine for eight off of me. I just couldn't get an out.
Liván Hernández (Opposing Pitcher, 1996-Present; faced Jones more times than any active pitcher (75 AB)): You've got to mix the pitches — outside, inside — sometimes you've got to walk him. It's part of the game because he's so great ... You can see that his numbers are very good when he faces me. It's tough.
David O'Brien: He studies film, as much as anybody, and he'll go up there looking for that pitch. He'll wait, he'll have the patience to go deep into the count and if the pitcher makes a mistake and throws that pitch, boom. He doesn't miss it.
Randy Wolf: It's remarkable how many times in those situations where you may have had to pitch to him where he'd hurt you. I think he's just got that kind of confidence and that ability to want to be in that situation.
Ricky Nolasco (Marlins Pitcher, 2006-Present; surrendered Jones' 400th career home run): You could just be up and make a good slider down in and off the plate and he does a good enough job to keep his hands inside the ball and keep the ball fair. Most guys can't do that.
Liván Hernández: I think one [at bat] in the last inning of '97 in the playoffs — [NLCS, game five]. I put the glove on the ball [as Chipper lined out]. I got lucky with that one.
Ricky Nolasco: When you make a mistake, he rarely misses whether it's just a single or a homer. He was always a tough at bat, and for me in my career, probably the toughest at bats I've ever had were against him.
Liván Hernández: I think he's in the top five most difficult.
Randy Wolf: He's in the top three hardest outs.
Chip Caray: He's patient enough and smart enough to wait for the pitch he wants to get and he gets it. It's really fun watching him set up pitchers ... I think it's a dying art.
Not Just a Hitter
Tony DeMacio: Chipper's not only a great hitter; he's a great defensive player. He just does so much more. He brings so much to a ball club in how he plays the game.
Ron Gant: People forget how good of an athlete Chipper really is, because he was able to play shortstop and then make the transition to play third base and become one of the best third basemen of all time — not just offensively but defensively as well.
John Smoltz: I think he's underrated because he played in the field in a time when there's a lot of really good third basemen out there. He just never got the defensive respect, I think, from a Gold Glove situation.
Ron Gant: He's just as good as anybody defensively, especially making that bare hand play where you're running in on a dribbler or bunt. He bare-handed it probably better than anyone that's every played the game. He also played left field and did that well.
Joe Simpson (FOX Sports South and SportSouth broadcaster): It takes a certain mental toughness, too, to not pout about the sacrifice you're making by playing a position you may not be totally comfortable with ... He embraced it. He knew it made the team better. When Vinny Castilla came along he actually, I think, he volunteered to move.
Chipper's MVP Season (1999)
Joe Simpson: Before he became the MVP, he had already gained the respect of everybody in baseball with what he could do.
Don Baylor (Braves hitting coach, 1999): I explained to him that he was a natural right-handed hitter. Other managers on the other side, me included [as the Colorado Rockies manager from 1993-1998], wanted to turn him around to hit right handed because I believed he was pretty much just satisfied with hitting a single. He was more dangerous from the left side.
Bobby Valentine (New York Mets Manager, 1996-2002): During the game, you get to pick your poison whether you want to try to get him out with a lefty or a right-hander. There were sometimes when you thought he was cold from one side at the plate.
Don Baylor: I just told him that we had to continue it during the season ... He spent a lot of time hitting on the right side that year.
David O'Brien: Here's an unbelievable fact: he didn't make the All-Star team in '99 ... didn't make the All-Star team. That's how great his second half was. First half numbers were strong, he should've made the All-Star team, but second-half numbers were crazy.
Tom Glavine: It's always a special thing when you watch a player get locked in like that and get locked in for that length of time. You'll see it from time to time with guys who are [there] for a week or two. For him, it seemingly was the whole second half.
Don Baylor: We would go into Shea, and that's when the rivalry between the Mets and Braves was [peaking]. You've got 40,000 people at Shea standing up, hollering "Larry!" It never affected him.
John Schuerholz: He always played well in New York. He rises up, he reaches higher levels of competitive spirit in circumstances where the competition is higher and better or the fans of that team are more challenging to him. He feeds off of that and does better usually.
Tom Glavine: Anytime he needed to punctuate what he was doing, it seemed like the Mets were around, and he'd do something spectacular against them.
David O'Brien: If you look at the numbers today against the Mets, it was phenomenal what he did — Bobby Valentine said he put a dagger in [his] heart.
Bobby Valentine: I try to not remember the bad stuff, and [my memory of] Chipper is filled with bad stuff from when we competed against him.
David O'Brien: He single-handedly was the difference between the Braves winning the division that year ... He eliminated the Mets during the second half.
Bobby Valentine: As history has shown, he had a special way of rising to the occasion in most big games, but in particular when he was playing the Mets he had the magic. If he hit it, it fell in the hole. If it was in the air, it usually fell into a vacant seat in the bleachers. He hit all pitches to all fields from both sides of the plate. I remember him making great defensive plays against us, saving the game with his glove, or scoring from first on a double. There was nothing that Chipper Jones left on the field — he did it all.
Frank Wren (Braves General Manager, 2007-Present): After the '99 MVP year, I think that's really, that was the moment where he took [charge].
Terry Pendleton: I just think he continued to be the player that, if you saw him early on and what you expected him to be, I think he's a guy that you knew he was going to do things in this game ... When I came back as a coach, nothing had changed. He had grown up from that little kid and become a young man, but he continued to play the game.
David O'Brien: He's taken that mantle on as Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, as those guys went to other teams ... It left him as the guy who had been here as the link to the past, especially after Bobby left.
John Smoltz: I think he watched a lot of people before him — seen Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream ... It became a natural progression as he stuck around more than any other position player.
Joe Simpson: It's a quiet influence. He's not a rah-rah guy, walking around with pom-poms firing everybody up. They migrate to him and that's the sign of a real leader — people look to him when times are tough to show them the way. He's never a guy that's done a lot of helmet throwing, bat throwing, kicking the dirt, screaming at umpires, any of that stuff.
Tom Glavine: It's not something that he loves. He knows it's part of the deal and he does it as much as he has to. I don't think he was overly upset about deferring it to other guys for a portion of his career. Having said that now, he's the guy.
Liván Hernández: I always played for a different team and faced him a lot ... I had a chance to play this year with Chipper and see everything he [does] before the end. How he gets ready, he's very professional and this is the way he became one of the best players in baseball.
Ryan Langerhans: It's hard to single out one on the field moment [recently] ... I'll never forget the streak he went through, I think it was in '06, where in July he hit some kind of ridiculous number. Basically, he hit over .400 for the entire month. He had the extra-base hit streak where he had an extra-base hit in  consecutive games. It was just remarkable.
David O'Brien: If you look at one game, like the two-homer game against the Cubs in the division series to keep it alive ... He had two homers against the Cubs, brought the series back to Atlanta, otherwise it was over there.
Frank Wren: I think of '08 when he won the batting title. He was swinging a magic wand, every time he went up there he could slap a ball into left, he could hit a home run, he could hit a line drive through the middle, it was just so magical to watch him swing the bat that year because he could almost do no wrong.
John Schuerholz: We've had a lot of other good players, don't get me wrong, I'm not discounting them. You have to have a lot of good players to win 15 years in a row. Chipper was the catalyst in many, if not most, of those years because of his consistency.
Frank Wren: Chipper is one of those guys that every player also looks up to and respects. When he speaks, the guys listen, and they know they're getting information that they may not be able to get anywhere else.
Martin Prado (Braves Infielder/Outfielder, 2006-Present; has received comparisons to Jones for his willingness to switch positions): He's just one of those guys that's encouraged me, personally, the way he has played the game, his knowledge about the game and everything he knows about the game.
David O'Brien: He'll share anything with [his teammates]. He's not like one of those guys that's like, "I'm not going to tell my secrets." He wants everybody to do better. He knows they're not going to be better than him, not that he cares.
Martin Prado: [He's] guy who's been [for most of] his career a third basemen. He sacrificed himself to play left field. That tells you that he's a team player ... I understood that if he did it back then, why not me? He made me realize that baseball is more than numbers; it's more like thinking about the team that you play for, the name you've got on the front of your jersey.
Ryan Langerhans: I remember instead of just showering up and heading to the house after a home game, there were times where he would go sit in the video room with me for a while ... We'd have a video room session and he'd be like, "Hey, if you want to go do our cage work together tomorrow at two o'clock before batting practice, I'll show you what I'm talking about and we can work on fixing your swing a little bit."
David O'Brien: Last year during pitching mini-camp in February, before we get out to spring training, he'd been working with Jason [Heyward] and the new hitting coach is on Jason's swing, all throughout January, privately at Turner Field, and Chipper stood there and showed us physically what he was doing wrong, what they were working on, and it was like watching the best teacher you ever had in college and you were finally like, "I get it, why did no one else explain it that way?"
Brian McCann (Braves Catcher, 2005-Present): It's very helpful, when you're walking into a situation and you're new to it and you've got a guy who's been there and done that, and he's willing to share his time with you and share his knowledge, it makes you respect him a lot more once you get to know him.
Influence on the game
Tony DeMacio: I don't think there's any question that guys like him and Maddux and Glavine and Smoltzy, that they've had a tremendous impact on the state ... That's why the state of Georgia has become one of the hotbeds in the country.
B.B. Abbott: The long stretch of success that the Braves had — from '95 for a long, long stretch, for 13 years — was [it] a coincidence that amateur baseball in Georgia hit a major boom? No. I mean there's no coincidence at all.
Tony DeMacio: A lot of the players — young kids in high school or even elementary school — they look up to these guys.
B.B. Abbott: Georgia is really the fourth state in drafted players in the entire nation behind Texas and California and Florida. Georgia was never thought of — back in the early '00s, late '90s — as that state. Soon, East Cobb and all of these programs start to sprout up.
Brian McCann: I was such a huge fan growing up as a kid; I just would come down and watch the games. I didn't really understand what was going on. I just enjoyed watching baseball; he was the big name.
Gordon Beckham (White Sox Second Baseman, 2009-Present; Atlanta native): Throughout my Little League career, but especially [the] year we were the Braves, I had really high socks because that's the way Chipper wore them. I just remember watching him play as a younger kid and then growing up having him always be there, always be playing third base.
Frank Wren: You look at the kids in the stands and the number they have on their back to know what an impact he's had on our fans and kids across the Southeast who want to grow up to be Chipper Jones. That's a pretty easy survey to take anytime you go to a Braves game.
Chip Caray: I think, to me, he's one of the most humble superstars that there's been in the game ... he was always accessible, always approachable, always accountable.
Don Baylor: I've been around a bunch of [superstars] who were different, maybe not to the players but to a writer or a fan or something. Chipper was not that way.
Jim Powell: For him to be the most iconic and popular Brave — one of them in the history of the franchise — and to still treat people that way, I was astounded.
Chip Caray: He likes to hunt and fish and go back to the ranch and stuff. That's who he is. He'd be the first to tell you that he's a country kid from central Florida who had a talent to hit a baseball and play third base, and that's why he's here.
Martin Prado: [He's also] a good person and a good human being and that really tells you everything about him.
Chip Caray: A couple of times a year, we'll sit in a hotel bar after a ball game, grab a ball, and talk about baseball. And we talk a lot about things besides baseball, which I think is another thing that made him so interesting to me ... We all get wrapped up in looking at these players as numbers who make salaries and hit the baseball. This is what they do, but it's not who they are. I think who Chipper Jones is far supersedes the back of his bubble gum card.
Jim Powell: Forget about whether the guy can play or not, we're all going to end up six feet underground someday — every single one of us, whether we can hit in the major leagues or not. It's how you treat people when you're on this earth. Chipper Jones is a Hall of Famer in that regard.
End of the Road
David O'Brien: I have to admit he had seasons, five or six years ago, where we wondered if his career was over. I mean, he had the foot problems, we thought he was going to have to have surgery. He had that for a year, he had stress fractures down there, all kinds of stuff, there was always some nagging thing.
Terry Pendleton: He's attempted to play at every opportunity he could. He's had some injuries that knocked him down to where he can't do anything.
Chip Caray: The greatest tragedy I can say of a player is, "What if?" What if he hadn't been hurt? What if he hadn't gone out to military service? What if he hadn't slammed into the wall? I think the great thing about Chipper Jones is that he has left everything he has on the field.
David O'Brien: This is a guy that played 150 to 162 games, people also forget that, that for the first eight years of his career... [Could he have] stayed healthy? I don't know ... the fact that he's playing at age 40 and producing the way he is pretty much tells me to shut the hell up.
B.B. Abbott: I will tell you over the last couple of years I think there have been times where Chipper, at least in his mind, has been done. Whether it be frustrations with injuries, whether it be frustrations with how things were going during the course of the season, whether it be frustrations with being away from his family.
Jim Powell: If he decided he wanted to play until he was 45, I bet you he could find a way to be productive, but the fact that ... He's walking away from the game when he can still play and still on top. That's just another part of his legend.
Joe Simpson: At age 40, I'm still in constant admiration of what he's doing, going out on such a high note. I don't know how many 40-year-olds not only have put together this type of year, but bat third or fourth in the lineup every night that he's in there, too.
Ricky Nolasco: I think he could still play for another five years if he wanted to in the American League and DH, but it would never be the same. He wouldn't look right in any other uniform other than the Atlanta Braves one.
Chip Caray: I've said it a million times on our broadcast: what I love best about baseball is watching young men come to the major leagues — or I should say I love watching boys come to the major leagues and become young men, become married, have children and grow into old men, retire and stay in the game or move on.
Tom Glavine: I foresee him being back in the game. He's one of those guys is termed "the baseballer" — he's a lifer.
B.B. Abbott: I don't see Chipper getting away from the game of baseball. Keep in mind that this is all he's known since he was 18 years old, graduating from high school. This is all he's known for the last 22, 23 years and I don't see it getting out of his system.
Liván Hernández: Maybe he'll work for the Atlanta Braves as an assistant or general manager? He knows about the game, maybe he'll be a hitting coach one day. He'll be great, for any team to get Chipper Jones.
Ron Gant: I believe that he would be very valuable to an organization as far as a consultant or being in the front office or helping out with a major league team.
David O'Brien: Chipper would make a terrific hitting coach, and will. I'm sure he'll come back. It's just a matter of time.
Brian McCann: I think he's one of the biggest sports icons in Atlanta sports ... of all time. I think he's one of the biggest figures in Atlanta sports. You're not going to replace that.
David O'Brien: Aaron's the greatest Brave, period, end of story, but you could certainly argue that Chipper's the best Atlanta Brave because he's spent so many more years here than Hank did.
Don Baylor: He gave that organization a lot of that, like when Frank Robinson came to Baltimore — winning type of thing. That's how Chipper played.
Ricky Nolasco: All those guys, his teammates, should be honored to play with a guy like that. I'm just honored to step on the field with a guy like that and compete against him.
David O'Brien: I don't think he will have any problems going first ballot [to the Hall of Fame].
John Schuerholz: I can name about four guys in my 47 years of baseball that I'd put in the category of where he is. They don't come along very often, and so you can't assume you're going to be able to replace that because you can't — unless you're fortunate enough to draft another Chipper Jones or George Brett or Cal Ripken or Derek Jeter.
Chip Caray: It's so rare in this day and age to see a player play his whole career for an organization and play it well. To see him get the standing ovation that I know he'll get, I think will be, really frankly, the turning of a final page in a dynasty we may never see happen again in professional sports. It'll be a bittersweet day.
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