Found May 06, 2012 on Fox Sports:
Mets_vs_braves_5505
Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones watched the video of New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while shagging batting-practice flyballs last week. He saw Rivera carted off the field. He heard Rivera, whose career plans beyond this season had been up in the air, then vow to return to the mound in 2013. And Jones could empathize with the right-hander's plight. Been there. Done that. Just as Rivera expressed determination to return to the field and depart on his own terms, Jones refused to allow his Hall of Fame-caliber career to end on a sour note. "Nobody wants their last image to be being carried off or carted off the field and have that be it," Jones said. "So I know where he's coming from." Nobody wants that type of an ending, most of all a player who has every reason to believe he will be enshrined in Cooperstown in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, after he has been retired five years. Rivera is one of those players. He has arguably been the most dominant -- and durable -- closer in the history of the game. He entered 2012 having made at least 60 appearances in 12 of the past 13 seasons and at least 50 appearances in 15 of the past 16. A 12-time All-Star, he has saved a record 608 games, seven more than Trevor Hoffman, who is second on the list, and 130 more than Lee Smith, who sits third. Jones is also one of those players. The first player taken in the 1990 draft, he is putting the finishing touches on an 18-year career in which he has hit .304, second among all-time switch-hitters, one point ahead of Pete Rose, and 12 behind Frank Frisch, and delivered 459 home runs, trailing only Mickey Mantle (546) and Eddie Murray (504) on the all-time switch-hitter list. A seven-time All-Star, Jones was the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1999. He made it clear during spring training this is his farewell tour of big-league parks. After undergoing a procedure on his balky left knee that still bothers him, Jones announced the 2012 season would be his last. This time he is certain. But this isn't the first time he felt as if he was ready to hang it up. In the opening days of June two years ago, when he was struggling to hit .240, Jones broke the news of his desire to retire to then-Braves manager Bobby Cox. "Bobby gave me a couple days (off) to think about it," Jones said. "I realized I didn't want to walk out of the club at that time, that way." And then came that Mariano Rivera-type moment. After a five-day break, Jones returned to the lineup on June 8, 2010, struggled through a few more games, his average bottoming out at .228 on June 11, and then things turned. In the next 39 games, he hit .307 with seven home runs and 25 RBI. And then he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee for the second time in his career, prematurely ending what he thought would be his final season. "I feel for anybody who blows an ACL, because your year is over," Jones said. "I mean, you're looking at a best-case scenario of five, six months. I know I felt cheated for the last two months of the (2010) season. I was playing good baseball at that time; it gave me confidence that I could still play. "I'm sure (Rivera) feels the same way, that he got cheated out of the last five months of the season, and nobody wants . . . their last image to be being carried off or carted off the field -- and have that be it. So I know where he's coming from." For Jones, the 2010 incident wasn't a major issue because he had not made his retirement plans public. So he returned in 2011 without a lot of fanfare, wound up having another All-Star season and turned his attention to 2012 without much thought of the future. Then came the knee injury and arthroscopic surgery during spring training. Then came Jones' decision that this would be his final season, allowing him to become the 24th player in major league history to have a career of at least 19 big-league seasons with one team. And he has given an early indication that his final season will be a memorable one. He matched his career high of five RBI in the Braves' 13-9 victory at Colorado on Saturday night, helping the Braves improve their record to 13-2 in games he has started, and he improved his average to .318 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 66 at-bats. What eats at Jones, however, is that, in deference to the knee injury, he was able to start only 15 of the Braves' first 28 games. "I have residual stiffness that at times will not allow me to play," said Jones. "I have to be realistic. After long flights, I know the knee is going to blow up for two, three days. It's hard. I'm a guy who prided myself on being ready to play. I had (eight consecutive years) of 150-plus games. It's not in my DNA to play 100 games or so a season. "But there is a time in every player's career where he has to swallow his pride and swallow hard." The time hasn't come for Jones, yet. He might not be able to play as much as he once did. But when he does play, he is still as good as he ever was.
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