Found March 22, 2012 on Mike Silva's New York Baseball Digest:
Chipper_jones_dbfc
It was announced earlier today that Chipper Jones, one of the greatest sports villains in New York history, will be exiting stage right at the end of the season. When you think about some of the prominent villains over the last 25 years Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan, Pedro Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jones stand out. For as aggravating as it was seeing him and the Braves beat the Mets yearly during the late nineties, you have to respect Jones’ 19-year journey. Chipper was drafted #1 overall in 1990 as a shortstop; moved between third base, left and right field as a young player his first 3 years in the league. When he finally established himself as the best third basemen in baseball, the Braves moved him left field, again, in 2001. He finally settled in back at the hot corner to stay in 2005. It’s not very often you see someone with that type of resume moving all over the field. Not many stars would be ok with it, either. How good is Chipper Jones? He is fourth all-time in Wins Above Replacement and third in OPS+ (141)* at third base. *This is for players with 75% of their appearances at third base Maybe only Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews will go down as better third basemen in the history of the game. Jones will go down as one of those rare modern day players that spent his entire career with one team, as this year will be his 19th season with the Braves. When he was to hit free agency in 2001, he re-signed for a below-market contract (6 years/$90 million) to stay in Atlanta. After seeing how easily Albert Pujols fled the Cardinals this past October after winning his second World Series, you come to appreciate Jones even more. He knew who he was a Southern boy that was comfortable and successful in a Braves uniform. No amount of money was going to overcome that fact. Mets fans know all about Chipper. He probably will go down as the team’s all-time killer. For his career he’s hit 48 HRs, drove in 154 runs, and hit .318 against New York. He actually walked more (140) than struck out (130), which tells you how tough an out he’s been over the last two decades. The Mets inability to get him out symbolized the rivalry with Atlanta during the late 90s. It came to a head during the 1999 NLCS. The same series that was marked by the wild antics of John Rocker was also when Mets fans broke out the “Larry, Larry” chant in reference to Jones’ actual first name. Just weeks earlier he told Mets fans to “put their Yankees hats on,” after it appeared the Braves left them for dead the last week of the regular season. Unlike Pedro Martinez, who is hated by Yankees fans to this day, Mets fans grew to respect Chipper over the years. The feeling is mutual, as he named his son “Shea” after the Mets old ballpark; a place where he hit a cool .313 for his career. It was interesting to see him take his family for a final tour around the stadium during the Braves final visit in 2008. Will we see a rivalry like this again? Will fans get the opportunity to have another Braves/Jones type of storyline? I am not so sure. Sustaining success in the modern game is difficult. Payroll restrictions have forced just about every team outside of the Yankees and Red Sox to decide which stars they keep. It’s hard to maintain a level of consistency with the same group of players as they reach their late arbitration years leading up to free agency. Most players wouldn’t take a below-market value contract like Jones did. This was during a time of wild spending when stars such as Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, and Ken Griffey Jr. either left via free agency or forced themselves out off the team’s they grew up with. Even when a team does (see the Phillies), you need the other organization (see Mets) to live up to their end of the bargain. For as much as Knicks fans hated Reggie Miller and Michael Jordan while they played, they respect them that much when looking back at the rivalry today. I believe Chipper Jones will be viewed the same way, and probably be given a much deserved salute when the Braves make their final stop to Citi Field on September 9th. That game probably won’t mean anything, since the Mets are nowhere near a contending team. That’s too bad, since it would have been fun to go at it with Larry one more time for old time’s sake. His body may be breaking down, and he clearly isn’t the same player we he once was, but I don’t know of too many players that I would rather not see at the plate in a big spot. Even more ironic is the Braves final home game of the season is against the Mets. Jones’ final appearance at home will be against the team he loved to torture. Want to bet he gets the big hit to send the Braves home winners? It will be the fitting end to a great career, and symbolic of his relationship with the Mets and their fan base. You never like losing to a hated rival. You also don’t like the absence of rivalries. Chipper Jones ruined many a day for Mets fans, but I think half the fun is the competition. Rivalries are what makes sports fun, spurs debate, and gives us something to talk about before and after the game. The Mets will be contenders again, but I don’t know if they will have a villain like Chipper Jones across the diamond.
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