ENGLISH: Chipper is face of Braves

Published 11:34 pm Thursday, March 29, 2012

By Jim English

There are some athletes who, by virtue of their performance, leadership and longevity with a particular team, become recognized as the face of that franchise. Who that athlete is will depend largely upon the era you lived through, and were following those teams.

When you think of the Boston Celtics, if you fall into the category of the middle-age crowd like me, you most likely picture Larry Bird. If your picture a Chicago Bears uniform, it most likely features the number 34 with Walter Payton wearing it. And even sports fans who care very little about hockey still associate the Edmonton Oilers with Wayne Gretzky and the Penguins with Mario Lemieux.

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Even though my earliest memories of the Atlanta Braves featured stars like Dale Murphy and Phil Neikro, I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone who has become the face of the Braves over the last couple of decades more than Chipper Jones.

Admittedly, one of the big reasons is the tremendous success that the Braves have enjoyed during his career in Atlanta. Chipper was the first overall draft pick in 1990, and in his retirement announcement last week, claimed he has spent every year since then trying to be sure no one questioned their decision to take a chance on him. The following year began a string of postseason appearances that can only be described as a dynasty. From 1991 to 2005, the Braves were in the playoffs every year, and Chipper Jones was hands-down their best hitter during that time.

In his official rookie season of 1995, he batted .364 in the post-season and played a huge role in Atlanta winning their only World Series title. Then in 1999, Chipper was named NL MVP in helping bring the Braves their 3rd pennant in his first 5 years.

Much debate has arisen since his announcement about where he ranks among the greatest Braves of all time. While I’m convinced he at least belongs in the conversation with greats like Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Warren Spahn, Phil Neikro, and Dale Murphy, you need to look at how he stacks up against some of the all-time greats in MLB history to truly appreciate what he has accomplished.

He ranks among the top five third basemen of all time in virtually every hitting category. Among switch-hitters he is third behind Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray in home runs, and second only to Murray in RBI’s. If he manages in his final season to match his average numbers over the past 3 years, he will retire as the only switch-hitter in MLB history with a career .300 batting average and 400 homers. He will also join Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Frank Thomas, and Mel Ott as the only players with a .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, and .500 slugging percentage in 10,000 or more at-bats.

It should be a foregone conclusion in a few years that Chipper Jones will be enshrined among the baseball greats at Cooperstown. But unlike so many others in this day of free agency, there will be no doubt about what cap he will be wearing when his bronze bust is revealed.