On a team dominated by elite starting pitching, switch-hitting third baseman Chipper Jones adjusted his game and dominated all the way to Cooperstown.
Growing up in suburban in Atlanta in the 1990s, it was all about the Atlanta Braves. From worst to first in 1991, to the 1995 World Series Championship, all the way through the 14 straight division titles, Atlanta was the epicenter for dominating starting pitching in the MLB.
While the trio of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz all made it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot, you can’t begin to fully tell the story of the Team of the 90’s and beyond without Larry Wayne Jones Jr.
Chipper Jones was the No. 1 overall pick by the Braves in the 1990 MLB Draft. He was a switch-hitting shortstop out of The Bolles School in Jacksonville. He grew up as a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, becoming a switch hitter by emulating his favorite Boys in Blue as a lad.
While the Braves began their 14-straight division title run in 1991, we kept hearing about this promising infield prospect down in Richmond. After suffering a knee injury in 1994, Jones would begin to cement his legacy with the Braves in 1995 as a rookie.
Though the Braves would only win one World Series title, coincidentally during his rookie year in 1995, Jones would end up being one of the most impactful players of his generation. Kids all over Braves Country would pull up their baseball pants up to their knee to emulate their favorite switch-hitting hero.
Jones would have his finest season in 1999, when he won his lone NL MVP, as the Braves captured their fifth National League Pennant in nine years. Atlanta has yet to make it back to the World Series.
Shortly after the turn of the millennium, the Braves would be sold to a media conglomerate by media mogul Ted Turner. One by one, favorite Braves would end up leaving the organization in free agency as payroll tightened.
Maddux would play with the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and the San Diego Padres before retiring. Glavine went to the hated New York Mets for years. He would come back briefly in his final injury-riddled season before retiring. Smoltz would spend time with the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals, which was just wrong.
However, Jones never played for anybody else. Every year, Jones would bat third and mostly man third base for Atlanta. Briefly, he was asked to play left field, as the Braves wanted a more reliable fielder manning third in the form of Vinny Castilla. Jones would come back to the hot corner and nearly become a Gold Glover into his late 30s.
One year, Jones knew that he wasn’t going to have 25-home run power. So out of spring training, he positioned himself to lead the league in hitting. His 2008 batting title was easily one of his most impressive feats as a professional.
As his knees started to fail him, Jones battled through obvious pain to make one last trip to the MLB All-Star Game in 2012. He would captain the National League during the Mid-Summer Classic in Kansas City.
In what was his final MLB game, Jones would beat out a certain ground out to keep the Braves alive in the inaugural National League Wild Card Game in 2012. While Braves Country knows that as the infamous Infield Fly Rule game, seeing Jones give it all in his final at-bat put a bow on an incredible and unforgettable MLB career.
While he didn’t amass 500 home runs or 3,000 hits, Jones was a no-doubt, first ballot Hall of Famer as soon as he hung up the spikes in 2012. No team was happier about his retirement than the hated Mets he dominated so badly that he named one of his sons after Shea Stadium.
Though Hank Aaron is the greatest Brave of all time, nobody epitomized the organization’s success in Atlanta quite like Chipper. Who knows when the MLB will see a switch-hitter as menacing at the plate or as much of a team player as Jones was? His hall of fame legacy is cemented. He is Atlanta Braves baseball.