If there is any one player that has become the "face" of the franchise over the past decade, it has to be Chipper Jones.
Being selected first overall in the 1990 free agent draft, the expectations for Chipper were obviously high from the beginning. Jones burst onto the scene with his bat, but not everything went well for the young star. Chipper struggled early and often at his original position of shortstop. In 1991 he made 56 errors while at Macon. He went on to make 32 errors in 1992. And two years later at Richmond, Chipper reached 48 miscues. The Braves really wanted to get his bat into the lineup, but were concerned they couldn't hide Chipper's defensive deficiencies.
As luck would have it, Jones tore his ACL in 1994 and missed the entire season. If his errors hadn't prevented him from earning the starting nod at shortstop for Atlanta, the ACL injury certainly did. At the very least it gave the Braves an excuse to move Chipper to third base.
While Jones was never a defensive wiz at the hot corner, at least his fielding woes were far less exposed than at shortstop in the minors. The move to third base solidified the Braves infield and Jones settled in rather comfortably.
Chipper Jones brought a confidence to Atlanta that the Braves seemed to be missing. He gave the team a swagger if you will. The Chipper led Braves were feared and sometimes despised, but always respected. And it's no coincidence that the team won the World Series in Chipper's first full year in Atlanta.
As the Atlanta Braves continued to rack up division titles, Chipper Jones grew into an offensive force. In the eight years that spanned 1996 through 2003, Jones hit over .300 seven times, scored 100 runs seven times, hit 25 or more home runs seven times, drove in 100 runs eight times, drew 90 or more walks six times, and never once struck out 100 times.
But the accolades don't stop there. Chipper was selected to take part in five major league all-star games. He won the MVP award in 1999 and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting five times. He posted a .300 batting average with 30 home runs, 100 runs scored, and 100 RBI five times. Only 15 times in major league history has a switch hitter achieved such a feat. While Chipper did it five times, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, and Lance Berkman are the only other switch hitters to do it even twice.
As Chipper matured, he grew into one of the team's most revered leaders. Teammates raved about him, and young players looked up to him. Management adored him, and the city of Atlanta embraced him. Chipper Jones may not say a lot, but he leads by example. Never was this truer than in 2005 when he agreed to a pay cut while voluntarily renegotiating his contract. Jones all but assured the fact that he would play for one team his entire career, something that few players do in this day and age.
Larry Wayne Jones, Jr. will always be known as a gamer, a leader, and a champion. But more importantly, Chipper Jones will always represent the winning tradition of Atlanta Braves baseball.