Note, Andruw Jones is so unappreciated there wasn't even a picture of him wearing a Braves uniform in the SB Nation database, hence the Yankees picture.
When I started writing this article I was angry. Andruw Jones is no doubt Hall of Famer who, for a variety of reasons, will never receive the recognition he deserves. Andruw was arguably the greatest defensive player of all time and was inarguably a defensive player in the same category as Ozzie, Mays, Belanger and Robinson. Andruw also hit 434 home runs and was a much better offensive player than Ozzie Smith and noticeably better than Brooks Robinson as well.
Yet this player who ranks above a host of Hall of Famers in fWAR and accumulated more fWAR than any Atlanta Braves position player not named Chipper Jones can’t even get recognition from the team he gave so much to. The season following Andruw’s departure from Atlanta his number 25 was worn by the immortal Barbaro Canizares. Ryan Church, Troy Glaus, Juan Francisco, Joey Terdoslavich and Christian Bethancourt. All these fringe players have worn Andruw’s number since he left Atlanta. This is what I was thinking about when I set down to write about Andruw and I was legitimately angry.
I am 25 years old and haven’t done nearly the things I want to with my life. I am a constant disappointment to myself and I don’t want to be the person I know I sounded like when I started writing this. I don’t want to be the person who watches this past Hall of Fame weekend that was almost certainly the greatest recognition that will ever be bestowed upon the Atlanta Braves and finds something to complain about. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox walked to the podium at Cooperstown on Sunday and each was given the chance to bask in the glory of what they accomplished. The week leading up to Sunday was a parade of toasts to these Braves players and their manager and to the Braves franchise as a whole.
As a Braves fan, I got to enjoy the recognition of those 10 years the greatest pitcher of his generation spent wearing a jersey that said Atlanta across the front, in which he won three Cy Young awards. I got to relive that beautiful October night that Tom Glavine held the greatest offensive team of all time to one hit over eight innings to clinch a World Series title. I got to hear the praise and stories of all the things that made Bobby Cox that rarest of things in Major League Baseball, a manager who really and truly mattered and made his team significantly better. It was the greatest week a Braves fan can ask for and it will never be repeated on that scale ever again.
Too many people’s reaction to things like the Hall of Fame is to complain. In fact, for many people complaining is their primary way of reacting to anything. People use complaining as their primary way to socialize. Complaining is easy. It is much easier to criticize Joe Torre for leaving George Steinbrenner out of his speech than it is to convey to people who didn’t watch the moving beauty of Frank Thomas’ speech on Sunday. I hate that on the Monday morning following one of the greatest days in Braves history, my attitude was to be angry that Andruw Jones might never get his day in that spotlight.
While we should all strive for self-improvement, we should also strive for honesty and self-awareness. I am mad. Andruw Jones was better than any Atlanta position player who didn’t go by the moniker of "Chipper." Andruw was better in Atlanta than Dale Murphy, he was worlds better than Brian McCann, Fred McGriff isn’t in the same category at all. Hank Aaron had his best years in Milwaukee and wasn’t as valuable in Atlanta as Andruw was. Atlanta fans reacted to Tim Hudson’s broken ankle as if he died, people curse Frank Wren’s name for trading Martin Prado, and Jeff friggin Francouer still receives standing ovations every time he returns to Atlanta. Yet it is a more rare breed of fan who feels that fresh wave of annoyance and bitterness when the Braves annually assign the number 25 to some scrub making a fill in appearance before returning to AAA.
When I was raging on twitter about Andruw’s number not being retired by Atlanta, some people pointed out he was still active and playing baseball in Japan. Maybe, the Braves are just waiting for his official retirement before honoring him? I doubt this because of their habit of giving his number away every season. Nobody wore number 31 for the 5 years Greg Maddux remained in the league after leaving Atlanta. Nobody wore number 47 after Glavine signed with the Mets. Yet the first season after Andruw was gone the scrub of all scrubs was wearing number 25 for the Braves. Andruw’s number is never getting retired because for some reason what is so obvious and apparent to me isn’t obvious to the people in charge of the Braves and it isn’t obvious to the majority of fans. For some reason, Andruw just wasn’t that special in the eyes of many. I cannot understand this.
But enough of that. Enough of the anger, enough of the bitterness. Andruw was the man. He was the youngest player to ever hit a home run in the World Series and he followed that homer up with a second homer in his next at bat. He did that in Yankee Stadium on Mickey Mantle’s birthday to break Mantle’s record. That moment was everything good about baseball. Andruw won 10 straight Gold Glove Awards starting in his first full season in the majors and ending in his last season in Atlanta. There is now a platinum glove award given to the best defensive player overall, regardless of position. Andrelton Simmons won the platinum glove last year. If the award had existed when Andruw played in Atlanta there is no doubt he would have won more than a few of them.
Andruw was the most viscerally exciting athlete in my lifetime to play for the Braves. In his prime, Andruw was a dominant center fielder, who stole bases, hit for power and always seemed to be having more fun than anyone else out there. His smile captured my heart and he made baseball seem like the most fun game in the world. In 2005 Andruw was the best player in the National League even if he wasn’t properly recognized as such.
I love numbers. I find statistics and math fascinating and I love what sabermetrics have done for baseball. I am intellectually curious and was thrilled in 2010 when I began to learn things about the sport I had loved longer than any other that I had never thought of. For me, there is nothing more exciting than new information becoming available about a topic I am passionate about. Some people think the only things they need to know about baseball are the things their dad explained to them when they played catch in the backyard. That isn't me. For me, baseball is one of my biggest passions and few thrills compare to how I felt when I first began to learn about all the new things smart people had discovered about my favorite sport.
Batting average is overrated. Runs batted in don’t tell you much about an individual. There are ways to quantify baserunning and defense and park factors and what position a player plays and this stuff matters when evaluating players. I was thrilled when I started to discover so many things I hadn’t known about the game I loved and for me numbers will always matter.
So it matters to me when Fangraphs defensive measurements say Andruw was the 8th greatest defensive player of all time. Wins above replacement is an esoteric or even threatening concept to some but for me it is really important that only Chipper accumulated more fWAR than Andruw did as an Atlanta position player. We all come to baseball for different reasons and love the sport for different reasons. You are reading this article because it is about a sport you care about, a team you care about, and maybe even a player you care about. You probably care about all of these things in different ways than I do. But I like numbers andI like what Andruw’s numbers say.
It matters to me that Andruw ranks above all kinds of Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers in Fangraphs WAR. Andruw ranks above Willie McCovey, Manny Ramirez, Robin Yount, Mark McGwire, Tim Raines, Harmon Killibrew, Edgar Martinez, Dwight Evans, Craig Biggio, Tony Gwynn, Roberto Alomar, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, Mike Piazza, Ernie Banks and so many others. Look at those names. Andruw was likely better than those guys. He is tied exactly with Ozzie Smith which makes the 5-year-old who thought Ozzie cartwheels were the greatest way ever to come onto a baseball field very happy. I was never able to do that on a baseball field, though I promise you I tried.
I love baseball just like you do though it is likely we love different things about it. I loved the game that my dad always helped coach when I was a little boy. I love the game I got to play with my brother who was always so much better than me. I loved the game where I got to watch my team play on TV every single night and hey we were always really good and for a front running little boy that was pretty neat. I love the game that Skip Caray talked to me about and made seem so special. I got in my first twitter beef with some dumb kid named Arnold in 1996 as we played with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys. He knew his Yankees were gonna win the World Series. He was an idiot of course. The Braves won last year. They were going to win this year. They were going to win every year.
And that wonderful October night that I remember as clear as I remember yesterday, Andruw Jones entered my life and he has never left. My first jersey was a Jeff Blauser jersey, but Andruw was the player of my childhood. My memories tell me he was the best and a lot of numbers say the same thing. You don’t have to love the game the same way I do but the little boy inside me will always be ready to argue with the idiots of this world who don’t recognize how great Andruw Jones was. He is a Hall of Famer and the Braves should retire his jersey tomorrow. I don’t know if these things will ever happen and I will always be angry on some level about them if they never do happen.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter that much. Whether the fools who vote players to the Hall of Fame are smart enough to recognize Andruw doesn’t really matter. Whether the Atlanta Braves are ever able to properly recognize the greatness of a player they got to see up close for 11 years doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I can sit here at my computer and look at Andruw’s numbers and see how great he was. The endless highlights on Youtube are there for me to watch whenever the mood strikes. Twitter has allowed me access to an awesome community of people who understand who Andruw Jones was. Most importantly a little boy at Charlotte Latin School in Charlotte, North Carolina knows who Andruw Jones was. He doesn’t need a number on a wall in Turner Field to know who his favorite player is.
Andruw Jones was one of the greatest baseball players to ever live and he played his best years for my favorite team. Those are facts. Whether anyone else recognizes that doesn’t change those facts one bit.