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Starting Nine: A study in No. 10, Chipper Jones

Stats, stories and facts about the switch-hitting, mock turtle-neck wearing icon for a generation of Braves fans

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves
Chipper Jones’ career bWAR of 85.3 trails only Mickey Mantle (110.2) among switch hitters.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

When the first line — “ALL ABOARD ... HA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAA!” — hits, it still reverberates, ‘Crazy Train’ conjuring up those images of the Braves icon for the generation that grew up amid the run of 14 straight division titles. The mock turtleneck, the flashing “I love you” sign to the crowd, all of his 19-year career, from No. 1 overall pick to a spot in Cooperstown, spent in a Braves uniform.

Chipper Jones wrote a script in an Atlanta uniform unlike anyone else. As we continue this run of stats, facts and stories on the Braves retired number, this week it’s all about No. 10: Larry Wayne Jones Jr.

No. 3: Dale Murphy

No. 6 Bobby Cox

1. The Todd Van Poppel connection

Chipper Jones and Todd Van Poppel were forever linked because of the decision to take the Florida-bred shortstop over the Texas right-hander with the No. 1 pick in the 1990 draft, a decision that turned out not to be one for the Braves — despite how much Bobby Cox wanted him — given Van Poppel’s reluctancy to sign with Atlanta, or anyone else. Van Poppel had played in the Mickey Mantle World Series, the Connie Mack World Series and had designs on the College World Series and that meant being a Texas Longhorn. Of course, the A’s would alter those plans, dangling a $1.2 million deal, which included a $600,000 signing bonus in taking Van Poppel 14th overall. But Jones and Van Poppel were linked in another way before that debate over the top pick. When Jones made his official visit to the University of Miami — he’d verbally commit to the Hurricanes — he was joined Van Poppel, who was also considering going to school in Coral Gables.

2. A display of switch-hitting prowess

Bobby Cox traveled to Jacksonville four times to see Chipper play ahead of taking him in 1990, and Larry Jones Sr. points to one visit in particular as sealing the deal on Atlanta taking his son. With Cox, director of scouting Paul Snyder and minor league field coordinator Bobby Dews on hand, Chipper came up to bat in the first inning and hit a home run from the right side; then later hit another left-handed — on the first swing — hitting the ball in the street behind the park the field was located on. Snyder would stop by Larry Sr. and Lynne and tell the couple “Nice touch.”

3. Where does Chipper rank among the greatest switch-hitters?

Chipper Jones had to look up to Mickey Mantle at home — the Yankees legend was his father’s favorite player, after all — and he’s doing so when it comes to the greatest switch-hitters of all time. But there aren’t many outside of The Mick who had more illustrious careers than Jones. He’s the only switch-hitter with career averages of .300 from both sides of the plate, his career 85.3 bWAR trails only Mantle’s 110.2 and Chipper ranks third in home runs (468) behind Mantle’s 536 and 504 by Eddie Murray, fifth in hits (Pete Rose’s 4,256 leads there), fourth in doubles (Rose again leads with 746), second to Murray’s 1917 in RBI, fourth in OPS+ with 141 in a category led by Mantle’s 172 and had a .930 OPS (Mantle was No. 1 at .977). Rose was the hit king and Murray had longevity on his side too, but considering they are 16.6 (Murray) and 5.6 (Rose) WAR below Jones, despite each having 2,200-plus plate appearances more than the Braves icon, Mantle is the only switch hitter you can objectively put ahead of Chipper.

4. Spot in the hierarchy of best third basemen

While he’d play 356 games in left field (and 47 at shortstop), Chipper’s place in the game was undeniably as a third baseman, where his bWAR is behind fellow HOFers Mike Schmidt (106.9), Eddie Mathews (96.2) and Wade Boggs (91.4) when you consider those who played the position at least 70 percent of the time. He drops to sixth when bringing in those with at least 50 percent of their games at third, which brings Adrian Beltre (third at 93.6) and George Brett (88.6), as those two (along with Boggs) had the benefit of games at designated hitter. Beltre surpassed Jones in homers (477 to 468) and RBI (1,707 to 1,623) before ending his career in 2018, but the only holy trinity at the position in in the last 40 years has to be Schmidt/Brett/Jones. When ranking them consider this: Brett played at third all of 15 games over his last eight seasons — ages 33-40 — a period in which Chipper saw 787 games at the hot corner.

5. Shea Stadium monster

Among the retirement gifts Chipper was given during the 2012 season, it was all too fitting that the Mets gave him an original Charles Fazzino 3D pop art commemorating his career at Shea Stadium. After all, Jones had named his third son Shea in honor of the park, where he earned the Mets Killer moniker in hitting 19 home runs — the most he’d hit in any visiting stadium — including the first of his career on May 9, 1995, while slashing .313/.407.557. Shea Stadium was also meaningful to Chipper for the tributes that took place there ten days after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The first professional sporting event in New York after the terrorist attacks, Chipper recently recalled the remnants of the 21-gun salute being on the field, telling ESPN “I was playing left, the 21-gun salute was in left. I ran out onto the field multiple times during the course of the game and saw spent cartridges, .223 (rifle) cartridges, from the 21-gun salute. And every time, I was stuffing them into my back pocket. I still have them to this day.”

6. A single team, single city legacy

Like Cox, Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz, Chipper is just part of the Hall of Fame foundation that fueled the Braves’ dynasty of 14 straight division titles, but he also stands alone among that group with an unrivaled legacy. He’s the only one that spent his entire career with one team, and to take it even further, is the only Braves player in Cooperstown who spent his entire baseball life in Atlanta. Take it even further, and while Jones is one of 57 HOFers to have spent their entire career with one team — a list that has grown of late with the Yankees’ Derek Jeter and Mariano River and MarinersEdgar Martinez — he’s the only No. 1 overall pick to have accomplished that feat. As Chipper told me “There’s a tremendous sense of pride in sticking with one team, sticking with one fanbase, sticking with one front office.”

7. An unforgettable moment in Cooperstown

The stories of Chipper and his dad practicing with a tennis ball and PVC pipe — an improvisation with the way Wiffle Ball bats were cracking — became the stuff of legends and it only increased over Hall of Fame weekend in 2018. He recounted the father-son games in his induction speech, and then the next day at Cooperstown’s Doubleday Field, the Jones brought the old game out retirement ... only Chipper was especially rusty. He’d do no more than foul a couple off, but HOF classmate Jim Thome stepped in and showed his good friend up, launching a home run off the elder Jones into right field.

8. An Emmy Award winner

He was the 1999 National League MVP, the circuit’s 2008 batting champ and a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, but there’s a piece of hardware missing from Chipper’s Baseball Reference page: an Emmy Award. Jones won the award as part of FOX Sport South’s DRIVEN series (you know, what now fills rain-delay programming) and he quipped at the 2014 ceremony “I guess an Emmy is going to have to sit where my prospective Gold Glove was going to.” He’s far from the only member of his former Braves team to have added that statue to his trophy case. Brian McCann and fellow HOFers Glavine, Maddux, have won and John Smoltz — a nominee in 2017 and ‘18 — is bound to add one of his own at some point.

9. The mock turtlenecks

Back on Sept. 28, 2012 — in what was Chipper Jones’ last homestand of his career — the entire Braves team and staff wore mock turtlenecks in honor of No. 10’s uniform staple. As David Ross recalled “”We called it his nerdle-neck. On his retirement weekend, we all wore the mock turtlenecks with no sleeves and took a team picture. It didn’t matter if it was a billion degrees. He had on the mock turtleneck underneath his shirt with the cutoff sleeves. We would give him crap about it. It was his signature thing. That’s what he wore.” Jones, who had typically liked his uniform to be tight-fitting slowly started buying into the baggy trend of the late 2000s when he had three hits after borrowing a pair of Brian McCann’s pants, but the mock turtle remained. This lot on Goldin Auctions contains a game-worn Chipper mock turtle, which has some instructions for the Braves’ clubhouse staff: “DO NOT PUT IN DRYER.” So, while he liked those undershirts tight, apparently event Chipper had his limitations.

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