At long last, the Atlanta Braves will be retiring the number Andruw Jones famously wore during his 12 seasons with the team when the number 25 will be formally retired on Saturday, September 9, 2023.
With due respect to Barbaro Canizares, Ryan Church, Troy Glaus, Juan Fransisco, Joey Terdoslavich, Christian Bethancourt, Cameron Maybin, Tyler Flowers, Cristian Pache and Alex Dickerson, the final resting place for Jones’ number 25 will now be in the more appropriate company of Dale Murphy, Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones, Warren Spahn, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Phil Niekro, Hank Aaron and Tom Glavine whose numbers were retired specifically for their accomplishments with the Braves organization.
Jones is one of only two players for whom a number retirement has been bestowed despite not being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame; fellow outfielder Murphy is still on the outside of the Hall of Fame looking in as well. While Murphy will have to wait until another veterans committee era vote, Jones is still on the writer’s ballot, and trending in the right direction toward election.
Earlier this year, in his sixth year of eligibility, Jones earned 58.1-percent of the vote. With only 75-percent of the vote needed for election his current three-year trend - from 33.9-percent to 41.4-percent to 58.1-percent - bodes well for him to cross that threshold into Cooperstown before his 10 years of election eligibility runs out.
It was way back in 2007 when Jones last laced-up his cleats for Atlanta; he was only 30 years old and looking like a solid bet for a possible first-ballot election. Offensively, Jones had slugged 368 home runs, 330 doubles, 34 triples, accumulated 1,683 hits, scored 1,045 runs and driven in 1,117 runs. He’d also stolen 138 bases while tallying a solid 114 OPS+ with a triple-slash of .263/.342/.497.
During his time in Atlanta, Jones played in 153 or more games in each season of his career other than 1996 - when he debuted in Atlanta as a 19-year-old and played in 31 regular season games. Early in his career, he offered speed and power, stealing as many as 27 bases in 1998 while hitting more than 30 home runs for this first of seven times in his career. From 1998 through 2006, Jones averaged 35 home runs, 99 runs, 104 runs batted in and 31 doubles good for a 119 OPS+. He did this while averaging playing in 158 games and never playing in less than 154 games.
For as good as that offensive performance was, it wasn’t Jones’ offense that bestowed exuberance and exultation from the media, teammates, foes and fans. No, that praise was because of his defense.
Playing in an era before defensive stats logged every step, every mph on a throw, every route efficiently percentage; Jones was the human eyeball test. During the era, the question wasn’t whether or not Jones was the best defender in the National League. Most years it wasn’t if he was the best defender in all of MLB. No, during his peak, the question was whether or not Jones was the best defensive outfielder in the history of the game.
There’s no way of knowing or quantifying if Jones was better than Willie Mays, defensively. Some argue for and some argue against, but there’s no denying he was an elite defensive outfielder. That Jones is still regarded as one of the best defenders all-time, some 27 years after his debut, provides a basis as to why his Hall of Fame voting totals have jumped from a paltry 7.5-percent to where it stands now.
Using Fangraphs as a reference, Jones posted six seasons with an fWAR of 6.0 or better. He bested 7.0 fWAR three times, peaking at 7.9 fWAR during his career-best 2005 season.
Playing in 160 games in 2005, Jones slugged a franchise record 51 home runs while driving in 128 runs good for a wRC+ of 134 which is pretty remarkable given his BABIP was only .240. He was still at his peak defensively, good for 2.0 dWAR per Baseball-Reference.
If you want to lose yourself for a half-hour, go pull up his pages on either of those two Web sites and reference which ever stats you believe in most. Those stats will all point you in the same direction: that Jones was every bit the Superman in the outfield that his dives make him look to be while robbing opposing batters from extra base hits.
For his career, Jones took home 10 Gold Gloves, was a five-time All-Star, a Silver Slugger and finished in the top 16 in the MVP voting five times, including a second-place finish in 2005. He also won the Hank Aaron Award and TSN Major League Player of the Year award in 2005.
Again, thanks to Baseball-Reference, they have Jones pegged as leading the National League in Defensive WAR four times (1998, 2000, 2001, 2002) and finishing in the top 10 five other seasons. For his career, they have him ranked 22nd all-time. More on that in a few paragraphs.
Baseball-Reference also has Jones ranked 2nd All-time in Total Zone Runs and first for centerfielders and first for outfielders since 1953.
For his career, Fangraphs valued Jones at 67 fWAR and Baseball-Reference slightly lower at 62.7. Those put him in the Hall of Fame range, but no shoe-in, which draws comparisons to Murphy both for the good and for the bad.
To get the bad out the way, first. Although he won a Gold Glove for his defensive work during his last season in Atlanta in 2007, his offensive performance declined significantly. After leaving Atlanta for Los Angeles via free agency in 2008, Jones was not the same player he was in Atlanta, to say the least.
Although his miserable 2008 for the Dodgers saw him be laughably bad - posting -1.1bWAR in only 75 games - Jones was still a positive contributor for the balance of his career, but only saw action in more than 100 games one time between 2007 and 2012 - his 2010 season for the White Sox - as injuries robbed Jones of his defensive abilities in centerfield, making him a primarily a part-time corner outfielder and designated hitter.
After two seasons with the Yankees in 2011 and 2012, Jones went to Japan, playing in more than 130 games in each of his two seasons as a member of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. He hit 50 home runs combined in 2013 and 2014, but despite that success, he never made his way onto an MLB roster again despite looking for an opportunity to return in 2015 and 2016.
His final five seasons in MLB saw him add only 2.7 fWAR to his resume. Like Murphy, his injury-driven decline was swift, but his peak was stellar.
To frame this in a slightly different way, if Jones had retired after his 2007 season, he would have exceeded 60 fWAR while being only 30 years old. That would have made him a slightly better version of Sandy Koufax, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Dodgers who retired after his age 30 season having posted 54.5 fWAR for his career. But Jones didn’t retire, and thus his precipitous decline clouds the excellence of his on-field performance during his tenure in Atlanta.
For the positive part of the comparison, Jones wasn’t just good - Jones was great - for a decade. He was 19 when he became the youngest player to homer in the World Series and became a full-time starter at age 20 when he finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. While he didn’t win back-to-back NL MVP awards like Murphy, he spent a decade defining one of the key positions on the diamond, defensively, while being above average offensively.
Baseball-Reference ranks Jones 10th all-time in bWAR while with the Braves organization. That puts Jones almost 14 bWAR higher than Murphy, who is 11th, and just behind Hall of Famer and former teammate, Tom Glavine.
In late February 2016, Jones officially announced his retirement from baseball, and on the same day, it was announced that he would be inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame later that year. Curiously, despite his induction and growing Hall of Fame vote total, it took another seven seasons for Jones to have his number retired by the organization that signed him as a teenager.
Jones’ legacy can’t be discussed without mentioning that there were several off-the-field-issues during his career, including a domestic issue on December 25, 2012. But in recent years, he’s been a fixture at Braves Spring Training and in-and-around Truist Park. His son Druw Jones was the second overall pick in the 2022 MLB draft.
Now 46, Jones is no longer “The Curacao Kid” he was a generation ago, although his smile still radiates like it did during his glory days. He’s 11 years removed from his last at-bat in the big leagues. In January 2024, he will be waiting to see if he will get the call to join many of his fellow teammates, managers and general manager in the Hall of Fame.
It is odd that it took 15 years of issuing the number to other Braves players before Atlanta finally added 25 to the list of numbers adorning the inner facade of Truist Park. But after Saturday, the “why” changes to “finally” as Jones - and everyone else who enters Truist Park - will be able to gaze upon “25” and see it keeping watch on an outfield like the one Jones once covered like the dew on an early summer morning in the South.
It is there - between the green grass below the blue sky above; intertwined with the gasps of amazement and the victorious cheers - that memories will echo the sounds of Skip Carey’s amazement at another unbelievable play made by the younger of “the Jones boys” when he exclaimed, “He made the catch! What a play!”
Between the chalked lines is where Jones was at his best; the outfield was his Gotham, but he wasn’t just Batman but also Superman and Spiderman. A comic book hero come to life, scaling walls and stealing baseballs out of the air.