Earlier today, Chipper Jones announced that he will be retiring at the end of the season after almost two decades spent entirely with the Atlanta Braves. Jones will retire as one of the Braves’ all-time greatest players, finishing in the top three in many of the team’s offensive categories (along with Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews). He will also end his career as one of the best switch-hitters in baseball history, joining other greats such as Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray and Pete Rose.
Chipper Jones was like Norm from Cheers, with every fan at Shea Stadium and Citi Field saying his first name in unison as he strolled into the batter’s box. But unlike Norm, whenever Jones heard his name, it wasn’t usually in adulation.
When the Braves and Mets competed for National League supremacy in 1999 and 2000, it was Jones who repeatedly delivered in the clutch, keeping the Mets from ending the Braves’ reign atop the division. By then, he was already known as “La-a-a-a-a-arry” to the Shea faithful, similar to the way Darryl Strawberry was known as “Da-a-a-a-a-arryl” to Red Sox fans during the 1986 World Series. Of course, Strawberry got the last laugh, hitting a towering home run off Red Sox reliever Al Nipper in Game 7. Chipper Jones usually hushed the crowd as well with his ability to come through in the clutch.
And what a clutch hitter he was against the Mets. In 812 career at-bats versus New York, Jones hit .318 with 48 HR and 154 RBI. Only Hall of Famers Willie Stargell (60) and Mike Schmidt (49) hit more career home runs against the Mets than Chipper Jones.
But Jones wasn’t just a great hitter when the Mets were in the other dugout. He was an equal opportunity slugger, especially within his own division. Through 2011, Jones has hit at least 40 HR against every team in the National League East, numbers that will only rise as he plays his final year in the major leagues. Despite his inability to stay on the field because of various injuries throughout the latter part of his career, he still managed to win a batting title in 2008, hitting an impressive .364 at age 36.
Over the years, Mets fans at Shea Stadium and Citi Field would shower Chipper Jones with boos and remind him of his given name whenever he stepped up to the plate. But did they really hate Chipper Jones or was it just a masked sign of respect for a great player?
Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino also get pooped on by the boo birds whenever they come to New York. But all three of them brought it upon themselves by not being able to keep their mouths shut. Cole Hamels may have been the biggest offender of Mets fans when he famously claimed that the Mets were choke artists. In fact, his mouth is so big, he could insert Shaquille O’Neal’s foot in it and it still wouldn’t shut him up. Those players are players Mets fans genuinely hate. There’s no respect in those boos.
But Chipper Jones is different. He never guaranteed anything even when the Braves were racking up division titles faster than the current Mets rack up injuries. He also never disrespected a fan base like Hamels or his former teammate, John Rocker, did. In fact, Jones loved playing in New York so much, he named his son Shea.
Why was Chipper Jones booed so much in New York? Because he was good. Really good. For a very long time.
Larry did his homework on the Mets, which is why he was so great against them for nearly two decades. But he didn’t just pick on the Mets; he picked apart opposing pitchers all over the National League. When the Braves make their final appearance at Citi Field this year on September 9, Mets fans should put aside their negative feelings and give Chipper Jones a standing ovation. After so many years booing him, it’s time to recognize that he was one of the best players of his generation. Jones is a certain first ballot Hall of Famer who, like Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, played his entire career with one team. Only special players get to do that. Chipper Jones has been a special player.
When the 2012 season comes to a close, Chipper Jones will be retiring from baseball. Ask any Mets fan how they feel about the news and they’ll say they won’t be at a loss, which shouldn’t be surprising. Why not? Because when the game was on the line, the man they called “La-a-a-a-a-arry” usually had their favorite team at a loss. It’s no wonder Mets fans will probably enjoy Chipper Jones’ retirement more than Chipper himself.