Heroes: Chipper Jones

28/08/2012 § 1 Comment

Chipper Jones
Hitters hit. (photo: Steve Paluch/Flickr Creative Commons)

Hitting is an art. Ted Williams knew it. He made it his signature to be the best. “There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived,” was what he hoped people would say as he walked down the street. Given how we’ve come to understand Williams’ career over the past fifty years, such a statement still wouldn’t be too far from the truth.

Plenty of hitters hit, but few are consistently great. They have holes in their swing, they can’t consistently hit for power, they run hot and cold. Chipper Jones won’t ever quite be in the same category as Ted Williams, but he’s not far off.

I found myself on the couch on Sunday night, watching Sunday Night Baseball. Chipper Jones came to bat as a pinch hitter in the 8th inning and the crowd rose to its feet. It was his last at bat in San Francisco and the crowd was acknowledging what has truly been a great career.

Chipper Jones is not the only player to have begun and ended his career during my lifetime, but he is the first to give me pause. I was never a Braves fan, but his exposure on TBS, especially in the late nineties and early noughties, drilled his presence into my brain.

For me, will he be the representative great hitter of his era? Quite possibly. Every year he’s done the job. He drove my fantasy for years, even in seasons when we all thought he was going to break down, that the talent would no longer be able to overcome the stiffened gears. And yet, here he was, coming to bat with a .308 average and a dozen home runs. The man is 40 years old.

At the age of 36, Chipper Jones hit .364 – a career-best and the season’s best average. He has never had a season where his OPS fell anywhere close to average. Keeping yourself above the curve is a true mark of an all-time great. It should be no surprise that Baseball Reference’s fan-driven, head-to-head ELO rater ranks him as the 35th-best hitter of all time, just ahead of Johnny Bench and just behind Ed Delahanty. He’s the third-best active batter, according to that same system.

What I realized, as Jones stepped out of the batter’s box to acknowledge the roaring salute from the crowd, was that this is one of the greats. We are fortunate to see athletes excel, and this one did, all the time. Our experience as fans is lessened by their endings.

Chipper Jones has always been the kind of guy who you would stop to watch. Something would happen, you just knew you  couldn’t risk missing it. I will miss watching him play.

Johnston

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