When you think about the steroid era, you think about guys with over 60 home runs in a season like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. You also think of guys like Roger Clemens, who managed to win seven Cy Young Awards, including one at age 41. Yet, a kid born on April 24, 1972, in DeLand, Florida, played during this same time period and absolutely tore it up.
In his first year on the ballot, Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones Jr. is a lock for the Hall of Fame. Although he did not put up numbers as outlandish as his counterparts who used PEDs, Jones’ stats were absolutely remarkable for someone who was completely clean in a time where baseball was filled with corruption. Jones will be the second player in the history of the amateur draft to be selected No. 1 overall and reach the Hall of Fame.
Larry Jr. was given the nickname “Chipper” at a young age by his family. They saw the boy as a “chip off the old block” and the name stuck. His dad, Larry Sr., who idolized Mickey Mantle, taught Chipper to switch hit just like the Yankee legend. In high school, he was a star pitcher, shortstop and outfielder.
As an 18-year-old kid, the Atlanta Braves selected Jones with the first overall pick in the 1990 MLB June Amateur Draft. He was drafted as a shortstop, but as he worked his way up the ladder in the Braves farm system, it was clear that third base was a better fit.
Here is an excerpt from SI’s article, “Chipper Jones is a lock for First-Ballot Hall of Fame election.”
Ahead of the 1990 draft, he met with agent Scott Boras, whom he found “brash, abrasive, smug and cocky,” according to his description of their brief meeting in his 2017 memoir, Ballplayer. Instead, he hired childhood friend B.B. Abbott. A day before the draft, Jones ditched his prom weekend to meet with the Braves, who owned the No. 1 overall pick; Cox, then the team’s general manager, had scouted him. Over dinner at an Olive Garden in Daytona Beach, Jones agreed to a bonus of $275,000 with incentives that pushed the total package of $400,000.
In late 1993, Jones debuted as the youngest player in the league. The following season, after starting left fielder Ron Gant broke his leg in a dirt bike accident, it appeared Jones would have a legitimate shot to start. That was until Jones suffered an ACL tear in the spring of 1994. Jones missed the entire strike-shortened season in 1994.
As a rookie in 1995, he became just the fifth qualified rookie to get at least 23 home runs, 85 RBIs, 135 hits and 73 walks. That list includes Ted Williams, Al Rosen, Alvin Davis and Tim Salmon. Recently, both Aaron Judge and Kris Bryant eclipsed these numbers during their rookie seasons.
1995 was also the year that the Atlanta Braves won their third championship, and first since moving to Atlanta. In the NLCS, Jones hit .438. During the entirety of the 1995 postseason, the 23-year-old Jones hit .364 with 10 runs, three home runs and eight RBIs.
In 19 years, all with the Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones had a career average of .303, along with 2,726 hits, including 468 home runs.
|Players to hit at least: 460 HR, 2,700 H, .300 BA, .400 OBP|
Jones had five seasons in which he finished in the top 10 for batting average, and seven seasons in the top 10 for on-base percentage. He joined Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Mel Ott, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial as the only retired players to have a career batting average above .300, hit at least 465 home runs and a minimum of 2,700 hits and 1,600 runs.
Jones had five seasons in which he had 180 hits, 30 home runs, 110 runs and a slugging percentage above .530. Players who also had five seasons with these numbers include Stan Musial and Ted Williams. The only players with more than five of these monster seasons are Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.
From 1995-2008, Jones had 14 straight seasons of at least 20 doubles and 21 home runs. Fourteen straight. His 162-game average, over a span of 19 seasons, was .303, 30 home runs, 177 hits and 105 runs.
In 1999, Jones won the NL MVP award. He hit .319 with 45 home runs and 181 hits. Jones also had a .441 on-base percentage, .633 slugging percentage, and an OPS+ of 169. The AL MVP, Ivan Rodriguez, had an on-base percentage of .356, slugging percentage of .558, and an OPS+ of 125. All stats lower than Jones, who was arguably the best player in the league in 1999.
|PLAYERS WITH SEASONS OF AT LEAST 21 HOME RUNS, 20 DOUBLES, .390 OBP, .295 BA||# OF SEASONS|
During his career (1993-2012), Jones had the fourth most WAR behind Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols. He is currently 23rd in offensive WAR, which has him ahead of George Brett, Robin Yount, Pete Rose, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew and Carl Yastrzemski.
According to the baseball gurus, an All-Star type season means at least 5 WAR. Chipper Jones had eight seasons with 5.5 WAR. His 468 home runs are the most in the NL by a switch-hitter. Jones is arguably the second best switch-hitter of all-time, behind his dad’s idol, Mickey Mantle.
The Hot Corner
Jones spent the majority of his career at the hot corner, but also played left field in 2002 and 2003. He had seven seasons in which he finished in the top three for third basemen in WAR, including first in 1998, 1999 and 2008. From 1996-2001, Chipper Jones was the best third baseman in baseball. During this time, he led all qualified third basemen in WAR with 35.6. The second place finisher, Jeff Cirillo, had only 28.4.
A serious argument could be made for Jones as the best third baseman of all time. He is third all time in home runs for third basemen who played at least 1,500 games at the hot corner. When compared to Mike Schmidt, Jones has a higher batting average, more hits, more runs, higher OBP, higher SLG and a higher OPS. Chipper also has more home runs and higher OBP, SLG, and OPS than the great George Brett.
Jones is also one of the best postseason players of all time. He has played the ninth most games and ranks fifth in runs scored, fifth in hits, seventh in total bases, eighth in RBIs, seventh in singles and tied for first in walks.
Once he got a little older, Jones did not slow down. After turning 34, he had three seasons in which he hit .320 with 20 home runs and 20 doubles. The only other players with more seasons, at 34 years or older, are Ted Williams, Barry Bonds and Edgar Martinez.
At age 36, Jones won the batting title with a batting average of .364. He joined Tris Speaker, Ted Williams, Zach Wheat, Babe Ruth, Tony Gwynn, Barry Bonds and Eddie Collins as the only players 36 years or older to finish a season hitting at least .360. Jones finished his career with six seasons in the top ten for MVP voting and finished in the top 25 for nine straight seasons (1995-2003).
|PLAYERS AFTER TURNING 35 WHO HIT .300, 110 HR, 160 2B|
The 1999 NL MVP, 2008 NL Batting Title Champion, eight-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger and 1995 World Series Champion is an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer, whose numbers show that he is among the best players in the history of the sport.
Featured image from USA Today
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