As our other
author's authors so eloquently set forth late last week, Chipper Jones has been that rarest of things in Major League Baseball these days: A hated rival player who stays with a hated rival team for the entirety of his career. Entire generations of Phillies fans (not to mention Mets fans, and Marlins fa- wait, strike that last one), repeatedly saw this guy rip their teams' hearts out and drop kick them into the fireplace. He's merciless and, yes, truly great. Hating rivals is one of the things that sports is all about.
Pained as I am to write this, it's also only fair to acknowledge Chipper's [swallow hard buddy, you can do this] greatness on his way out the door.
One of the notable things about Jones' career, and probably one of the reasons we hate him so much, is that everything went exactly as planned for him. An incredibly gifted high school phenom turned early first round draft pick turned All-Star turned World Champion turned MVP. It's all there. There's no hubris, humility, or dignity in defeat here. The third baseman was born on third base.
Where does Jones rank among other third baseman? Of course a Phillies blog is going to put him behind Mike Schmidt. Of course, any objective measurement puts Jones well behind Schmidt. While Chipper has compiled more hits and a higher batting average, Schmidt's career numbers were compiled during an era of relatively depressed offense, while the meat of Jones' career fell during the late 90s/early 2000s "era of greatly increased offensive output that we shall not refer to as the Steroid Era." The other big difference maker with Schmidt and Jones is defense -- Schmidt was a tremendously gifted defensive third baseman, probably bested only by the wizard Brooks Robinson, while Jones spent a career as an adequate, but neither good nor terrible, defensive player. That's not to take anything away from him, however. Look at some of the boobs the Phillies have run out to third base over the past decade.
You can probably fashion an argument that Jones isn't even the best third baseman in his own franchise's history. Often obscured by the legendary Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews socked 493 home runs for the Braves and compiled 90.1 rWAR for the Braves, versus Jones' 81.3 rWAR (to date). In any event, when you split hairs that much on the "who's greater?" tip, you're a pretty fortunate franchise.
The biggest damper on Jones' career, especially in his 30s, was health. He has not played more than 150 games in a season since 2003, and only once topped 140 games since, in 2009. Production when healthy is one thing, but remaining healthy and keeping that on the field is another.
In summation, Chipper's Hall of Fame bonafides are rock solid, as is his "hated rival" status. We'll be telling our kids about that S.O.B. from Atlanta who bedeviled the Phillies for the better part of two decades.
Goodbye, Chipper. And never come back!