This is how a career should end for a future Hall of Famer.
No embarrassingly slow Willie Mays in a Mets uniform or a worn down Hank Aaron gutting out 10 final home runs for the Brewers. No Roger Clemens circus side show, impromptu Jim Palmer spring training comeback or a baseball version of Brett Favre, defined by a past-his-prime former superstar trying to squeeze out one more year in the spotlight.
Chipper Jones is too classy for that. Though he exemplifies the way the game should be played – even at 40, when his injury-ravaged body continues to take a beating – the switch-hitting third baseman who was the first overall pick by Atlanta in the 1990 draft and has spent his entire 19-year career with the Braves insists he will retire when the season ends.
Regardless of whether the 2012 campaign ends with a disappointing collapse as it did last year for the Braves, or a deep run into late October, Jones says he will hang ’em up.
Even though he is batting .302 with 14 home runs, 58 RBI, a .500 slugging percentage and a .881 OPS, the DeLand, Fla. native reiterates that he will call it a career.
Though he could lace up his spikes for a 20th season in 2013 on a team that is rich with talented starting pitching and will likely contend for a World Series title, Jones repeatedly tells the media that he will not be back.
“Well, I made a promise that I intend to keep,” Jones told the media. “I told my boys I’m going to spend my time with them.”
Jones – who has 468 home runs, a .304 average, a .531 slugging percentage and a .933 OPS since making his Major League debut in 1993 – has been hampered by nagging injuries over the last three years. He played 143 games in 2009, but was limited to 95 in 2010, 126 last year and 89 this season.
“The simple fact is some days, my body doesn’t allow me to go out there and do all the things I’ve done before,” Jones said. “But when I do go out there and look at the video board and see my average as I step to the plate, at least I know my production in general is still there. And that’s quite gratifying.
“People have said I’m over the hill, and you know what? They’re right. I am. I’m old,” he added. “But it’s nice to know I can still hit in the lineup and help us win games.”
In what he promises is indeed his farewell tour, Jones has collected an array of parting gifts at stadiums across the majors, a sign of respect for a player who is known on on a first-name basis. He continues to demonstrate that he is leaving the game he loves on his own terms.
On Sunday, Jones hit one of the most dramatic home runs in his storied career – a three-run walk-off blast against Philadelphia’s Jonathan Papelbon. The dinger not only gave Atlanta a win, but it also provided the club with a much-needed momentum boost. Entering September, the Braves had dropped 10 out of 14, and it was last year at this time that Atlanta started a downslide that saw its’ 9.5-game wild card lead completely slip away on the last night of the regular season.
Jones has savored a multitude of highlights over his 19-year career. He was the National League Rookie of the Year runner-up in 1995, the same season his team won its only World Series championship since moving to Atlanta. He was National League Most Valuable Player in 1999, when he belted 45 home runs, knocked in 110 and hit .319. He won a batting title at the age of 36 in 2008 with a .364 average. He has ripped 25 or more home runs 10 times.
The ultimate highlight would have Jones celebrating amid a pile of teammates after winning his second World Series in his final Major League season. Regardless of how the season concludes, Jones can walk away knowing that he was one of the all-time greats – with his stats with by how he played the game.