Random musings about the greatest Atlanta Brave:
- I first saw Chipper play at Macon’s Luther Williams Field in 1991. Appropriate. Seeing a future franchise treasure at a treasure of an old ballpark. The 19-year-old Chipper was in his second season as a pro. Erratic at shortstop, there was never any doubting his wizardry with a bat. I’m no baseball scout. But it was plain to anyone who’d swung a bat or watched many others swing: this kid had a Tony Gwynn-type ability to consistently put the meat of the bat on the ball. It showed. Chipper hit .326 in Macon that year, and .346 in Greenville the next season.
- In March, 1994, the rangy kid Jones was flying around left field in Fort Lauderdale against the Yankees. He radiated joy and skill. He homered and, I believe, doubled that night before crumpling to the ground trying to avoid a first baseman’s tag on an errant throw from shortstop. That first baseman: the despicable Leyritz, who seriously should probably be in prison. After the game, a friend asked Ernie Johnson Jr. about Chipper. Bad news.
- Opening Day, 1995. CB and I sat in a FulCo that was not close to full after the players’ strike. No matter. We watched the rookie Chipper, now playing third base, hit third, single in a run in his first at-bat and later knock in another run and get another hit. Those were his third and fourth big league hits. Chipper would hit .265, with 23 HR and 86 RBI. He hit .364 in that championship postseason, and made several glittering defensive plays at third. Come to think of it, how many Hall of Fame players, or any players for that matter, played three different positions so early in their careers? Not many, I’d guess.
- Chipper hit at least 20 homers and drove in at least 100 runs for the next eight seasons. He stole double-digit bases in five of those years.
- Everyone knows Chipper buried the Mets in 1999. The Braves, of course, won the East and then dispatched the wildcard winning New York in the NLCS. The numbers were remarkable, though: in 12 games vs. the Mets, Chipper hit .400, with a .510 OBP, 7 homers and 16 RBI. Slugging percentage: 1.000, meaning he had 40 total bases in 40 at-bats. Let that sink in. In six games that effectively buried the Mets — the Braves went 5-1 — Chipper hit 7 homers, knocked in 12, scored 11 runs, hit .473 and reached base 60 percent of the time.
- I don’t have time for an exhaustive list of Chipperthoughts here. We’ll keep those coming. But I’d just add to the recent list the two walk-offs against the Phillies. And, in recent years especially, his candor and thoughtfulness about baseball have made him an always interesting interview. (Here, O’Brien calls him the most pleasant player to deal with he has ever covered.) Finally, in all his years, he never came close to even threatening to leave the Braves. Some of that, no doubt, is because the Braves always made signing him a priority. But Chipper never once made any noises, that I can recall, about even considering playing elsewhere. Yeah, he had his share of injuries. Yes, his candor got him into a little PR trouble at times. And, yes, he had youthful indiscretions. Who among us wouldn’t if taken out of our small hometown and handed seven figures and a glamorous lifestyle? Chipper, farewell, friend. Thanks for all you’ve done for our beloved Bravos. We will dearly miss you.
- Oh, yeah. Huddy pitches tonight against Jon Niese. We hope Bourn plays. We hope the Braves win. We hope Chipper goes yard, just like — as Maddux said at his number-retirement ceremony — old times against the Mets.