SITTING IN THE CHEAP SEATS: Chipper ranks as an all-time great; thoughts on conference realignment

For me, Chipper Jones is special. I was there, when it all started, as the AJC’s beat writer covering him from a skinny 18-year-old to eventually becoming the best pure hitter in baseball.
For me, it’s time for Jones to call it a career, wait his five years and be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
For me, I’m not interested in watching Chipper try to hobble his way around and get healthy.  His best days are behind him and unlike many pro athletes (Evander Holyfield comes to mind) who never can quite let go, I think Jones realizes that what is best for the team, and more importantly himself and family, is to retire.

Interestingly, Jones was everything Bobby Cox told me he would be when they drafted him No. 1 overall in 1990. At the time, Cox was the club’s general manager and while the hottest player in the draft was Todd Van Poppel, the big-name pitcher who never amounted to anything didn’t want to come to Atlanta and did the Braves a big favor by giving them what has been the glue to this franchise for so many years. Cox and super scout Paul Snyder loved Jones because of his quick hands and ability to hit for power from both sides of the plate. While at the time of his drafting he was a shortstop, his body and power made him the perfect third baseman to eventually replace Terry Pendleton.
His major league career actually started a year late as he was slated to start the 1994 season in left field, but went down with a season-ending knee injury in the spring. I remember that night as the Braves were playing the Yankees in Ft. Lauderdale. I was sitting in a rickety old press box with the great Furman Bisher paying me a visit. Jones ran out a ground ball, got tangled up at first base, and tore the ACL in his left knee. He was finished for the season, which was a double blow as the team had already lost left-fielder Ron Gant to a leg injury in a motorcycle accident that winter.
But this only made Jones work harder and his body of work has been brilliant.
I was listening to talk radio the other day and heard a few callers on 790 The Zone say that Jones doesn’t deserve to be in Cooperstown, which is mindboggling to this writer who has seen, in person, more than 1,500 major league games and five full seasons of Chipper. As my buddy Mark Bradley pointed out in a recent column in the AJC, for the first 12 full seasons Jones played in the major leagues, the Braves finished in first place. The only two others that played consistent roles in all of those seasons was manager Bobby Cox and John Smoltz and they are both going to the Hall. The major statistic that stands out to me is Jones hit .300 in more in 10 seasons. By the way, he also has hit 430 home runs.
If I had to rank third basemen all-time I would put Jones fifth, behind (in order) Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson, George Brett and Wade Boggs. Alex Rodriguez finished behind Jones because he spent the first part of his career at shortstop. Case rested. See you on that fourth Sunday in August in 2016 on the stage with the other greats in upstate New York.
I’ve always been a fan of Jeff Hullinger, but I’ve always felt someone in this town had it out for him. I was very happy to see that he has been hired by WXIA (Channel 11) as a political correspondent. Now that should be interesting, but many forget that Jeff worked at CNN Talk Back Live many years ago and I will never forget in 1996 when he anchored WAGA’s coverage of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing for eight straight hours. His return to the Atlanta television airwaves Monday will be his first in more than eight years and I wish my old Braves coverage and 96 Rock buddy (we worked together there) the best.
I am sure glad the SEC didn’t feel obligated to get involved with all the recent movement among the conferences. What cracks me up the most about it all is someone told me that Nebraska fits right in when it comes to the academics of the Big Ten. Yeah, Nebraska is the Harvard of Lincoln. And how stupid is Boise State’s move to the Mountain West from the WAC? If they had waited, perhaps they could have given the Big XII a chance to build to 12 teams. They currently have only 10 with the loss of Nebraska and Colorado. However, if the SEC expanded I sure would love to see them take Georgia Tech. Can you imagine what it would do to the rivalry with Georgia but more importantly would put butts in the seats at Bobby Dodd Stadium and give them a chance to expand the place? I mean, who would you rather see, Alabama and Florida in Atlanta or North Carolina State and Duke?

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