It has been a few days now since my beloved Atlanta Braves were bumped from the playoffs in the NL Wildcard game against the St. Louis Cardinals. I didn’t get to watch the whole game because I had to be at a wedding rehearsal during the same time, but in hindsight, that was probably a good thing. A couple of takeaways from the game:
- The Braves didn’t deserve to win. Committed too many errors and left way too many men on base.
- Regardless of this, they still had a chance to win, which was negated by one of the worst calls in the history of Major League Baseball. Regardless of the fact that umpire Sam Holbrook stands by his call and other officials have closed ranks around him, it was a terrible call. Not only did it betray a fundamental lack of understanding of the word ‘ordinary’, it failed to take into account the whole line of reasoning behind the institution of the Infield Fly Rule in the first place—to protect the offensive team.
- A one-game playoff between two wildcard teams is completely stupid, as it negates the 162 game regular season. Anything can happen in a baseball game, which is why we play series in the playoffs—to more accurately and less randomly determine the better team. Add this to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s loooonnngg list of baseball sins.
So yeah, I was bummed about the game. The biggest bummer of all though is that the loss represented the end of Chipper Jones’ Hall of Fame career.
I have always been a big Chipper fan. At the height of my baseball fandom (when, in addition to just following the Braves I was also obsessively collecting baseball cards and playing baseball all the time myself), Chipper burst onto the scene in 1995 as the Braves’ star of the future. Atlanta won the World Series that year, Chipper should have won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, and it looked like the future was very bright.
And for Chipper, it definitely was—he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer for sure, as well as being in the top 3 all time in the following categories:
- Switch-hitters: I’d actually put him at number 2, behind Mickey Mantle. In my opinion, definitely ahead of Eddie Murray.
- Third basemen: I think you could make a case that he’s the best of all time, but I’d put him behind Mike Schmidt and ahead of George Brett.
- Braves: Third best Brave ever, behind Hank Aaron and Warren Spahn (apologies to Tom Glavine…you really shouldn’t have signed with the Mets though).
You might disagree with where I have Chipper ranked within the top 3 of these categories, which is fine. You might also disagree that Chipper belongs in the top 3 of these categories, but you would be wrong.
Chipper played his entire career with the Braves, and as you’ve likely heard all season if you are a baseball fan, “he played the game the way it’s supposed to be played.” The degree to which he was respected around the league was evident this season as team after team honored him when he would make his last visit to play in their stadiums.
Chipper’s retirement is poignant for me, because he represents the last link to the dominant Braves teams of my youth, who won 14 divisional titles in a row. That streak had already begun when Chipper broke into the big leagues, but he was there for its peak, when the Braves won the World Series in his rookie season in 1995. Probably no one would have believed that it would be his last, but as it turned out, the Braves of Chipper Jones were largely characterized by great pitching, a ton of regular season wins, and disappointment in the playoffs.
That being said, looking ahead, it’s hard to be excited about the prospect of the Braves ascending to the top of the baseball world without their best player and longtime clubhouse leader around. Over the last few years, as his skills declined (slightly) and it became harder and harder for him to stay healthy, it also became increasingly obvious how important he was to the team: when Chipper was in the lineup, it always felt like the Braves had a chance to win. Without him, any victory seemed to be a lucky one.
He’s still a good player, and could probably still be productive for a couple more seasons, but he’s made it clear over and over again this season that he’s done, and there’s a lot to be said for going out well, rather than hanging on as long as you can and potentially tarnishing your legacy.
So so long to Chipper Jones, the best Brave of my lifetime. You will be missed.