Thursday, March 22, 2012
Chipper Jones plans to retire
ESPN.com news services
Third baseman Chipper Jones will retire at the end of the 2012 season, the Atlanta Braves said.
The third baseman, who has spent his entire 18-year career with Atlanta, has battled injuries the past several seasons and actually decided to retire in 2010, only to change his mind.
This time, he means it.
The Braves said the team and Jones, who will turn 40 next month, have expressed interest in him remaining with the franchise in a yet-to-be-determined capacity after he retires.
During the early days of spring training, Jones marveled he was still with the Braves with his milestone birthday coming up in April.
"Never in my mid-20s would I have given myself a snowball's chance to be in camp and have a job at 40 years old," Jones told The Associated Press. "But I like to think I've kept myself in pretty good shape over the years. The skills are still there to go out and get it done. I don't know for how much longer, but we're gonna ride it as long as we can."
Former Braves manager Bobby Cox said Jones should go into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot.
"No doubt," Cox said. "A switch-hitter who has played on winners and done everything he's done."
Former Braves pitcher Greg Maddux, who was visiting the Texas Rangers' spring training facility on Thursday -- his brother Mike is the Rangers' pitching coach -- said he was proud to call Jones a teammate.
Maddux joked that Jones always could change his mind, but noted how difficult it is for one player to spend an entire career with the same organization.
"I think it's awesome," Maddux said. "He's had a great career. He's a winner. He played to win every day. He was a great hitter and was very well prepared. He meant a lot to that franchise and still means a lot to that franchise."
Jones has indicated his most likely post-career option is working as a hitting instructor.
"I think I'd be better off as a specialty coach," Jones told the AP last month. "I have such a passion for hitting. I'm kind of a one-track-mind kind of guy.
"While I think I could manage, I really don't have the urge to manage. I'd much rather be a hitting coach than a manager."
Jones, who was selected No. 1 overall by the Braves in the 1990 amateur draft, has spent his entire professional career with the franchise. A seven-time All-Star, he has a .304 career average with 454 home runs, 526 doubles and 1,561 RBIs in 2,387 games.
A feared hitter when healthy, Jones has carved out a place in baseball history as one of the best to hit from both sides of the plate.
His 454 home runs rank Jones third all-time among switch-hitters, behind Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, who hit 536 homers, and Eddie Murray, who slugged 504. His career batting average ranks second among all switch-hitters, behind Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch (.316).
He is the only switch-hitter in major league history with more than 300 home runs and a career batting average more than .300.
Jones' best season was 1999, when he won the MVP award with a .319 average, a career-leading 45 homers and 110 RBIs. Nine years later, at age 36, he won his first batting title with a career-high .364 average, which remains the last of his 10 seasons hitting above .300.
He hit .275 with 18 home runs and 70 RBIs in 126 games last season.
Jones initially was pegged to join the Braves' lineup four years after he was drafted as a left fielder. But he suffered a season-ending knee injury in spring training, delaying his debut.
What a debut it was.
Back at his natural infield position, Jones finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting and helped the Braves win their first World Series title in Atlanta.
That remains his only championship, even though the Braves kept right on winning the NL East through 2005 in an unprecedented streak of 14 straight division titles. Jones was on teams that lost to the New York Yankees in the 1996 and 1999 World Series.
Maddux, who won three of his four Cy Young Awards in Atlanta, remembers playing all kinds of card games with Jones.
"I won most of them because he was a rookie," Maddux said, smiling. "But he's pretty good at them now. We played in the clubhouse before games, during rain delays, on the plane. He was fun to be around and a great teammate."
After the team slumped for a couple of years, Jones was joined by a new generation of players who led the Braves back to the postseason in 2010 -- the final year of Cox's long tenure as manager. Atlanta lost to the eventual champion San Francisco Giants in a tightly fought division series Jones missed, having gone down in August with the second season-ending knee injury of his career.
In addition to two major knee operations, Jones has had to deal with nagging ailments since 2004. This spring, he reported in top shape but faced leg problems, leading him to question whether he could even make it through the season.
"There's not a day goes by that I don't take some kind of pill or injection ... to help me go out there," he said.
ESPNDallas.com baseball writer Richard Durrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.