Making Hall History
Chipper Jones boarded a private jet bound for his personal tour of the Hall of Fame in golf pants and flip flops.
He also wore the harried expression of a former professional athlete who just rushed from a charity golf tournament through Atlanta traffic and skipped lunch.
Only after the twin engine Cessna had climbed several thousand feet, and the hastily-purchased Chick-fil-A sandwich started to work on his stomach, did Jones let the reason for this April trip — an orientation for his upcoming induction — sink in.
“We are off to Cooperstown, New York,” he said, eyebrows raised, peering out the window.
Eight-passenger corporate jets don’t come with flight attendants announcing final destinations. But soon-to-be Hall of Famers entering a new kind of rarefied air often need a little confirmation.
“I still don’t think I’ve really come to grips with any of it,” Jones said, as he pulled out a pair of reading glasses and a copy of USA Today, neatly folding it open to the crossword puzzle. “I don’t think it will until I get up on that podium, and I’ve got all those guys sitting behind me. It’s almost like I’m getting my first big league camp again, like I really don’t know if I belong. But I’m going to sit in the back of the locker room, keep my mouth shut and speak when spoken to.”
For Jones, that “locker room” will have a familiar feel, relatively speaking, because sitting behind him on July 29 will be three of his former teammates, his former manager and his longtime general manager. Jones joins the Braves’ big three pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, as well as their former manager Bobby Cox and GM John Schuerholz. Going in with that kind of company makes Jones’ induction even more unique.
Like Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, Jones was elected on the first ballot. That makes the Braves the first club to have four first-ballot teammates who spent 10 or more seasons with the same club, according to research done by Jayson Stark. (Jones spent 19 seasons with Atlanta, Smoltz 20, Glavine 17 and Maddux 11.)
“That’s got to be unprecedented, but so was our run,” Jones said of the quartet’s longevity with the Braves. “It’s cool to be involved in something that you know quite probably will not be done again. You know nobody is going to hit in 56 straight games. You know nobody is going to play 2,700 straight ball games again. Fourteen straight division titles is—I won’t say never—but it’s pretty untouchable.”
The first overall pick in the 1990 draft, Jones was playing at low Class A in the Braves’ organization when they went worst-to-first in 1991 with Smoltz, Glavine and Steve Avery headlining a young rotation. Jones was a rookie in 1995, the year Atlanta won its only World Series, with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz all pitching together in their prime. Jones and Smoltz were both still playing for the Braves when they won their 14th straight National League East division title in 2005.
Jones, Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz spent 10 years together as teammates in Atlanta, from 1993-2002. That includes 1994 when Jones was out with a knee injury and 2000 when Smoltz was out with Tommy John surgery.
Since 1960, only the Giants have had that many Hall of Famers play together longer. At least four Hall of Famers played for the Giants for 12 straight seasons from 1960-71, and in five of those years, there were five: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry.
“There are a lot of people who are good that I’m sure never get a chance to show how good they can be because they’re not in the right environment,” said Braves broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, who played against those Giants teams of the late 1960s in his time with the Dodgers. “They’re good actors in the wrong play . . . I think these three (Braves pitchers) came along at the right time, when the Braves had an owner (Ted Turner), a general manager and a manager committed to doing whatever it took to win and have everybody play for the same goal and not shortchange your teammates. To a man, I think the three pitchers benefited from it and, heck, Chipper was a vital part in it.”
Jones put it much the same way.
“Our general manager was going to be proactive and give us a chance to win every year,” he said. “We had a manager who we loved to play for. We had a good gig. We were allowed to play ourselves into shape in spring training. Bobby trusted us because we proved to him that we would do it.”
And then there was golf. Cox let his starting pitchers play as much as they wanted to in their off time.
“I have a theory as to why Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz stuck together,” Jones said. “Because (if they left) it would mess up their golf game. For me it was a little different. I’m a Southern kid, and I never wanted to play anywhere else. I wanted to play within driving distance of my parents and friends (in Pierson, Fla.) I immediately took to Atlanta when I moved here in 1992. It was an easy fit. Put me in a big city and I wouldn’t have liked it as much.”
Jones was the only one of the Hall of Fame foursome to stay in Atlanta throughout his career. He hit in the heart of the Braves’ order—primarily No. 3—from the time he broke into the everyday lineup in 1995 to the year he retired in 2012. Even Maddux calls Jones “the face of the franchise.”
“Every at-bat mattered to him,” Maddux said. “He never gave away an at-bat, never gave away a pitch, was always prepared, was never surprised when it was his turn to hit. When you’re getting 600 at-bats a year, not many guys can do that. You’ll see guys get two hits and the next at-bat, ‘Well, I got two hits,’ and they’re just up there (going through the motions,) but not with Chipper. If he got two, he wanted three.”
All-Time Baseball America No. 1 Prospects
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|Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz formed the core of the dynastic 1990s Braves. All four played for Atlanta from 1993 to 2002 and all four were first-ballot Hall of Fame selections. The Braves during this period won the National League East in every completed season. They won the 1995 World Series and claimed the NL pennant in 1996 and 1999. Here is how the Hall of Famers fared during this 10-year period.|
|Hall of Famers||Performance||WAR||Awards|
|Greg Maddux||178 W, 2.51 ERA, 171 ERA+||65.0||1993, 1994, 1995 CYA|
|Chipper Jones||.309 AVG, 253 HR, 143 OPS+||44.4||1999 MVP|
|Tom Glavine||169 W, 3.25 ERA, 132 ERA+||43.1||1998 CYA|
|John Smoltz||106 W, 3.25 ERA, 65 SV, 131 ERA+||29.3||1996 CYA|
The day Jones got the call that he had been named to 97.2 percent of the Hall of Fame ballots, Glavine and his wife sent a bouquet of white orchids and a bottle of Dom Perignon to Jones’ house. He followed it up with a phone call. Maddux sent a text, saying, “Hey congrats, Larry.” Smoltz congratulated Jones during a live television interview on MLB Network that evening.
Just those reactions give a good indication of how different their personalities are. Jones believes that’s a big part of why Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz enjoyed playing together.
“You’ve got the one guy who’s serious and all business in Glavine, and you’ve got the two jokers,” Jones said. “You had the one boisterous joker in Smoltzy, the center of attention, and then Doggie (Maddux) would fly under the radar and show up when you least expect it. But man, when they walked through the tunnel out into that dugout they were different guys.”
Jones said their differences helped keep them friends, on and off the field.
“I think if they would have been alike, they probably would have butted heads,” he said. “I never heard them say something mean about each other, behind another’s back. They loved the competition between them. They really pushed each other and there was no animosity. It was more of a sibling rivalry. They did everything together. They worked out together, they played golf together, they played cards together.”
Sutton, who broadcasted Braves games for the entire 14-year-run, believes all the time they spent talking pitching contributed to their Hall of Fame careers.
“They were talking pitching all the time,” Sutton said. “When I played, a lot of times we were trying to figure out where we were going fishing tomorrow.”
Sutton briefly pitched in a Dodgers’ rotation with two other Hall of Famers—Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale—but he still gives the nod to the Braves rotation of the 1990s for its greatness over time.
“Over a long career . . . you can make the argument that those three were the best three Hall of Famers to ever pitch together,” he said. “I had the privilege of playing with Sandy and Don. Sandy’s the greatest, most dominating pitcher I ever saw. The ’54 Cleveland Indians had some pretty good people, but I think it’s hard to argue with what those three guys accomplished.”
If you ask Jones, one of those accomplishments was helping him get to the Hall.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here,” Jones said, from his seat on that chartered jet headed to Cooperstown. “Without those three pitchers.”
—Carroll Rogers Walton is a freelancer based in Charlotte. She wrote “Ballplayer” with Chipper Jones.