Baseball is, among all major sports, the game most suited for reflection. Thirty teams play 162 games a season and that's a lot of baseball. The game is also one most tied to the fabric of generations as children play catch with parents and inherit team loyalty and a love of the game. Whether you are young or old, there have been players we've watched who have built a body of work that exceeds those of their peers. We know who they are and we follow them from their rookie seasons until they hang up their spikes for good. With all these thoughts in mind, today begins a series of articles about players who we might watch for the last time in 2012. These are players we've seen in All Star Games and post season games and this coming season will probably be last of their play on the field. Such occasions should be celebrations. Try to forget that they can't run like they used to and miss an occasional fastball they used to crush. Celebrate the memories, the moments these players gave us as fans as they play out their swan songs. Today, we start with Chipper Jones.
It took a long time for this writer to come around to Chipper Jones. He played for a team this writer didn't particularly like. His Atlanta Braves teams always seemed to come in first place and Jones seemed like an arrogant guy on an arrogant team. But it takes a certain amount of arrogance to succeed in sports and all the great players have a touch of it. Baseball is a constant battle between the pitcher and batter, the offense against the defense and the team against another team. You have to believe you are better than the other guy(s) to win. And Jones has softened with age and perspective (as many of us do). His recent conversation recorded here shows a humble player who knows he is nearing the end and his words are frank and touching.
But put all those feelings aside for a moment and simply consider the performance on the field. That's what it's all about when all is said and done, isn't it? While we often know that a player like Albert Pujols is in the midst of a terrific career, it isn't over yet. It's not until a career nears its end can you put it fully in context. Chipper Jones will go down as one of the best players of this generation. His numbers stack up with anyone and even if he never played another game, he should be a first ballot Hall of Fame vote.
One of the things this Fan likes to do is to compare current players with players from the past. And as others have written, to consider a Hall of Fame case, you not only compare a player with the peers from his own generation, but also to those who came before this generation. Such a comparison as the latter becomes difficult because the game changes. Fortunately, stats like WAR and OPS+ help because it puts seasons in perspective as well as park effects and competition. Still, it's a bit of a slippery slope. But, it's fun anyway or else people wouldn't have been doing it since the sport became as huge as it is.
Comparing Chipper Jones' career to other great third basemen of years past finds few peers. Yes, we know that Chipper played a year or so in left field. But primarily he was a third baseman, just like the great Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies also played quite a bit of first base toward the end of his career. Mike Schmidt might be the best third baseman this writer has seen in fifty years of watching baseball. Yet Chipper Jones compares favorably with the great Hall of Fame player. Let's take a look:
- Games played - Schmidt (2,404), Jones (2,387)
- Batting Average - Schmidt (.267), Jones (.304)
- OBP - Schmidt (.380), Jones (.402)
- Slugging - Schmidt (.527), Jones (.533)
- OPS+ - Schmidt (147), Jones (141)
- Homers - Schmidt (548), Jones (454)
- Doubles - Schmidt (408), Jones (526)
- Triples - Schmidt (59), Jones (38)
- Runs Scored - Schmidt (1,506), Jones (1,561)
- Runs batted in - Schmidt (1,595), Jones (1,561)
- Stolen bases/Attempts - Schmidt (174-92, 65.4 percent), Jones (149-46, 77.6 percent)
- oWAR - Schmidt (94.4), Jones (82.7)
- Post season play - Schmidt (36 games, .236/.304/.386), Jones (92 games, .288/.411/.459).
That's some pretty good comparisons, are they not? Schmidt gets the final nod plus, Schmidt is acknowledged the superior fielder (by a wide margin). The bottom line is that if Mike Schmidt is one of the best ever, Chipper Jones isn't too far behind him.
Chipper Jones is limping into the final chapter of his career and despite battling bad knees and other health issues, still managed an .814 OPS last season. The last three seasons of his career have fallen behind his previous standards, but all have been above .800 in OPS. Schmidt was done by the age of 39 and finished with .742 and .668 OPS seasons. Jones has been to the post season in eleven of his eighteen seasons. It would be nice to see him get one more shot at it. But whether that happens or not, celebrate Chipper Jones this coming season. He's been among the best of his generation and his career stacks up well with the greatest third basemen of all time.