Chipper Jones Had An Interesting Relationship With New York

New York fans can read about a former arch nemesis in the new autobiography “Ballplayer” (Dutton), written with Carroll Rogers Walton, a beat writer who covered the Braves during Jones’s career.

Walton talked to Jones about the idea for a book when he announced he was retiring early in 2012. After five years, the book is out.

Jones was an eight-time All-Star and should be heading to Cooperstown next year. He grew up in Florida and would play in Atlanta, but his relationship with New York was a big part of his career. His dad had been a Mickey Mantle fan and raised his son in the mold of a switch-hitter who liked the New York stage.

“He grew up and wanted to test himself against the teams from New York,” Walton said.

His first career home run came in the ninth inning of a May 1995 game m at Shea Stadium and gave Atlanta the lead. The following season, Jones would get to play in the World Series at Yankee Stadium, during which Jones took in the surroundings of the clubhouse and the field in what was Baseball’s Cathedral.

While Atlanta faced teams like the Reds, Cardinals, Marlins and Padres in LCS matchups in the 90s, the meetings with the Mets were on a different level. “He just loved playing the Mets,” Walton said. “I think he fed off the energy of the crowd. He might not get that playing in Florida.”

The Mets missed the playoffs in 1998 after losing the final three games of the season in Atlanta. In 1999, the Mets were 92-58 but lost eight of nine down the stretch including five of six to Atlanta. But the Mets were able to make the playoffs and faced the Braves in the NLCS. Jones was the NL MVP that season, hitting .319 with 45 home runs and 110 RBI.

Atlanta won the first three games and then clinched the pennant in game six with a wild 10-9 win in 11 innings. Jones was quoted as saying, “Now all the Mets fans can go home and put their Yankees stuff on.”

“He kind of endeared himself with some negative comments,” Walton said laughing. “And it dissolved from there.”
If baseball fans didn’t know Chipper’s born name was Larry, Mets fans educated America by chanting it during games and bringing Larry Fine pictures to Shea. Some of that had to be a little flattering. “They don’t yell your name if you’re not good,” Walton said. It’s true that Keith Lockhart and Walt Weiss didn’t quite get the Flushing Faithful as riled up.

Jones hit the only home run for Atlanta in the 1999 World Series as the Yankees swept the Braves and took over the title as “Team of the 90s”. Later on, Jones would become good friends with Derek Jeter after they played in the World Baseball Classic together, and would get dinner when the Yankees and Braves would meet in Interleague play.

In 2000, Atlanta won the division by one game but Mets fans were thrilled when the Cardinals took care of the Braves in the NLDS. The Mets won the pennant for the first time in 14 years.

The mood of the rivalry was different when the Braves played the Mets in the first game in New York after 9/11. Not only did Mike Piazza help a city begin to heal with an eight-inning homer, but Jones had a new respect for New York. “That might have changed the way he looked at the city and the people,” Walton said.

“He used to dread going because of the crowded streets and being approached by people. After that, he started to engage people more.”

The rivalry wouldn’t be the same as the Mets had some losing seasons and by the time New York was a contender again, the Phillies took over as the big rival. During this time, Tom Glavine left Atlanta to play for the Mets. The book contains some humorous stories of words exchanged on the field. In one game, Jones singled up the first base line for a cheap little hit against Glavine. “Glavine went ‘you gotta be kidding me’ but used a few more words,” Walton said.
“Chipper goes ‘I just hit it the way it’s pitched.'”

Walton mentioned that Jones seems to still be on a “baseball wavelength” due to some of the better interviews for the book coming at night. Jones also has a great memory, being bald to recall pitch-by-pitch sequences of at-bats throughout his career, including battles with Roger Clemens from when The Rocket was in Toronto in the late ’90s.

The 2012 season was the last for Jones and one that saw Atlanta make the playoffs for the first time since 2005. It was a milestone season which included driving in the game-winning RBI on his 40th birthday, hitting two homers on his bobblehead night at Turner Field and smacking a walk-off home run in a critical September game.

September also marked his last visit to Queens. He drew a walk in his final at-bat and was removed for a pinch-runner. The fan base that had jeered him for so long gave him a nice round of applause as the future Hall of Famer went back to the dugout. “It meant a lot to him,” Walton said. “It was kind of validation about the evolution of his rapport with Mets fans.”

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