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Chipper fits with all-time greats
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Forsyth County News

The Chipper Jones Farewell Tour finds itself on hiatus for a few weeks. Hopefully, Chipper will actually get to play at the tour’s next stop.

He’ll have additional time to heal that nasty calf bruise should the Yankees and Red Sox decide not to participate in the suddenly popular honorarium. He really hasn’t played enough games against either of those teams to warrant being feted. Tampa Bay gets a home-state exception.

That would make the next stop on the tour San Francisco in late August. Surely Chipper will be back in the lineup by then. As last week’s calamity in Cincinnati confirmed, the Braves lineup can’t function without him.

Pretty amazing, isn’t it, that the Braves entire attack seems to revolve around a 40-year-old part-time player. In between the four losses to the Mets to start the season and the four last week to the Reds, the Braves were a robust 26-13 in games in which Chipper was at least available to pinch hit.

In fact, as the Braves limped home from Ohio, their record stood at 19-5 with Chipper in the lineup, and 7-15 with him on the bench.

Those are incredible numbers. Incredibly scary if you look ahead to next year. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s join the other towns around the leagues and celebrate Chipper’s fabulous career.

To be honest, I’ve been quite surprised by the outpouring of appreciation for Chipper. I understood the Bobby Cox Farewell Tour. He had a singular achievement. I doubt whether any manager will ever get close to his record 14 straight division titles.

Bobby Cox never beat anybody in a tangible way. His strategy might have engineered a few wins, and certainly his handling of players, but he never hit a walk-off homer against anyone.

But maybe, through some reverse logic, that’s what the Chipper fan fest is all about. You remember tough losses a lot longer, and much more vividly, that good wins.

We still bask in the glow of the Braves ’95 World Series win, but we agonize over the slider that Mark Wohlers threw to Jim Leyritz a year later.

By the same token, we appreciate Chipper. He’s been the best hitter, the number three guy in the Braves lineup, since that magical ’95 season. We came to rely upon him, to expect the big hit at the crucial time. We’ve almost become numb to just how good he really is.

Other teams have had him stick it to them, often in gut-wrenching fashion. We’ve cheered him, but we’ve never serenaded him with lengthy, heart-felt chants like the disheartened denizens of Shea Stadium.

When Chipper was honored in St. Louis and Cincinnati recently — two of the best baseball towns in America, where they really appreciate good play and good people — it was time to stop and consider: just how good a player is Chipper Jones?

After analyzing the numbers, there’s no doubt. Chipper Jones is one of the best third basemen ever to play the game. He should be a first ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in 2018.

One mark of an outstanding hitter is the “3-4-5” formula: a .300 batting average, a .400 on-base percentage, and a .500 slugging percentage. Coming into this season, Chipper’s career numbers were .304, .402, and .533.

In all of baseball history, according to Cliff Corcoran of si.com, only six players with 10,000 plate appearances achieved that trifecta: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Frank Thomas and Mel Ott.

Drop the limit to 9,000 plate appearances, and you include Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams.

That’s some pretty fine company. And among those greats, Chipper is the only third baseman.

Only 10 third basemen have been enshrined in the Hall, and Chipper ranks with the best. He’ll soon pass George Brett for the most runs scored, and will also pass Brett and Mike Schmidt for the most RBI.

His home run total (454) trails only Schmidt (548) and Eddie Mathews (512). He would be the seventh to notch a career batting average above .300.

No, he wasn’t quite Schmidt or Brooks Robinson with the glove, but he still makes the charging, bare-handed pick-up, throw-out-at-first play as well as anyone.

If you’d like to use a more modern, sabermetric stat, try Wins Above Replacement. This stat measures a player’s value to a team relative to replacing him with another player off the bench or from the minors.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Chipper ranks fourth among third basemen in WAR, behind only Schmidt, Mathews and Wade Boggs.

Among third basemen since 1990 (Chipper’s era), Chipper ranks first by a wide margin over Scott Rolen, Robin Ventura and Adrian Beltre.

So let the celebration continue. When we’re watching Chipper Jones, we’re watching one of baseball’s all-time greats.