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PAGLIA: Well played, Chipper

The Associated Press
Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones walks through the tunnel on the way to the field before the start of a spring training baseball workout in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Jones says this will be his final season. Jones, who turns 40 next month, says he will retire after the season.

The Associated Press Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones walks through the tunnel on the way to the field before the start of a spring training baseball workout in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Jones says this will be his final season. Jones, who turns 40 next month, says he will retire after the season.

The manual for how to walk away from professional sports — any professional sport — was written in 2001.

Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. announced before the season began that he would retire after the final out of game No. 162. No mystery. No media speculation. Just a purposeful season to get the last swings out of a 40-year-old body, to look out at 45,000 fans watching your every move and then tune them out to swipe that hot grounder down the line.

At every ballpark in every baseball town, Ripken got a standing ovation. Fans voted him into the All-Star game out of tribute. He hit a home run and was the showcase’s Most Valuable Player. It was a season to say good-bye, for the fans and for Ripken.

If the time is right to put the finishing touches on a Hall of Fame career — and two creeky knees suggests it is — then Chipper Jones is drafting his final scene by the book.

No mystery. No media speculation. Just a purposeful season to get the last swings out of a soon-to-be 40-year-old body, to look out at 45,000 fans watching your every move and then tune them out to turn on that inside fastball.

This is how the credits should role on a baseball career. Day by day, month by month, a slow and steady trot through the season in the city you’ve known for 18 seasons, going on 19.

Jones can drive to the ballpark and still see a pack of young ones walking toward Turner Field wearing the No. 10. The GM who took him with the top pick in the 1990 draft is still upstairs, just in a different office. The coach who knew where to put his name on the lineup card is still poking his head around the place now and then.

Jones can leave the game of baseball as now, 19 years later, it seems his right — as an Atlanta Brave.

Much will be, and already has been, made of Jones’ tenure with the Braves. Among active players, Jones’ 18 years in the major leagues with one team is tops. When Jones’ retirement is official, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, going into his 18th season in the Bronx, will be the active leader.

Indeed, free agency and free-wheeling front offices have turned the modern-day organizational icon into a relic. Baseball’s always been a business, but it’s studied and practiced these days like the stock market.

Outfielder Carl Crawford was the best player in Tampa Bay Rays history, but the team knew it couldn’t prevent the Boston Red Sox from sweeping Crawford out of St. Petersburg with a $142 million contract.

Shortstop Alex Rodriguez was clearly one of the best players in the game, but the Seattle Mariners couldn’t compete with the Texas Rangers and $250 million dollars, the richest contract ever in American sports at the time.

San Diego had not seen talent on the mound like Jake Peavey in years, yet it didn’t hesitate to trade the All-Star righty when it had the chance.

Each of them, like countless others, was swept up in economics, whether their own or their team’s.

The Braves made sure the Atlanta-Jones legacy wouldn’t get swept up in market value. And so, the baseball fans of the Atlanta Braves get what they should have with John Smoltz and Tom Glavine — one final season to say good-bye.

There’s one wonderful difference between how Ripken finished his final season, and Jones will finish his. Ripken played on an awful Orioles team in 2001. Jones will play on a team this season that, if everything goes right, should be in the postseason.

Braves fans can only hope that come October, Jones will walk out to the batter’s box in front 45,000 fans watching his every move, and he’ll tune them out, ready to turn on an inside fastball one more time.

Brian Paglia covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at bpaglia@news-daily.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/BrianPaglia.