Chipper Jones is retiring after this season. In the spring of 2013, Chipper Jones will not be a member of the Atlanta Braves, he will not be a member of Major League Baseball, he will be retired. Retired is a term of endearment, it is a compliment, only the best of players get to retire, get to decide when they leave. Everyone else is cut, released, or uninvited back. Great players retire; everyone else is simply referred to as “out of baseball.” Maybe this will be a good thing for him and his family, his wife will get to spend more time with Larry Wayne Jones Jr. and less time dealing with Chipper, his daughter Shea will get to spend more time with dad, and less time watching Chipper.
So what? Every year, in every sport a great player retires, they get standing ovations in every stadium they play in and everyone writes articles about how special “player X” was. We “thank them for the memories” and move on, eventually they are replaced with “player Y” and the sports world keeps turning. But for me, the retirement of Chipper Jones is something special, something unique and for the past month I have become obsessed with him.
I didn’t grow up as a Braves fan, I never have been and unless I live in Atlanta one day, I probably never will be. The Braves played a thousand miles away and in a league that didn’t affect my team. However, I don’t remember a time when baseball didn’t include him. I have loved baseball for as long as I can remember, and for as long as I can remember Chipper Jones has been a part of baseball. Growing up in the mid to late nineties, watching the Braves play endless playoff games and occasionally watching on TBS, I developed what I called the Chipper Jones song. The lyrics went something like this; “Chippa Chippa Chippa Chippa Chippa Chippa Jones, Chippa Chippa Chippa Chippa Chippa Jones, yeah” (The yeah is important lyrically, because it gives the song depth. Without the yeah, I was simply a 6 year old boy spouting nonsense). So following him and the Braves the last month of the season has been an act of savoring. Similar to the way people spend more time walking around campus their last semester before graduation, I wanted to cram in my head as many images of Chipper Jones as I could before he goes for good.
When you are a little boy, baseball players are titans, walking deities who are so much more than men. I will never forget what my older brother (who is 12 years my senior) said to me when I asked him who his favorite player was “Kyle, when you are as old as most of the players, you stop having favorites.” Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are the last players left that fit that bill for me (Rivera and Jeter are Yankees, so I never liked them anyway). They are akin to the last dying veterans of a war that was fought 60 years ago, living fossils who have felt the sport change more so than any other previous generation of players. Since Chipper Jones began his career in 1993, Major League Baseball has seen a strike-shortened season, the home run record broken (more than once), the introduction of the wild card), the rise of Asian born players, an All-Star game end in a tie, the rise of sabermetrics, Moneyball, the fallout of the Steriod era, lying to Congressmen, the return of small-ball and much else. Between 1993 and 2012 baseball has changed dramatically, but Chipper Jones was always playing third base in Atlanta.
For me, as a 20 year old college student, I have been fascinated by Chipper Jones’ retirement and transition. Chipper Jones is no longer a baseball player and I am no longer a child. So I guess if Mr. Jones feels it necessary to no longer play baseball, I guess I should stop wasting money on baseball caps, pulling all-nighters and asking my parents for money. I will miss what Chipper Jones represented to me, a time when baseball players were larger than life titans. Chipper Jones is far from perfect; his marital issues have been public record for two decades. But when you’re a 6, 7, 8 year old kid, that stuff is invisible behind the incandescent glow of someone hitting a baseball. Playing wiffle ball as a kid we would always call out the name of the player we wanted to be (Chipper Jones and Pudge Rodriguez were my go-tos) So when Chipper stops playing baseball and the Braves are eliminated from the play-offs my last great titan will be gone. Adulthood has turned players into a collection of numbers and abilities to be judged, scrutinized, and occasionally mocked by angry fans with waiting keyboards. My grandfather likes to tell me about Jaun Marichal, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Mikey Mantle and Willy Mays and I love to listen. His voice is without the bitterness or anger that often peppers his speech about current players (he is not impressed with you, Mr. Ian Kinsler). Already I can feel the difference in myself, baseball players are no longer heroes, they are simply well-paid employees of a business that I happen to associate with. I will miss Chipper Jones a lot next year. Not because I give a damn about the Braves, not because I thought Jones was especially scrappy, and not because Jones was important to my fantasy team. I will miss Chipper Jones because even as an oft-sarcastic and sleep-deprived college undergrad, he was always Chippa Chippa Chippa Jones, Yeah.