Keeping up with the Joneses

Written by: Bill Francis

How about being presented with the game of baseball’s greatest honor and celebrating the birth of a child … all on the same day this summer? That amazingly possible doubleheader scenario, and the locally-inspired name already chosen for the soon-to-be-born boy, was shared by Chipper Jones while visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on April 10, 2018.

“Induction day is the 29th of July and my beautiful wife Taylor is due July 30th,” said Jones with a wide grin, during his first trip to the Hall of Fame since his election was announced on Jan. 24.

“So yesterday when we got into town our first visit was to the hospital (Cooperstown’s Bassett Medical Center) to make sure we got all our bases covered and we know where we’re going if something does happen.

“Obviously, there’s no better way to commemorate this summer and the name of our son by calling him Cooper,” he added. “It’s going to be an awesome summer. Hopefully, he waits until we get back home but it would certainly be apropos if she had him here, wouldn’t it?”

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Jones, who also has sons named Tris for Hall of Fame outfielder Tris Speaker and Shea for Shea Stadium, would go on to explain how they came up with the name Cooper.

“She (Jones’ wife) actually came up with the name. We were going through names and I was being selfish and thinking about all the names I liked and she said, ‘Cooper,’ and I was like, ‘Wow. That’s it.’ I don’t think we’ve decided if that’s a middle name or a first name yet, but we’ll figure it out one way or another.”

Taylor Jones later said the pair were having trouble coming up with names, then one night she texted Chipper with with Cooper. “He texted back, ‘Veto,’ and I was surprised because I thought it was a great name for us. We talked later and he said he was kidding and he loved the name too.”

Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones Jr. was in Cooperstown, along with his wife Taylor, for his Orientation Visit on April 10 in advance of his Hall of Fame induction. His only prior trip to Cooperstown came in 2004 when he accompanied the Braves to participate in the Hall of Fame Game.

During a press conference held in the Plaque Gallery, minutes after continuing a recent tradition of autographing the spot where his plaque will reside come this summer, he talked about what this trip to Cooperstown had meant to him.

Chipper Jones checks out of a video of George Brett's "pine tar incident" during his Orientation Visit of the Hall of Fame. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“Walking through these doors, it’s really awe-inspiring,” said Jones, wearing blue jeans and a grey sweater. “When I sat down on the bench in front of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and all those guys (an oversized image of the living inductees from the first Induction Ceremony in 1939 on the Museum’s second floor), I got misty. I don’t feel worthy by any means. But to be in the presence of greatness, it’s kind of like walking down the tunnel in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park. All the great players who have walked down those tunnels, you can feel the aura and the ghosts, if you will, and the same thing is true here.

“A lot of these guys, especially right through here, I played against,” said Jones, gesturing behind him to the bronze plaques of more recent inductees. “I had to stand 60 feet, six inches away from Randy Johnson, I got to play behind Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine, I had to play Craig Biggio in on the grass and just hope he didn’t rifle stuff down the third base line. It’s now starting to kind of hit home that you’re standing beside your contemporaries.

“But down that hall right there,” he added, pointing in front of him to the other end of the Plaque Gallery, “that’s the mind-blowing stuff. All these guys I got a little bit of history with; down there, that is history right there. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Hall of Fame Class of 2018 will also include fellow Baseball Writers’ Association of America electees Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman and Jim Thome as well as Modern Baseball Era Committee electees Jack Morris and Alan Trammell. The six will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 29, at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown.

Switch-hitting slugger Jones was a third base mainstay for a dozen postseason Braves squads during his 19 seasons spent playing for the franchise. The eight-time All-Star and two-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award for National League third sackers, who won the NL batting title at the age of 36 in 2008 when he hit .364, ended his accolade-filled career with 2,726 hits, 468 home runs, a .303 batting average and a .401 on-base percentage.

Chipper Jones signs the backer where his bronze plaque will be placed following his Hall of Fame induction on July 29. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

The winner of the 1999 NL MVP Award, Jones knocked in at least 100 runs nine times and had eight seasons with at least 100 runs scored. As a rookie, he helped lead the Braves to the 1995 World Series title.

“I am so proud of my teammates and what we were able to accomplish during our time in Atlanta,” Jones, who turns 46 on April 24, said. “Not only to have the big three (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz). I hope I’m not the exclamation point because I truly believe the best position player I ever played with was Andruw Jones. You’re talking about the premier center fielder in the game for a decade and, by the way, hit 400 homers as well. I will remain an advocate of his.

“But with John Schuerholz going in, winning championships in two different leagues, two different organizations, and Bobby Cox, the only manager I would have ever wanted to play for, it’s pretty cool that six of us from one organization have gone in the last three or four years or five years. I played a little past those guys, but it’s nice to finally join them in this hallowed fraternity.”

Jones, one of 52 Hall of Famers who spent their entire career with one team, was elected in his first year on the BBWAA ballot, having received votes on 97.2 percent of the ballots cast.

“As long as I’m sitting here in front of you guys that’s good enough for me,” Jones said. “Obviously, to get that much support was pretty telling. I really don’t know how to react to that. I think it was the perfect storm – I was on the perfect ballot. Shoot. Just like I said, to be sitting here whether it’s first ballot, whether it’s second ballot, whether it’s 97 percent or 87 percent, I’m good with it.”

Jones, who joined Atlanta’s baseball operations department in a special assistant role prior to the 2016 season, began the morning taking a two-hour tour of the Hall from Museum Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections Erik Strohl.

Chipper Jones poses with the bronze plaques representing the Hall of Fame's Class of 1936 during his trip to Cooperstown. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“To think what’s displayed is only about 10 percent of what they actually have,” Jones said. “Going downstairs and holding Babe Ruth’s bat, it’s phenomenal. And then you walk through and you see a couple pieces that you wore or played with, it’s been a really cool experience this far.

“It was nice to be able to put your hands on a bat that was used by Honus Wagner,” he added. “Just to see how the game and its equipment have evolved through the years. To see how the players from the late 1800s and early 1900s and how they have evolved as well. Where the game started and where it is now. It’s pretty cool. We just did it in a couple hours – I could spend a couple weeks here just going through all those boxes downstairs. I want to see everything.”

Jones took his time going through the Museum, trying to soak up as much baseball history as possible. While he occasionally ran across generous donations he had made to the Cooperstown institution, such as his cap and bat from his final All-Star Game in 2012 that’s located in the second-floor Braves’ locker, or a jersey he used during the 2012 season that can be found in the Whole New Ballgame exhibit, it was the breadth and variety of the collection that he was impressed with.

Noticing a photo of Babe Ruth’s batting stance, he remarked, “Not much has changed.” At the women in baseball exhibit, Diamond Dreams, he said, “I love that movie. I’ll watch it every time it’s on,” referring to A League of Their Own. At a New York Yankees exhibit, he added with a smile, “Yogi’s name is Larry, too.” Seeing the full-size Phillie Phanatic costume, he joked, “That’s my buddy.”

In in the collections storage area in the Museum basement, Jones took time to swing bats used by such Braves stars as Bob Horner, David Justice and Eddie Mathews; see caps worn by Phil Niekro, Rafael Furcal and Dale Murphy, a Warren Spahn jersey, Greg Maddux spikes and a candy wrapper for a Chipper Bar (“America’s bestselling candy for a very, very short time,” he joked.)

It was during a tour of the Plaque Gallery that Jones made sure to check out the bronze likeness of fellow Hall of Famer and Braves legend Hank Aaron.

“You’re talking about the greatest Brave of all time,” Jones said. “Not to mention probably a top two or three player of all time. Hank has been a tremendous, tremendous ambassador, not just for the Atlanta Braves organization, but baseball in general. He broke barriers, he inspired everyone, black, Latin, it didn’t matter. I am so proud that he’s an Atlanta Brave.

“And to be No. 2 on all those franchise organizational lists to him – and in most cases I’m a very distant second – but to be right there next to him is the best honor imaginable because he is held in such high regard not just in the city of Atlanta and the Southeast, but all over baseball. So we’re extremely proud of what he’s done and accomplished in his lifetime.”

With his own Hall of Fame induction now only three months away, Jones was asked about his progress on his speech.

“I’m going over it a million times in my head,” said Jones, whose No.10 was retired by the Braves in June 2013. “It’s kept me up a couple of nights, just thinking about it. My worst fear is leaving somebody very, very important out. But that’s why they have a great staff here at the Hall of Fame, to help me make sure that I get everybody accounted for.

“I’ve said this often, that it takes a village to raise a child and a couple of villages to raise me. I have a lot of people to thank,” he added. “I want to try and shrink it down as much as I can so I don’t get guff from the guys that are sitting behind me.

“But Andre Dawson said something really cool to me two days ago in Washington, D.C. He said, ‘It’s your day, brother. You do with it what you will.’ That meant a lot.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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