In 1981 I was working in a Bowling Alley in North Wilkesboro, NC and TBS was gaining attention around the sports community and gathering fans like ducks to a pond. The SuperStation, as it was called back then, hosted numerous baseball games and they featured Ted Turner’s Braves as the home team.
By 1981 I was already pulling for the Braves as my team after having suffered heart ache and disappointment over the dissolve of the Big Red Machine. Now, there are those that will argue that the Big Red Machine did not actually dissolve until sometime after the 1981 season, but for me , it ended when Rose left and went to the Phillies after the ’78 season. Tony Perez had already departed by then and it was never quite the same team after that.
I actually threw my Reds cap in a burn barrel. My brothers called me crazy. I actually had fisticuffs with my oldest brother when I vehemently denounced the Reds because they let Charlie Hustle leave to go to another team. At that time in my life I never understood much of the business end of the game, and I could not forgive them for letting Pete walk.
After my brother wiped the snot and blood from his nose and I checked my front tooth to see if it was loose, my brother asked me, “So who are you going to pull for now?”
It went without saying then, the same as it still does today, that it would not be an American League team. And for those of you who are American League fans don’t criticize me for that; you would never switch to a National League team. There were a lot of good teams in the AL back then, but being from the Blue Ridge portion of North Carolina, there were not that many good American League teams close by. Another thing was that , we did not get many games on the TV or radio that supported any of the other teams. We only got to keep up with the Reds because of their recent success and , just like today, the hot teams get the coverage. So, most any Saturday they would be the featured game on one of the two media outlets that existed back then.
The Yankees were the powerhouse of the AL then much like now, but my brother and I seemed to be sworn to death anti-Yankees. It did not help much that being raised as Southern boys that the word Yankee still had a bad intonation to the ears. While I was raised in a strong Christian home, there were still certain southern traits that seeped into our upbringing. Not so much from the family, but more so from peers and locals. Therefore, we could never be a Yankee lover.
So I borrowed the Sunday paper from my Uncle when we visited him later that week. My brother and Iturned to the sports section. I told my brother that I was going to start pulling for the team with the worst record in the NL closest to home. Waa Laa! The Atlanta Braves became my team of choice. Thank God for small miracles.
The first decade or so was horrendous but I stuck with them. I really liked Bob Horner, Jerry Royster and, of course, Dale Murphy. Those guys were great ball players and with the introduction of cable and TBS we could watch practically every game. My home community caught the Braves Craze and we would gather as a group to watch their games. (I still miss those days by the way)
And in 1990 the Braves drafted as the number 1 overall pick this young Shortstop named Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones. We did not know much about him then but the 22 years since , the entire baseball world knows who Chipper Jones is.
Chipper battled many personal conflicts and injuries while putting together one of the best careers I have had the privilege to watch unfold. And he done it without complaining. His accomplishments speaks volumes to the success of an athlete that works at his craft. Any batting slump was met head on. He would view clips, visit the batting cage after hours and do whatever it took to overcome the slump. There was more than once he would call his father to watch his swing and to help him work out any bad habits or kinks he may have developed.
When he had slumps at the plate he did not let it effect his fielding or presence on the field. And when he made a fielding error he did not hang his head and dwell on it. He always maintained a professional presence in and around the club house. Young players have looked to Chipper for guidance and leadership and I have never once heard any teammate bad mouth Chipper. While I understand that super stars and team valued players have a way of coming off as “Golden Boys” or untouchables that other players can’t defy; I never heard any gossip, rumors or otherwise that let on that Chipper had clubhouse issues. I never read anything in any gossip columns or the type of rags that likes to spread dissension within a club house call Chipper out over petty “stardom” whims. There were the occasional personal attacks by dime a dozen tabloids; but you don’t stay in the spot light of sports as a star for twenty years without at least one or two of those.
I am sure that over the 19 years in a Major League dugout there were family “spats” between he and another player, but they were always kept inside and they dealt with it like professionals.
There have been times like this year with other team’s players like Moyer and Cabrera where Chipper gave his open and honest opinion on situations that happened on the field. But he has never allowed it to escalate into long time feuds or become the focal point for the team.
I don’t have to go into the stats for Chipper to explain why I say he is Cooperstown bound. They are there for those that want to view them, but for those of us that has watched him over his entire career we don’t need stats. We know and appreciate all that he has done for the game, his team, and for us fans. His ethics and love of the game and the example he set over the years is what speaks his legacy. And now that the season is drawing close to end and with it the closing of his career, I want to say thanks.
Thanks Chipper for being the class act you have been the last 19 years. I hope to see you in a coaches uniform at some point. But first, enjoy your family and take care of those boys! Who knows, the Braves might be needing Shea, Trey, Tristen or Matt at the big league level some day. Who better to get them there than you and their Grandpa. But please, don’t let them become Yankees!
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