The night before Chipper Jones had his No. 10 jersey retired by the Braves, with the curtain still covering his name on the club-level facade at Turner Field, he and his father mulled over what it would all mean, sitting together in Jones’ living room in Roswell.
“He said ‘You know, when you and I are dead and gone, somebody is going to look up there and say ‘Who is No. 10 Jones?’” Larry Wayne Jones Sr. recalled Friday afternoon. “It’s immortality. … It is immortality.”
So when the actual moment came Friday night?
“The hair on the back of your neck stands up,” Chipper Jones said, fresh off a ride around the warning track on the back of a Chevy convertible. “You get chill bumps.”
He knew when his No. 10 was unveiled he couldn’t turn and look at his parents, Larry and Lynne, who were seated behind him on stage for the pregame ceremony.
“I know if I would have I’d have probably lost it,” said Jones, who sat with his four sons gathered around him and his eyes forward.
Larry Jones kissed his wife, Lynne, on the cheek. It was the seminal moment in what both Lynne and Chipper had already described as a “surreal” day that started with Jones being inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame.
The celebration was a culmination of all those afternoons spent in the backyard of their Pierson, Fla., home, with Jones swinging a piece of PVC pipe and his father throwing a tennis ball from 40 feet away. That’s where his dad suggested Chipper also turn around and hit left-handed like his own boyhood hero, the switch-hitting Mickey Mantle.
On Friday afternoon, in front of a record Hall of Fame luncheon crowd of 1,360 fans the Marriott Marquis, former Braves manager Bobby Cox drew comparisons between Jones and Mantle, Brooks Robinson, Hank Aaron, who was seated at a table nearby, and even Joe DiMaggio, when he quoted a 1970 article from Baseball Digest.
“Goes like this,” Cox said. “‘As far as I’m concerned Hank Aaron is the best ballplayer of my era. He is to baseball of the last 15 years what Joe DiMaggio was before him.’ Well, in my era, in my eyes, Chipper Jones was one of the greatest players I have ever seen, since I’ve been managing. Not a good player, but a great player.”
Lynne Jones remembers seeing that “great player” as a little boy, running the bases and hopping in excitement as he got to each base.
“You think back now on that and you go, ‘Did you ever dream?’” she said. “To see him honored like this is just astounding. We’re so breathless, wordless.”
Jones wore a wide smile and a rose on his lapel. He laughed throughout a video roast at the luncheon from players, broadcasters and former teammates around the majors. He fought back emotion at times, such as when he acknowledged spending his baseball career as a part-time dad to his sons Matthew, 15, Trey, 12, Shea, 8, and Tristan, 7, and looked to their table when he told them he wanted to make it up to them now.
Jones was gracious in his remarks, during the luncheon afterward, and said repeatedly how humbled he was. He also acknowledged that kind of achievement was his goal all along.
“I’d be lying if I said the first day I walked into Fulton County Stadium and I saw Hank’s No. 44, Murph, Knucksie, Spahnie, Eddie Mathews, that I didn’t dream that one day No. 10 would be up there,” said Jones, who can still reel off the names along the first base line at Turner Field. “If you’re going to dream, you’re going to dream big, and I wanted to dream as high as I could.”
Jones retired last season as one of the great switch-hitters, hitting the third-most home runs among switch-hitters (468), behind Mantle (536) and Eddie Murray (504), and achieving the second-highest career batting average (.303) behind Frankie Frisch (.316). He went to eight All-Star games, won a National League MVP award, a World Series title and led all Atlanta Braves in homers, hits, RBIs and runs.
Like his career statistics, Friday’s ceremonies were mathematically pleasing. Jones’ No. 10 became the 10th Braves number retired, and it went up along the third-base line, fitting since Jones played both third base, and for a few years when needed, in left field.
No. 10 went up next to Greg Maddux (31), Tom Glavine (47), Cox (6) and John Smoltz (29) — who teamed to lead the Braves on an unprecedented run of 14 consecutive division titles that began in the 1990s. They’re on the opposite side from Aaron (44), Eddie Mathews (41), Dale Murphy (3), Phil Niekro (35) and Warren Spahn (21). The Braves, and all major league teams, retired No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson.
“I find it awfully special that I’m kind of the last face on that wall from those teams of that decade,” Jones said.
Maybe more than any of the previous four honored, Jones was the face of the franchise during that time. It might explain why the former owner of that franchise — Ted Turner — made a point to be at Friday’s festivities, when he hadn’t attended a Braves Hall of Fame luncheon since his own induction in 2000.
The event used to be held at the Turner Field plaza and 755 Club before the Braves moved it to the Omni Hotel. They moved it to the Marriott Marquis this year, selling several hundred more tickets to honor the 25th member of the Braves Hall of Fame.
Jones is the first player among those 25 to spend his entire career with the Atlanta Braves.
“All you want to do as a person is walk away from something, feeling like you left your mark,” Jones said. “And today is one of those days that lets me know that I left a mark.”
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