Closing out storied career, Chipper has no regrets
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ANTA -- This was not the way it was supposed to end for Chipper Jones. Those who had seen him homer twice in his first career postseason game and again on his 40th birthday certainly had reason to expect a grand finale.
A sure-fire Hall of Famer and one of the greatest switch-hitters the game has known, Jones seemed destined to limp off into the sunset after drilling a walk-off homer in Game 7 of the World Series.
Instead, Jones exited the Braves' clubhouse on Friday night seemingly shell-shocked by what had transpired in a 6-3 loss to the Cardinals in the National League's one-game Wild Card playoff. He committed a costly throwing error in St. Louis' three-run third inning and was limited to a broken-bat infield single in five at-bats.
"I wanted to come out here and play well," Jones said. "Today, my heart is broken not for me, my heart is broken for my teammates and my coaching staff, and all these fans that have been so great to us this year.
"But I'll be OK. It's just one of those things. You come to the park, and I walk out of here knowing that I brought it every single day. I think when you walk out of here knowing that you brought it every day, it makes walking away on the final day a little bit easier."
When Jones thinks about his final day in a Major League uniform, he will think about the 19-minute delay that occurred as fans threw objects on the field to protest an eighth-inning infield fly ruling. And he will remember the errant throw he made after grabbing Matt Holliday's tailor-made double-play grounder in St. Louis' three-run fourth.
"If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have double-clutched and made sure I got a four-seam grip," Jones said, "and give [Dan] Uggla a little more time to get to second base and give myself a better opportunity to make a truer throw."
While Jones chose to shoulder the blame for the season-ending loss, his teammates recognized the fact that this ending did not seemingly make sense.
With his parents and two of his sons waiting, Jones was one of the first to dress and exit the clubhouse. But before he did, he received a hug from Michael Bourn and many of his teammates who came to recognize this legendary figure as a friend and leader.
"Everybody in this town loves him, and we're going to miss him dearly," Uggla said. "It's going to be different with him not being here next year."
Over the past few weeks, Jones has made it known that his aching body has continued to tell him that he is making the right decision to retire. As he was traveling to Turner Field for Friday's game, he once again received confirmation.
"I was riding in with my mom and dad today, and I turned around and told my dad, 'This is why I know I'm ready to go. I'm not even nervous,'" Jones said. "I don't know whether that is being prepared, you know, and being confident. But usually, first game of the playoffs, I'm nervous before the workout the day before."
Jones will enter retirement owning the Atlanta Braves' record in most major offensive statistical categories. On the all-time list among all switch-hitters, he ranks fifth in hits, third and home runs and second in RBIs.
When fans think of switch-hitters, Jones will rank right there with Eddie Murray and his father's childhood idol, Mickey Mantle.
Jones' place in baseball lore places him with the elite of the elite.
Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Jones are the only players in Major League history to record at least 2,500 hits, 1,500 walks, 1,500 runs, 500 doubles, 450 home runs and 1,500 RBIs while hitting .300 with a .400 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage.
But in fitting fashion, Jones was forced to walk away with one last memory of baseball's ability to humble even the greatest of players.
"Walking away my last game, you certainly don't want to go [1-for-5] and make an error that loses the season for your ballclub," Jones said. "That will be something I'll have to deal with in the days to come."