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It's the 25th anniversary of Chipper's 1st homer

@mlbbowman
May 8, 2020

ATLANTA -- Former Braves second baseman Mark Lemke put things in perspective when asked what he remembers about Chipper Jones hitting his first career home run on May 9, 1995, at Shea Stadium. “The home run I remember being hit at Shea was that one that Raffy [Rafael Belliard] hit,”

ATLANTA -- Former Braves second baseman Mark Lemke put things in perspective when asked what he remembers about Chipper Jones hitting his first career home run on May 9, 1995, at Shea Stadium.

“The home run I remember being hit at Shea was that one that Raffy [Rafael Belliard] hit,” Lemke said. “I guess it’s easier to remember one of two than it is the first of 468.”

Especially since not everyone realized it was Jones' first.

Yeah, the home run Belliard hit during a 7-6 win over the Mets on Sept. 26, 1997, was memorable because it came a decade and 2,042 plate appearances after the shortstop had tallied what proved to be the only other homer of his career.

But Jones’ first long ball was historic, and like so many of the other homers collected during his Hall of Fame career, it was timely.

So why does it seem like many of the Braves who were present don’t have vivid memories of Jones’ first homer? It wasn’t like it was just some run-of-the-mill shot produced in the middle of a lopsided contest. It was a go-ahead shot leading off the ninth inning of the Braves' 3-2 win over the Mets.

“I’m old now and I don’t remember,” said former Braves first baseman Fred McGriff, who was on deck when a 23-year-old Jones felt exhilarated after lining Josias Manzanillo’s fastball deep over Shea Stadium’s right-field wall.

Told that Saturday marks the 25th anniversary of Jones’ first home run, Tom Glavine provided a response similar to McGriff’s, minus the “old” part. So, too, did former reliever Greg McMichael, who had reason to be thankful that night. Jones’ go-ahead homer was hit after the Mets had tied the game with Jeff Kent’s solo homer off McMichael in the eighth.

But the fact many of his teammates don’t have vivid memories of this historic first is not necessarily surprising to Jones. He gained a sense this might happen 25 years ago.

“When I got back to the dugout, I had to go down the stairs and compose myself,” Jones said. “When I got back to the bench and told some of the guys it was my first, they were like, 'No way.' I’d been called up in September in 1993 and I was with the team [while recovering from knee surgery] all of ’94.”

If you look back at the archived video, you’ll see Braves broadcasters Pete Van Wieren and Joe Simpson took a little more than a moment before realizing they had just seen a first.

Jones had already rounded third base and was nearing the plate before Simpson said, “I think that was Chipper Jones’ first big league home run.” Van Wieren then calmly added, “It is.”

“I think it’s one of those things we had taken for granted,” Simpson said. “It felt like he had already hit 25 home runs because that’s how good he was. I think we had assumed he’d already hit one.”

This seemingly was the feeling possessed by many of the Braves, who had taken Jones with the first pick in the 1990 MLB Draft and then brought him to the Majors for the final month of the memorable 1993 division chase. The future Hall of Famer drew just four plate appearances as Atlanta spent that September fighting the Giants for the National League West crown.

As the Braves entered 1994 seeking a fourth straight division title, the plan was for Jones to begin the season as the starting left fielder. But that year was lost when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a Spring Training game against the Yankees.

So while it had felt like Jones had been on the scene for a long time, his career had consisted of just 60 plate appearances before he walked toward the plate that night at Shea and hit the first of his 468 homers. Mickey Mantle (536) and Eddie Murray (504) are the only switch-hitters to have hit more.

Jones’ first homer came during the 13th game of his first full season. Forty-four years earlier, Mantle hit his first during the 13th game of the Hall of Fame career he constructed in New York.

“My dad always said, 'If you can perform on that stage [in New York], you can perform anywhere,'” said Jones, whose childhood development as a switch-hitter was rooted in his father’s love for Mantle.

This certainly wasn’t the last time Jones would shine under the lights of The Big Apple. His 49 homers against the Mets are tied for the most he hit against any club, also slugging 49 against the Phillies. Jones ranks behind only his former mentor, Willie Stargell (60), on the all-time list of homers hit against the team from Queens.

Nor was this the last clutch homer the Braves would receive from Jones, who owns the franchise record with nine walk-off home runs. His first career homer was a ninth-inning game-winner, and his last ended the five-run ninth constructed in an 8-7 win over Jonathan Papelbon and the Phillies on Sept. 2, 2012.

“Now, I remember that one,” Lemke said.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.