In 'Ballplayer,' Chipper offers candid look

Braves icon doesn't hold back in new autobiography

April 11th, 2017

As an All-Star third baseman for the Braves, Chipper Jones had a reputation for saying what was on his mind. As a retired player and an author, that hasn't changed. Thank goodness.

There are two things that set "Ballplayer," his new autobiography, apart from the standard baseball memoir, and the first is Jones' willingness to let the readers peek behind the curtain of his life, even though it's not always a pretty sight.

Nothing, it seems, is off limits for Jones. His anxieties and insecurities. Players he liked and players he hated. Spats with teammates, even when Jones might have been at fault. Behind-the-scenes tales. Performance-enhancing drugs. And most notably, owning up to the mistakes he made that led to two divorces in almost cringe-worthy detail.

It's become a cliché to note that even superstars -- and Jones is likely a first-ballot Hall of Famer next January -- are still human beings with all the problems and foibles that entails. He almost nonchalantly demonstrates that truth.

The other thing that distinguishes this book is its unusual depth. While written in the first person, the contributions of co-author Carroll Rogers Walton are subtle but crucial. The former Braves beat writer conducted nearly two dozen in-depth interviews with principles in Jones' life, and that extra effort illuminates the narrative.

Jones also has a lot of more traditional baseball stories, and they're insightful as well. He talks about how the late Willie Stargell, a Pirates icon, educated him on the advantages of using a heavier bat when he was still in Rookie-level ball. How Jones discovered a Ron Gant bat, Rawlings MS20, that fit the bill when he was in Double-A and used the same model for the next 20 years. And how he was furious at John Smoltz when the pitcher used, and broke, his gamer while he was in the midst of a hitting streak.

Jones writes about meeting Mickey Mantle, a childhood idol who was also his father's favorite player. That's why Jones became a switch-hitter and eventually passed Mantle on the all-time RBI list.

Jones dishes on being awed by having President George H.W. Bush interact with him during a game, about meeting Muhammad Ali, about his unlikely friendship with Derek Jeter, about having Cal Ripken Jr. ask him for advice on playing third base when the Orioles great was making the transition from shortstop later in his career.

The Ripken story turns out to be self-deprecating. During a pitching change during Interleague Play, Ripken asked where he took his cutoff throws. Jones showed him. Ripken asked if it wouldn't be better to play a little more toward home plate, and listed several reasons why he thought that positioning might be more fundamentally sound.

"From then on, I played as deep as I could toward the catcher on cutoffs," Jones wrote, incredulous that he'd never thought of that.

Of course, to succeed at the highest level also requires a healthy ego. And Jones isn't ashamed to admit to that, either. He tells the story of how he had to "pull rank" to move back to third base from the outfield, even though it meant bumping one of his best friends in baseball, Mark DeRosa, from the lineup.

And Jones is open about how much he enjoyed being an integral part of a team that won the division nearly every year.

"Whenever I heard a TV reporter ask a little kid who his or her favorite Brave was, if they didn't say me, I stuck out my lower lip," Jones wrote. "You'd think guys would tune that out, but I didn't. I wanted to be every little kid's favorite player."

More than once between the prologue and acknowledgements, Jones ruefully mentions that his mouth sometimes got him into trouble and then backs it up with solid, and sometimes hilarious, examples. Clearly, he hasn't mellowed since he hung up his spikes.

Thank goodness.