Chip off the block: Dad led Jones to HOF path

January 12th, 2018

Chipper Jones will get elected to the Hall of Fame this year, almost unanimously. There is absolutely no doubt about this. He is the only switch-hitter to hit .300 from both sides of the plate. Chipper had a .303/.401/.529 slash line for his career, one of only 16 players to top .300/.400/.500 (minimum 7,500 plate appearances), the only switch-hitter to do it, the only third baseman to do it. He's one of the greats of the game.
Let's talk fathers and sons, because father and son stories shape the history of baseball. There are the touching ones, like the story of Bill Feller building a little baseball park out of an Iowa corn field for his son Bobby. Bill started growing corn rather than wheat in the first place so that he and his son would have more time to play catch. Everyone around Van Meter, Iowa, laughed about that.
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"How's the baseball crop going?" people in Van Meter used to say to Bill, and Bill would laugh and say it was going fine. He played catch with Bobby every day. Soon, Bobby was throwing so hard that Bill was having a hard time catching him. Soon after that, Bobby was throwing harder in the Major Leagues than anyone since Walter Johnson, perhaps anyone ever.

There are the harsher father-son baseball stories, like like the one of Mutt Mantle coming to visit Mickey in Kansas City. This was in the days after the Mick was sent to the Kansas City Minor League team for seasoning. I feel pretty sure it was Aug. 11, 1951, on what was supposed to be Father and Son Day at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City. The game was rained out.
"Dad," Mickey said, "I can't take it anymore. I'm going to quit. I want to come home."
At this point, Mutt Mantle nodded, walked over to the closet and began throwing Mickey's stuff into a suitcase.
"I thought I raised a man," Mutt said. "I see I raised a coward instead. You can come back to Oklahoma and work in the mines with me."
Mickey Mantle got the point, unpacked his things, hit two home runs the next day and went on to become a Hall of Fame baseball player (and an important part of the Chipper Jones story to follow).
There are fictional father-son baseball stories, too, like the one of Roy Hobbs, who learned the game from his Dad. Roy's father died of a heart attack near a tree on the family farm; that tree was later struck by lightning and Roy carved a baseball out of the wood and ... you probably know this story.
Point is, baseball is filled with such stories. There is George Brett getting so angry for being yelled at by his father after a game that he yanked the team telephone out of the wall. There is Ken Griffey Jr. playing side by side with his dad. And there is the great story of Larry Wayne Jones and his son, who was such a chip off the old block that they called him Chipper.

Larry Jones was an algebra teacher and a high school baseball coach in Jacksonville, Fla.; he had been a college shortstop when he was young. The thing that's cool about their father-son Hall of Fame journey is that it always seemed like a Jones team effort, like they were working as a team. They pushed each other. The best father-son baseball stories have that sort of cooperative spirit.
Larry Jones idolized Mickey Mantle, and so he taught Chipper to switch-hit from the start. One of Chipper Jones' fondest -- and most vivid memories -- was of watching NBC's Game of the Week on Saturday afternoon and then going outside to relive the game with his father. They would watch, say, the California Angels and Detroit Tigers play, and then they would head to the backyard.

"First up for the Tigers," Larry would shout, "Ron LeFlore. He hits righty."
And Chipper would hit righty.
"Next up," Larry would say, "Rusty Staub. He hits lefty."
And Chipper would hit lefty.
And they would go through both lineups that way, with Chipper swinging a pipe for a bat and Larry throwing a tennis ball more or less as hard as he could throw it. Larry believed in showing Chipper the game full speed right from the start. He would say all the time, "Don't be afraid of the ball. You can't be afraid of the ball."
Once, maybe when Chipper was 8 or 9, he was showing a little fear. Larry said, "Don't be afraid of the ball. I'm not going to hit you."
Chipper relaxed. The next pitch hit him right in the face, and even though it was a tennis ball, it still knocked out a tooth.

That makes it sound like Larry was a hard-driving parent, and he was, but the thing that amazed everyone was that Chipper craved that sort of intensity. He picked up his tooth, saved it for the tooth fairy, and then got back in the box. They were a team, Larry and Chipper, and by the time Chipper Jones turned 11, everyone in the neighborhood knew the big leagues were exactly where he was headed. Heck, when Chipper was in the eighth grade, Larry Jones quit being the high school baseball coach because he knew that Chipper was so good that he would beat out the senior at shortstop, and he didn't feel it was right to be the one to make that decision.
Chipper still beat out the senior. Four years later, Chipper Jones was the first pick in the 1990 Draft by the Atlanta Braves. Five years after that, he played in his first World Series.

Chipper would call his father almost every night after games. The two men shared the gift and curse of perfectionism. I suspect this is why Chipper Jones just kept hitting and hitting and hitting. His consistency was astonishing. Switch-hitter Eddie Murray was so consistent that his nickname was Steady Eddie -- but he was still a better hitter from the left side, hitting 17 points better as a lefty hitter. Mickey Mantle was the ultimate switch-hitter, the inspiration for Larry and Chipper, but he hit 50 points better as a righty. He was so good as righty (.330/.424/.574) that you can't help but wonder what would he have been had hit only hit right-handed (he wouldn't have been as cool, that's for sure).
As a lefty, Chipper hit .303 with power. As a righty, he hit .304 with power. He walked more than he struck out.
Chipper never had a season with an OPS+ less than 108, and his 141 career OPS+ is the same as David Ortiz's.
Chipper hit .300 with runners in scoring position and .301 with no one on base. He hit .299 when his team was within one run, .301 when they were within two runs and .304 when within three runs. He hit .305 in high-leverage situations, .300 in medium-leverage situations and .306 in low-leverage situations.
He was always the same Chipper Jones, day after day, night after night, even in the playoffs, even when his body began to break down and his numbers started to dip. He would play the game and then go into the clubhouse to talk it over with his dad, to talk about why he couldn't hit someone's slider or to figure out how to stop giving away at-bats.

Here is how consistent Chipper was: You might know that he so loved hitting at New York's Shea Stadium that he named his oldest son "Shea." That's such a fun little fact.
Do you know what Chipper hit at Shea Stadium? He hit .313/.417/.558.
Nice, right? Well, Shea Stadium closed down in 2008. Do you know what Chipper Jones hit in all stadiums through 2008? He hit .310/.408/.548.
Every stadium was Shea Stadium to Chipper Jones.