For all the things Chipper Jones has been for the Braves — the face of the franchise, this generation’s Dale Murphy, the last link to the Braves’ unprecedented run of 14 consecutive division titles — he also left his mark as one of the more outspoken players to come through the Braves clubhouse.
On the eve of Jones’ Braves Hall of Fame induction and the retirement of his No. 10 on Friday night at Turner Field, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution opens the floor to Jones.
In his first season of retirement, Jones is still close with many former teammates and coaches and has attended several games this season. In between golf, travel, and time spent with his four sons, Jones still follows the Braves closely on TV and Twitter.
We allow @realcj10 a lot more than 140 characters here to expound on topics ranging from the Braves’ new strikeout-prone lineup, to the uncanny hitting of Evan Gattis, to the legacy of the Braves’ pitching staff of the 1990s and the latest on the Biogenesis clinic story. In an hour-long interview, Jones goes freestyle in this wide-ranging Q&A, that’s really mostly A.
Q: What has it been like watching games?
A: It’s been hard to watch. It lets me know that I’m not ready to coach yet because it’s frustrating to watch. I get nervous. When I was out there on the field I was never nervous. I knew I would have six, eight, nine chances to affect the game. Now I don’t have any control and that makes me nervous. It’s just little hard to watch certain guys and their approaches. When the Braves get into certain situations where they have certain hitters up I’m very confident because I know their approaches and I know they’re set up for success. Other guys I don’t have that same confidence.
Q: If you were on the bench as a teammate would you go up and talk to a guy about it?
A: Yes. And most of the guys they’re facing, I have stood 60 feet 6 inches away from. I know their repertoire, I know what they’re going to throw, and I’d love to get in those guys ears and say “Hey, push comes to shove this guy is going to this pitch, sit on it.” Get their minds right. But (hitting coaches Scott Fletcher and Greg Walker) do a good job of that. We have good pregame meetings. I agree with 99.9 percent of everything that’s said in those meetings. But there are little tidbits during the course of the game that could help to change a guy’s mindset.
Q: Walker said that he talked to you a few weeks ago about B.J. Upton. How did that come about?
A: I think it helps to have a different set of eyes every once in a while. If Walk calls me and says, “Are you seeing something maybe that I’m not?” We’ve talked about B.J. a little bit on the phone and I told him I’d come down and check him out. I think sometimes we get caught up in the physical and we forget the mental. You can change someone’s mechanics by getting them to think more mental about each and every at-bat. If a guy is doing something mechanically wrong that he can’t feel, maybe you say, “Well, think about driving the ball through the wall as opposed to hitting the ball over the wall.” … Now B.J.’s a little more down and through and you’re starting to see his contact point pick up. You’re starting to see him center more balls and starting to see the average come up.
Q: As a career .300 hitter who never struck out 100 times, does it bother you to see so many strikeouts?
A: Yeah it bothers me. I don’t mind strikeouts either. I mind situational strikeouts. If you strike out 100 times, but your strikeouts are with two outs and nobody on base, those don’t bother me. Striking out bothers me when you’ve got guys on base and you’re making unproductive outs. When you’re leading off innings, that’s when it bothers me. There are times when you’re playing this game that you cannot strikeout, can’t. And those unproductive outs have hurt this team.
They’ve got a six-game lead (through Tuesday). They’re doing plenty of things right. They have a very subpar first-half start by the Washington Nationals to thank for that. But I still I worry about this team come crunch time late September, October when we’re talking playoff baseball. While I like the makeup of the club and I think it’s an exciting club, are they going to be able to make contact when they absolutely have to have it, against a premier pitcher. Matt Cain. (Stephen) Strasburg. Clayton Kershaw.
Q: With how this team is built, you had to figure there would be ups and downs?
A: Well you take the top three on-base percentage guys from last year, (Michael) Bourn, (Martin) Prado and myself, it’s going to take its toll. When you take those three out of the lineup and you replace them with 150 to 200 strikeouts and low .300 on-base percentages, that’s going to make a difference. … There are going to be some run-scoring opportunities that are going to be the differences in games in those 200 at-bats.
Q: Whose progress do you like?
A: Freddie (Freeman), I think, is taking that next step towards stardom. He’s been great. He’s put the ball in play when he’s needed to. Freddie is still going to be 125 to 150 strikeout guy a year, but he gets it. He knows when he has to give a ground ball to shortstop or second base and he can do it. (Brian McCann) same way. B-Mac’s not going to strike out 100 times because he plays three or four out of five (games). … Mac gets it — when he needs to hit a fly ball to the outfield, when he needs to hit a ground ball to a middle infielder.
Justin (Upton) did a good job of that the first five weeks of the season. But he hasn’t the last month. But what I do see in the Braves this year that we haven’t had in years past is their ability to be able to reel off nine or 10 straight like nothing. Yes they’ll go 2-5 on a road trip or lose seven or eight out of 12, but then they’ll back it up with winning nine straight. Are there enough nine or 10-game winning streaks to overcome the losing the eight out of 12? So far yeah, there have been.
Q: One of the games you came to was to see Strasburg pitch for the Nationals. Why?
A: He is a once-in-a-generation-type talent. He by far has the best repertoire, best stuff that I’ve ever stood 60 feet six inches away from. I always thought (Roger) Clemens was the hardest guy to put the ball in play against. Every time I walked to the plate against Clemens I had to work. If I got to first or I came back to the bench, I was dripping sweat because it was just a grind from Pitch 1 until the end. Same thing with Stephen. He’s got three dominant pitches, dominant.
The only other guy that I would really compare to him would be Pedro (Martinez) at various points in his career. When he was in Boston when he had the big hook to go along with the devastating change-up and 95, 96 (mph) in his back pocket. That was the only guy repertoire-wise that I could compare him to, but still Strasburg throws harder, his curveball was better than Pedro’s and I think that the split when he’s on is every bit as devastating as Pedro’s change-up. Randy Johnson, Rocket, (Curt) Schilling, Kevin Brown, all those guys were great, but Stephen’s repertoire is more dominant if that’s believable. Now I don’t know that he quite knows what to do with it like those other guys do, yet, but he’ll get there.
Q: What’s your take on the Braves’ starting staff?
A: They’ve been doing the job, for the most part. (Tim Hudson) struggled a little bit, but he’s starting to get his form. The Braves would really be hurting if they hadn’t had the contribution of Mike Minor and (Julio) Teheran. If you had told me that (Kris Medlen and Hudson) were 7-11 65 games into the year, I would have said you were hurting. But they’ve got a six-game lead. They’ve gotten tremendous contributions from the end of their rotation. I still think that power arms win in the postseason. You’ve got to have guys that are able to get swings and misses at crucial points during the game and I think the Braves have strikeout, swing and miss ability in Minor and Teheran from time to time.
Q: Back in the day, the question was who would be that fifth starter? Now you have young pitchers doing heavy lifting. Does it drive home how special a rotation the Braves had with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz?
A: There’s no doubt. I don’t think you’ll ever see three like that again, for as long as they stayed together. We’re talking 10 plus years. I’ve heard people throw around the comparison, Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz a handful of times during the course of my career and I still don’t see it. The only one that I’ve thought was even close to being worthy was (Roy) Halladay, (Cole) Hamels and (Cliff) Lee but how long have they been together? Just a couple years. … You’re talking about two 300-game winners, a 200-game winner and a 150-save guy. Those guys did things that 99.9 percent of pitchers who play this game dream about.
Q: Do you think the organization has changed a lot?
A: Yes. It used to be that if we had a need, we went out and addressed it, no matter what the cost. Whenever a perspective free agent was put on the trade market, we were always in the mix — whether it was Fred McGriff or Denny Neagle. We were notorious for big blockbuster deadline deals back in the day. We don’t do that anymore. We are very hesitant to let go of our top prospects in the upper minor leagues because we’re going to have to lean on them on down the road. We don’t have the money to be able to pay top dollar anymore. And we can’t afford to miss on trades.
Q: Do you think general manager Frank Wren was shrewd that way?
A: I think Frank has been very creative. He’s been very smart in holding onto Minor and Teheran. I don’t know that I would have been as patient as he was had I been put in the same shoes. I applaud him for that because he’s made some great decisions on some young talent. And those are the guys that are going to take the torch and carry it on. If the Braves are going to have sustained success for the next decade, they’re going to have to lean on their minor league system. That’s something the Braves have always done. Back in the ’90s, we had the deep pockets, but we also had the best minor league system in baseball year after year. That’s why we were able to run off 14 straight and be in the mix every single year for a decade and a half.
Q: Like that group with you Ryan Klesko and Javy Lopez?
A: Even after my group came through, you had the (Kevin) Millwoods, the Jason Schmidts. You could trade David Justice and Marquis Grissom because you had Andruw Jones and Jermaine Dye. You could let Jeff Blauser and Rafael Belliard go because you had Rafael Furcal. And you can go right on down the line — whether it was a guy like (Tony) Graffanino stepping in for (Mark Lemke). You can sustain it for a good long while when you’ve got a solid farm system.
The only lull that you really saw in the Braves’ success was when Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz left and you didn’t have anything to replace them with at the Triple-A level and you saw a little dip in our production. Now we’re back to bringing up the Minors and the Teherans and the Medlens and the Beachys. You’ve got some really good pitchers coming up.
Q: What was your relationship like with former GM John Schuerholz over the years?
A: John and I have always had a great relationship. At various times he would ask me my thoughts on certain players which I always was always very grateful for. Not every player has that with their general manager. John and I have been good friends for a long time. Wherever John has gone, he’s built a winner. I dare say that if John was in very many fantasy baseball leagues, he would have won a lot of leagues over the years. He’s a pretty darn good general manager.
Q: Do you think Wren is cut from the same cloth or different?
A: They’re a little different. I think Frank is probably a little more of a micromanager than John was. Frank likes to have his finger on the pulse of everything that’s going on, and John would get a lot of input from Bobby (Cox) first, and I think that’s why John and Bobby got along so well. There are a bunch of different ways to win a championship and there’s no one way that’s foolproof. Frank is set up for every bit the success that John sustained while he was here. Frank has got a little bit deeper pockets now, they’re starting to spend a little more money, so it’s giving him a little more leeway.
Q: When did you first see Evan Gattis play?
A: I saw Gattis the previous two years on rehab assignments. I played four games in Rome and he hit six homers. I saw it back then, his ability, just the way the ball sounded off his bat. It was just different. It was like something you’d hear once in a (batting practice) at the big league level, when (Mark) McGuire took BP or (Albert) Pujols, or (Sammy) Sosa, one of these big home-run hitters. And then seeing the flight of the ball. Some people have just got a little more carry than everybody else. Every time I came back from rehab assignment I kept telling the guys, “Keep an eye on this kid.” Little did I know that Evan would have the approach.
Most big burly lumberjacks like him are thinking about one thing, but this kid has got an idea of what he’s doing at the plate. He’ll take the ball the other way, he’ll take his single, but if you mess up, oh my god. And when I went down to spring training this year, I saw, he wasn’t bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He wasn’t overmatched in the least. He wasn’t fazed by anything that was going on. I had a feeling that he was going to make that club and produce, especially after the year he had in winter ball. He was ready.
I’m standing next to (Greg Walker) on the back field when he was taking BP and he hit a ball off the middle of the batter’s eye over on Field 2, and it never got 15 feet off the ground. I just paused for a minute. And I looked back at Walk and Walk is looking at me and he’s chuckling to himself. And I go “Are you kidding me?” And he goes, “You ain’t seen nothing yet. Just keep watching.’ That’s when I tweeted. “You guys want to see what big league thunder is about, wait until you see this kid hit.” I’m glad that he didn’t make a liar out of me.
Q: Have you followed the Biogenesis stories?
A: I’m really not paying that much attention to it. I’ve got it in my mind what I think is going to happen, why I think MLB is so proactive in going after this particular facility. You’ve got to look at the names involved, and I think they’re a little ticked that Ryan Braun skated on a technicality, and they’re going to see this one through. There’s a lot been made of A-Rod. A-Rod fessed up to three years of use, I think they’re going to investigate whether it was in fact more than that. So we’ll see. I’m interested to see who the other 20 guys are. But it’s just another one of those black eyes that baseball doesn’t really need. Until this generation of players moves on, it’s going to follow us everywhere.
Q: But players are still getting busted?
A: Yeah, and I would have thought that people would learn their lesson, especially the big-name guys. The younger guys, the middle-of-the-pack players, you’re still going to have your positives every once in a while from them. It’s surprising to see some of the big names still involved.
Q: Will your jersey retirement feel like a continuation of last season?
A: I guess in a weird way. It’s hard to be as close to this club as I have been and not still feel like a part of the team. I still somewhat feel like a part of the organization. I went to spring training. I dressed out. I’ve been to games. I’m down in the clubhouse. I’m constantly talking to the guys and the coaches, so it’s hard not to feel like a little bit like a part of the team.