(Updated: 7:45 p.m.)
There were several reasons why I made the decision a year ago to give up my baseball Hall of Fame vote, most of them centering on the continuing lack of clarity from officials on whether the use of performance-enhancing drugs should factor into a former player’s candidacy. It led to avoidable debate and a flawed voting process.
There were only two reasons why I considered keeping my vote for at least one more year: One was my fondness for a museum and an otherwise obscure little town in upstate New York that honors the greats of a game so rich in history. The other was Chipper Jones -- who did it clean, who did it right and would be making his first appearance on the ballot for the class of 2018.
I passed on voting this year. But the Hall of Fame got a little bit better Wednesday night. Jones became part of baseball’s one percent club when he was voted in as a member in his first year of eligibility.
He was named on 410 of 422 ballots (97.2 percent). That means there are 12 idiots out there. A dozen voters came to the conclusion that enshrining a former MVP, a former batting champion, an eight-time All-Star (the last at the age of 40) and one of the two greatest switch-hitters in history (along with Mickey Mantle) was somehow a bad idea.
Jones was humbled by the moment, even if there never seemed a doubt this was coming.
“It blows my mind that 97 percent of you guys voted for me,” Jones said on a media conference call. “You gave a small town kid an unbelievable dream. ... Today has been a blur. I still can’t believe it’s happened. I can’t believe it’s been five years since I stopped playing. I just did played hard and put out the best resume I possibly could. Then it was kind of out of my hands.”
Jones shouldn’t feel bad about not getting 100 percent of the vote. None of the greats in baseball history -- not Hank Aaron (97.8 percent) or Babe Ruth (95.1) or Tom Seaver (98.8) or Greg Maddux (97.2) or Ken Griffey Jr. (99.3) or Ty Cobb (98.2) or Honor Wagner (95.1) or anybody else -- ever was named on all ballots.
There’s something wrong with that. It’s an illustration of one of the many flaws of the voting process. When I decided to opt out of voting last year, mostly over the PED issue, I Tweeted out the column link in December of 2015. Jones amusingly responded on Twitter, “Noooo,” as if it was going to hurt his chances. I assured him he was safe.
Baseball’s a sport of numbers and Jones accumulated more than his share of impressive statistics. He was an MVP and a batting champion and an eight-time All-Star, the last one coming at the age of 40 in 2012. He hit .303 as a left-hander, .304 as a right-hander. The career bottom line: .303 average, 468 homers, 1,623 RBIs, .930 OPS.
But Jones was unique in other ways. He played his entire career with the Braves, when there certainly were opportunities to go elsewhere. He also played clean in era dirtied by steroids and HGH.
Jones spoke Wednesday night about how the chemically-inflated home run totals of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa likely made some voters minimize the accomplishments of his former Braves teammate, Fred McGriff, who again failed to get voted in despite finishing with 493 home runs, 1,550 runs batted in and batting .284.
“Those are Hall of Fame numbers in my book,” he said. However, McGriff again failed to come near the required 75 percent of votes, finishing with 23.2.
But Jones passed on taking a position on the Hall candidacy of Bonds (56.4) and Clemens (57.3), both of whom have been kept out because of strong perceptions they used PEDs.
“I’m a new member to this fraternity so I’ll have to take a pulse to what’s going on,” he said. “But as I’ve said often, Barry Bonds is the best player I’ve ever seen don a uniform. Unfortunately some of the best players have a cloud of suspicion. Greatest player of all time. Greatest pitcher of all time. But I’m not going to tell anybody how to vote. I’ll just leave it at that for now.”
What I’ll remember most about Jones as a player was honesty and unscripted with his public comments at a time when an increasing number of sports stars and celebrities gave only sanitized remarks, meant to comfort their bosses, fans and sponsors.
One example of this came during spring training in 2011, when I talked to Jones about his desire to come back from reconstructive knee surgery at the age of 38. I mentioned to him that some fans and bloggers seemed to question his motivation for continuing to play, attributing it more to his desire to make more money.
Jones laughed. Then words flew out of his mouth like a blow torch.
"If they think I'm doing this for the money, they obviously haven't seen my bank account," Jones said. "I've never played this game for money. Nor will I. My mind doesn't work that way. I play this game because I love my teammates, and they wanted me to come back. I still feel like I have something to offer, and the cynical fan can really kiss my [expletive]. I really don't care.”
There was more.
“There's a bunch of true fans, and the people who actually want to take the time to get to know me know who I am. The guy who sits in his mom's basement and types on his mom's computer, I couldn't really care less about."
That’s how he played. That’s how he carried himself. That’s the player I’ll remember.