During his 19-year major league baseball career, Chipper Jones was one of the all-time greats at hitting from both sides of the plate.
Turns out he’s pretty good at that as a writer, too.
Star athletes’ autobiographies often are heavy on stats and scores and rehashed game accounts. But when it comes to telling it like it really was -- on and off the field -- they frequently refuse even to come off the bench.
That’s not the case with “Ballplayer,” Jones’s new book (written with former AJC sportswriter Carroll Rogers Walton). It officially goes on sale April 4, one day after the Atlanta Braves open their 2017 season in New York against the Mets. (Jones currently has three book appearances scheduled in metro Atlanta, on April 8 and April 14, the day the Braves play their home opener at SunTrust Park.)
Not surprisingly, “Ballplayer” is a lot about playing ball -- especially the first third, which rather exhaustively covers Larry Wayne Jones Jr.’s rise from a 7-year-old who swatted tennis balls thrown by his dad in Pierson, Fla., to the Braves’ No. 1 draft pick and perennial all-star.
But Jones also opens up about everything from the affairs that pretty much doomed his first marriage to his feelings about John Rocker and Barry Bonds and where he went the night before Game 1 of the 1995 World Series.
In the meantime, in honor of No. 10, here are 10 amazing and/or amusing things we learned by reading “Ballplayer:”
“Larry! Larry!” Long before Mets fans tried to rattle him with that mocking chant, little Chipper was even more startled to hear his “real” name called by his kindergarten teacher: “I didn’t answer,” he writes. “I’m not even sure I knew that was my name.” (Seems his young sons didn’t either: At home they called him Dad. But whenever they saw him playing on TV, “They referred to me as ‘Chipper’”).
He walked out of a meeting with “super agent” Scott Boras in high school: As talk grew that he could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 MLB draft, Jones and his parents met with Boras. The brash agent“rubbed me the wrong way,” Jones recalls. “He came off as smug and cocky and acted as if he knew me. He didn’t know me. I sat in there and listened to him for about five minutes, and I walked out.”
A big contract. . . and unlimited bread sticks? The night before the draft, Jones ditched his prom weekend to go meet with Braves scouts at the Olive Garden in Daytona Beach. That same night, he signed a $275,000 contract at his parents’ house, and the next day the Braves officially picked him No. 1.
Stop the wedding? Jones was playing for the double-A Greenville Braves when he married his first wife, Karin, on September 12, 1992 -- which was the same day as Game 2 of a playoff series against the Chattanooga Lookouts. “When I told the Braves, they wanted me to cancel the wedding,” Jones writes. “That was not going to happen. We’d been planning it for a year.” He was back in time for Game 3: “I guess my penance was honeymooning in Chattanooga, Tennessee.”
Related video: It’s Chipper Jones to the rescue for the Braves’ Freddie Freeman!
He was a player off the field, too: Give Jones points for honesty, at least. He owns up to having three extramarital affairs during the 1997 season -- including with a Hooters hostess he met during spring training who wound up giving birth to his first son. When he came clean to Karin, he says, she threw a vase that hit him in the head. They tried to make it work for awhile, but things kept spiraling downward and they divorced in January 2000.
He spent the night before Game 1 of the 1995 World Series sleeping in his truck in a parking lot in Perry, Ga. The first World Series game Jones would ever play in fell on Opening Day of deer hunting season in Georgia. “Why can’t I do both,” he wondered. “What better way to burn off some nervous energy and kill some time than getting out in the woods?” The front desk was unmanned at the hotel where his parents were staying some two hours south of Atlanta when he arrived around 2 a.m. So he caught a few Z’s in his truck before going hunting with his dad. Then he drove straight back to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to face Orel Hershiser and the Cleveland Indians.
Speaking of that World Series, he’s OK with how David Justice ripped Braves fans. On the eve of a potential Series-clinching win in Atlanta, Braves star outfielder Justice publicly dissed the hometown fans’ passion and support (From the AJC’s archives, here’s some of what Justice said: "If we don't win, they'll probably burn our houses down. . . . If we get down 1-0 tonight, they will probably boo us out of the stadium. You have to do something great to get them out of their seats. Shoot, up in Cleveland, they were down three runs in the ninth inning and they were still on their feet.") Writes Jones now: “While I probably wouldn’t have said some of the things he said, in a lot of ways he was right.”
On the other hand, that “relaxed” attitude is also what he always loved most about living in Atlanta. “I think Atlanta and I always suited each other,” Jones writes. “It’s my kind of town -- laid-back, where people don’t get overly excited about anything.” That simpatico apparently extended to his relationship with the Braves, who were just as determined as he was to keep him here his entire career. “We had the perfect marriage,” the thrice-married-in-real-life Jones rather insightfully writes of his one and only team. “This one I got right.”
When Chipper met Derek Jeter. “I think he and I realized we were connected. He was the face of the Yankees and I was the face of the Braves,” Jones writes about what sounds like a beautiful baseball bromance: The duo hung out together during the 2006 World Baseball Classic and whenever they faced off in interleague play in New York City. Not to mention that Chicken Parmesan dinner at “Jeets’s” penthouse apartment.
One Braves Hall-of-Famer he played with was “big on loogies.” Another was “like a ten-year-old kid.” You’ll have to read “Ballplayer” to learn who’s who, as well as Jones’s sometimes surprising observations about Deion Sanders, Manny Ramirez, Bonds, Rocker and the player he dubs “one of my top five teammates of all time.”
Excerpts from the book: