I don't usually read Atlanta Braves recaps. In fact, I probably never did until a few days ago, after Ben Sheets' last career outing. The story of Ben Sheets' career is quite sad, littered with injuries after his amazing 2004 season during which he accumulated 264 strikeouts in 237 innings with a 2.70 ERA. If it hadn't been for the even better Randy Johnson, Sheets would have deserved to win the NL Cy Young Award. An unfitting 12-14 record, caused by poor run support, meant the fastball-curveball pitcher finished only 8th in the voting. A shame, since a variety of injuries meant Sheets would never again be a serious Cy Young candidate. MLB.com's recap of his last game said:
Sheets recorded two strikeouts and unleashed fastballs that sat between 93-96 mph during a perfect first inning. When the inning was complete, the 34-year-old pitcher returned to the dugout and said he was done, putting an end to both his outing and his career.
Sheets gave it all in this last game to go out on a high. A poetic sort of ending, like a seriously wounded knight who saves his king by striking down a would-be killer with his last breath. Except Sheets was a knight who had been mostly absent from his king's side because he was always out with some kind of ailment. But still, that's a somewhat poetic narrative for an amazingly talented man whose promise went largely unfulfilled.
The same narrative applies to Chipper Jones' career end, although Jones obviously did have a long and very successful career. But in his last few seasons his aging body was more and more getting in his way, reducing his time on the field. That's not an odd thing for a 38, 39 or 40-year old who tries to play third base at the major league level. What's more odd is that he wasn't just trying, he was, when not too injured to play, succeeding in providing value to his ball club.
For what will Chipper, or Larry, Jones be remembered? He wasn't the greatest hitter of his time, nor the greatest fielder (he was just average or a tad below in that regard). He did, however, stay productive for an amazingly long time. What he should be remembered for is his determination, loyalty, and longevity. For having more walks than strikeouts, even at the age of 40. For his .401 career OBP and .226 ISO. And, yes, for having the right baseball mindset. What do I mean by that? I'll give you another quote, again taken from MLB.com, to illustrate:
"Reflection is more for when it's all over [in the long run]," Jones said, when asked about his legacy earlier on Friday. "I'm one of those guys who likes to look out of the front windshield, not the rear-view mirror."
I totally subscribe to the front windshield mindset. Here's another quote from the same article:
"Lots of shock. People that were talking were obviously talking about the call," Jones said. "You know, they're disappointed. There's a lot of guys in there trying to lay blame, and I kind of kept my mouth shut, because ultimately, I feel like I'm the one to blame."
Chipper knows that not the umpires, who made some calls that went against the Braves, are to blame, but the players themselves. Especially Chipper himself, who made a crucial throwing error that cost the Braves a double play. He also went only 1-for-5, with the one single coming from a generous call by the umpire. Throwing errors don't define Chipper Jones as a player, nor does his opinion of the city of Toronto, which was less than enthusiastic back in 2009. The man should be remembered as a very talented player with amazing hitting skills and a great work ethic which allowed him to more than fulfill his promise as a 1st overall pick by the Atlanta Braves in the draft of 1990. Let us admire the great career of Chipper Jones, for there a few who provide so much value over such a long time for one single ballclub.