Chipper Jones put an end to any speculation about what lies ahead for him: the 2012 season will be his last.
The Atlanta Braves’ third baseman, a certain Hall of Famer, called the shot, as he has throughout his career, and will retire as a rarity in sports: He will have played for only one team. “I just think the realization that I’ve fulfilled everything,” Jones said of his decision in a tearful press conference. “There is nothing left for me to do. I’m content with my decision.”
Hard as it is to believe listening to one of the game’s statesmen now, there was a time when Jones was a brash, young phenom — not unlike the Nationals’ Bryce Harper. Jones, who will turn 40 in April, came to the Braves as the No. 1 pick in the 1990 draft and talked to The Post’s Dave Sheinin earlier this month about Harper — and how different it is to be a phenom now.
As heavily hyped as Jones was as the top pick of the 1990 draft, he was nowhere near the instant superstar that Harper was as the top overall pick in 2010. He didn’t appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old, as Harper did. He also didn’t have to navigate a media world that included Twitter and an explosion of blogs and publications devoted solely to baseball prospects.
But the biggest difference was this: At 19 years old, Chipper Jones, a future seven-time all-star and one-time National League most valuable player, spent the entire season in the low-Class A South Atlantic League — the same league in which Harper spent less than three months as an 18-year-old in 2011 — earning no mid-year promotion despite hitting .326 with a .407 on-base percentage and a .518 slugging percentage.
“When I was coming up through the minors, the Braves believed in taking their time, letting kids mature — and succeed and fail — at the minor league level,” Jones said. “Now, [teams] are just rush, rush, rush to the big leagues. They put so much money into young kids these days that they feel the need to justify their pick at the big-league level as quickly as possible, when it might be the worst thing for a particular prospect.
“I’ve seen some guys over the last half-dozen years here who weren’t allowed the opportunity to struggle at the minor league level and have done it up here and have continued to struggle. You hate to see that happen with the rare breeds who are drafted high because of their ability.”
Jones will retire as the Braves’ leader in nearly every offensive category: .304 career batting average, 454 home runs, 526 doubles and 1,561 RBIs in 2,387 games. Looking back, Jones said Thursday he wouldn’t change a thing.
“There were times when I could have went out on the free-agent market and see if the grass was greener but I really didn’t think that it was,” Jones said. “I never wanted to play [anywhere else].
“ I’m a Southern kid. I wanted to play in a Southern town where I felt comfortable, and I felt comfortable from day one in the Braves organization. … I bleed red, white and blue.”
Someday, a couple of decades from now, will Bryce Harper say the same thing about the Nationals?
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