“Chipper was loaded with confidence,” former Braves manager Bobby Cox said, recalling the young Jones.
“You could call it a little bit of cockiness maybe. But it wasn’t a bad thing.”
Obviously, it shouldn’t take Harper as long to establish himself in the majors. The Nationals are saying publicly he has a chance to make the major league roster out of spring training, although the more likely path has him starting 2012 in Class AAA, then playing his way to the majors later in the season.
But that means Harper will be undergoing in the major leagues the same maturation process Jones underwent within the relative tranquility of the minors. Jones smirks knowingly when the subject of Harper’s youthful indiscretions is broached — the ill-conceived tweets, the professed love of the New York Yankees, the comparisons to Joe Namath.
“It’s disappointing to hear,” Jones said. “You’d like for somebody with his ability, being his first big league job, to be one of those kind of kids who’s practicing to be an ambassador for the game. Hopefully he follows that script as opposed to the Joe Namath way.”
How much overlap there is between the Jones Era and the Harper Era remains to be seen. Jones acknowledges having contemplated retirement, saying, “The body’s starting to bark at me a little bit, telling me things it hasn’t told me before.” Already this spring, Jones missed five straight games because of soreness in his thighs.
“I certainly think my skills are still there, to where I can be a productive major leaguer,” he said. “Whether or not I can play up to the level I expect to play up to — that’s a different thing. It won’t be long [until retirement]. If it’s not this year, it’ll definitely be next year.”
Given the chance, Jones was asked, would he seek an audience with Harper, to impart some of the wisdom gained from surviving phenom-hood and producing a borderline Hall of Fame career?
“No, I’m not going to seek him out,” Jones said, “unless he wants to sit down and talk — which I’ve done with other players. Let’s just say he doesn’t seem to me to be the type of kid who wants to walk up to me and pick my brain.”
He said it as if laying down a challenge, as if he hopes Harper proves him wrong.