Four swings changed Chipper Jones's season into an MVP year--four home runs in a three-game September series against the New York Mets.
"I think those four home runs were huge. I'd like to think my name was already on the map before that, but that kind of jump-started everything," Jones said today after winning the National League most valuable player award.
Jones, who hit 45 homers and carried Atlanta to an eighth straight division title, received 29 of 32 first-place votes and finished with 432 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. He also got two second-place votes and one third.
"It's awfully hard to believe," Jones said. "To have this in your corner, to always be able to say you won an MVP, is a tremendous honor."
Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell was second with one first and 276 points, followed by Arizona third baseman Matt Williams, who had two firsts and 269 points.
Cincinnati's Greg Vaughn was fourth with 121 points and St. Louis's Mark McGwire was fifth with 115.
"Matt Williams is one of the guys I try to be like. Just to be in the hunt with him is an honor in itself," Jones said. "I didn't have a real good first half. Baggy put together a full year."
Jones, a 27-year-old third baseman, earned a $100,000 bonus and became the fifth Brave to win the award, joining Bob Elliott (1947), Hank Aaron (1957), Dale Murphy (1982 and '83) and Terry Pendleton (1991).
Jones hit .319 with 110 RBI, 116 runs, 25 steals and 126 walks, He finished third in homers behind Mark McGwire (65) and Sammy Sosa (63) and third in walks; fourth in slugging percentage (.633), on-base percentage (.441) and total bases (359); seventh in runs; and 10th in batting.
After June 15, he hit 30 homers and drove in 79 runs.
"Most people who watched our team play know what a significant role he played in our success, especially when the season wore down and the pressure got great," Braves General Manager John Schuerholz said.
Jones gained momentum when he homered four times Sept. 21-23 as Atlanta swept three games from the Mets, who began the series just one game back.
"Any time I read anything over the last couple of months pertaining to the MVP race, they point directly back to that Mets' series," Jones said.
With Andres Galarraga out the entire season and Javy Lopez missing the last two months of the regular season and the postseason, Jones at times seemed like Atlanta's only offense.
"I didn't put any pressure on myself," Jones said. "I knew that teams were going to pitch me carefully and, in certain situations weren't going to let me beat them. You can't put any extra pressure on yourself and try to hit a three-run homer every time you walk to the plate. That's how slumps get started."
Jones, who will make $4.75 million next year, is eligible for free agency after next season but hopes To stay with the Braves--if the price is right.
"My outlook on it is John and I will continue to talk," Jones said. "If he and I come to some sort of agreement, great."