Larry Wayne Jones, known to most people (and himself, for some reason) as Chipper, has a torn ACL in his knee and is out for the rest of the season. At his age, and given his injury history, there’s every reason to think his career may be over. (The mere fact that I’m writing this means he’ll be fit as a stallion by spring training next year and hit 72 homers against the Mets.)
Let’s assume what everyone else is assuming, that his playing days have ended. I should be relieved, even ecstatic about this news. If all the evil I wished on him over the years could be rendered in corporeal form, it would stretch from here to Jupiter. And yet, upon hearing the news, I feel oddly sad.
When it comes to baseball, I can separate my personal feelings from objective reality. And the objective reality is, Chipper Jones may be the best switch hitter ever not named Mickey Mantle or Eddie Murray. Much like Mantle or Ken Griffey Jr., you can only imagine what his numbers would have been like if he hadn’t lost so many seasons to injury. Plus, he played a physically demanding position that is underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. If he never plays another game, he’s still a lock for Cooperstown.
Do I hate him? Oh god, yes. I’ve despised him ever since that immortal (to me) year of 1999, when he clearly delighted in beating the Mets at every opportunity. You could tell he relished the thought of eliminating them from postseason contention, as the Braves nearly did in their last series at Shea that season. When an excruciating extra-inning loss left the Mets two games out of the wild card spot with three games to play, Chipper told the press that Mets fans should “go home and put their Yankee stuff on”.
For that statement alone, if I ever see him in the street, I will hit him in the face with a shovel.
That said, Chipper will be missed because he may be the last of the Great Baseball Villains. He loved being a thorn in a certain team’s side. This was once very common in the game, when rivalries were real and deeply personal, rather than the trumped-up sports hatred of the ESPN era, where The Worldwide Leader inflates artificial rivalries as much as they can even if they haven’t evolved organically. Or obsesses about actual rivalries to the point where everyone becomes sick of them (see: Yankees-Red Sox)
In ye olden days, every team had a villain or two. Someone to boo and project all their hatred on. Dodgers fans hated Juan Marichal. Giants fans hated Don Drysdale. Yankees fans hated George Brett. And everybody hated Barry Bonds. The recent Reds-Cardinals kung fu exposition notwithstanding, we don’t see much of this in baseball anymore.
The mere mention of the Braves fills me with anger. But when I watch them now, there’s very few people who inspire actual anger within me, because all of the villains of the late 90s/early 00s are gone. No more Greg Maddux. No more Brian Jordan. No more John Rocker. No more Eddie Perez or Ryan Klesko or Andruw Jones. Every single one of those guys hated the Mets, and you could tell.
In their place, the Braves are now a team with a disturbing amount of fresh-faced young’uns. Guys like Brian McCann and Jason Heyward and Matt DIaz, guys who just put their heads down and play and just wanna help the team win, by golly. They don’t even have the decency to be hateable. And to top it all off, Bobby Cox is soon to retire. If the Braves didn’t cling to their horribly racist Tomahawk Chop, there’d be nothing to hate about them at all.
Chipper held himself as a beacon of Hate, and he did not mellow as the years went on. He named one of his kids Shea, because he hit so well there, as a giant genetic “fuck you” to Mets fans. He bitched about David Wright winning a Gold Glove. In more recent years, he professed enjoying his visits to New York and even had not-terrible things to say about Mets fans, which I think he did for the sole purpose of driving them nuts.
Earlier this year, I went to a Mets-Braves game with my daughter. When Chipper strode to the plate, the crowd erupted in its customary mocking chant of LAAAAAAAAA-REEEEEE!.
“Why they saying Larry?” my daughter said, knitting her brow in confusion.
“Because he likes to call himself Chipper, but his real name is Larry,” I explained.
She scowled. “Why?” She sounded annoyed. She had no idea what hell this man had inflicted on the Mets. She just knew, at age three, that a grown man shouldn’t call himself Chipper. So she yelled LARRY! along with everyone else and laughed.
I wouldn’t have had that moment without you, Larry, so thanks. And also, go die.