Chipper's retirement deserves to be postponed
According to Chipper Jones, this is his 19th and final Major League season, all with the Atlanta Braves, all leading the most prolific switch-hitter ever not named Mickey Mantle or Eddie Murray to a likely first-ballot trip to the Hall of Fame.
According to Barry Larkin, who knows a little something about Cooperstown ... not so fast -- not when it comes to Jones and the Hall of Fame, but in regards to that retirement thing.
"All I know is, the man can still swing the bat," said Larkin, over the phone, before emphasizing that he hasn't huddled with Jones about whether or not Jones is contemplating pulling a Favre.
You remember Favre, as in Brett Favre, the iconic NFL quarterback. After 16 years with the Green Bay Packers, he spent a season with the New York Jets and a couple of more with the Minnesota Vikings, but here's the rest of the story: Favre established the unofficial record in pro sports for retiring, threatening to come back, actually doing so, retiring and then threatening to repeat this scenario forever.
Just like Favre, Jones spent nearly an eternity with one team along the way to achieving his fame. And, to hear Larkin tell it, just like Favre, Jones will realize he still has considerable worth left as a player before deciding to play elsewhere for another year.
Maybe for several years.
I mean, I could see Jones retiring from the Braves after this season, getting bored hunting deer on his Texas ranch after a few weeks or months and deciding to spend a year or three in the American League. That's the home of the designated hitter, which is nirvana for, say, 40-year-old third basemen who have spent the last few seasons suffering various feet, leg and knee ailments.
"You know, I don't know where he is [in his thought process], because I haven't spoken to Chipper at all, but if he would consider being a DH in the AL, he could help somebody very well with that bat," said Larkin, now a baseball analyst on ESPN. "I think he would be less injury prone if he didn't have to go out there defensively and didn't have to hit or run the bases.
"So I don't know if he would consider going to play for another team in the other league, but that's why I say 'maybe.' He might do it."
Would he do it?
"The bat speed may be there, but the knees aren't," Jones said, still laughing at Turner Field, where his Braves are playing hosts to the San Francisco Giants through Thursday. "I'm sitting here at 40, still swinging the bat good and being productive, and I'm very proud of that fact. But the fact of the matter is, every morning when I get up, I hope both feet hit the floor at the same time.
"Unfortunately, I just don't think I'd be able to make it through an entire season again with my knees. I've had seven knee surgeries. There's no telling when I could need the next one. The next one could be right around the corner."
I hear you, Chipper, but your current numbers say you can become something like the latter-day Pete Rose.
Rose didn't retire until after his 45th birthday, and who could blame him? At 40, Rose hit .325 in 1981 for the Philadelphia Phillies, and he also led the Majors in hits. At 41, he was the only player in baseball to play in all 162 games. Even at 44, when he returned to his first team that was the Cincinnati Reds, he was just shy of averaging a hit for every game that he played in 1985 (107 hits in 119 games).
As for Jones, he began the Braves' three-game series against the Giants hitting safely in 15 of his previous 16 games. During that stretch, he batted .400 with eight doubles, 10 RBIs and two home runs. His .317 average overall was second on the team only to Martin Prado's .318.
Plus, earlier this month against the Chicago Cubs, Jones went 5-for-5 at the plate for the third time in his career. He also finished that evening with a defensive gem at third and a stolen base.
Unlike Rose, who spent his career in the NL, Jones could have the benefit of the DH thing to stay fresh.
"I have no desire to go to the American League to be a designated hitter," Jones said, with one of his crooked smiles. "I always said that I wasn't going to stick around just to attain numbers. Even though I've been in reach of 500 homers and 3,000 hits, my legacy has already been written, you now, regardless of what I do now."
I hear you again, Chipper, but Larkin just keeps thinking back to October 2, 2004, when the Reds were about to start a retirement ceremony in Cincinnati for their perennial All-Star shortstop who had spent all of his 19 seasons with the organization.
One problem: That perennial All-Star shortstop almost didn't come, because he was having second thoughts.
He still has them.
"I know at the end of my career I was questioning whether I should continue to play or not," Larkin said. "If you're physically unable to compete, that competitiveness stays. It doesn't go away. It takes a while for that to get out of your system. I think it's close to a 100 percent of guys who retire, and then go, 'Oh, dang. Should I have retired?'
"I wasn't the same type of player as Chipper. So, me, going to the American League wasn't really an option, but it's an option for him. It really depends on how his body holds up. But, geez. As far as swinging the bat, you can still see the pop and how the ball comes off his bat.
"There's plenty there, and he certainly knows the game. For guys like Chipper, who are late in their career and still have that bat speed, it's a matter of getting off the field and then just hitting and sitting as a DH -- if that's something they're interested in doing."
Jones said he isn't interested.
Well, for now.
Terence Moore is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.