October 3rd, 1990
The Atlanta Braves walk off the field in San Francisco following a 6-3 loss to the Giants to end their season with a pitiful 65-97 record, the worst in baseball. It was the last time that Braves fans would see their team finish with a losing record until 2006, 16 years later. The next year the Braves reach the World Series for the first of four times in the 1990s and begin a run of dominance that inspires the word dynasty.
Of course the story of the Braves dynasty can’t be told without Larry Wayne Jones, known to all as “Chipper.” In the midst of the dismal 1990 season, the Braves used the first overall pick in the draft to select Chipper Jones out of high school, and a legend was born. It’s not usual in the modern game for a player of Chipper’s caliber to remain with a single team throughout his entire career, but by the time that he walked off the diamond for the final time at the end of the 2012 season, Chipper had witnessed the rise and fall of the Braves dynasty first hand.
He was not the first to arrive of the Hall of Fame core that propelled the Braves to 14 consecutive division titles, 5 National League Pennants and the 1995 World Series Championship, but he was the last to leave and his retirement marked the end of an era for Braves baseball. Alongside fellow first ballot Hall of Famers John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux, Chipper’s induction into Cooperstown further cements the legacy of the 90s Braves as one of the great dynasties in baseball history. With Chipper joining his former teammates in the Hall, the Braves have become the only team in major league history to have four first ballot Hall of Famers elected who spent at least 10 years together. However, nobody else quite bookends the Braves dynasty as well as Chipper.
In the 5 years prior to Chipper’s arrival, the Braves suffered 5 losing seasons.
In the 5 years since Chipper retired, the Braves have seen 4 losing seasons.
So it’s no coincidence that in the 21 years that Chipper Jones spent in Atlanta, the Braves had only two losing seasons and won more than any other team in the 1990s. He was the driving force in the middle of those dominant Braves lineups, slashing .303/.401/.529 as a switch hitter. Chipper crushed 468 home runs in Atlanta, second in franchise history only to Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, and drove in 1623, making him only the third full time 3B in MLB history with more than 1500 RBIs. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Chipper’s career was his ability to draw walks more than he struck out. For a switch hitting 3B with a .930 career OPS, Chipper had elite contact skills and plate discipline. His teammates have said that Chipper was the best pure hitter they ever saw, and that his ability to put the barrel on the ball was unmatched. He was an 8 time All Star and received MVP votes in 13 different seasons, culminating with his NL MVP in 1999. As a switch hitter, he ranks in the top 3 in nearly every relevant hitting statistic, among the lofty company of all-time greats like Mickey Mantle.
Chipper Jones was a Hall of Famer the moment he retired, so his induction on Wednesday night comes as little surprise individually. The greater context of Chipper’s career is further strengthening the legacy of the 90’s Braves as one of baseball’s greatest dynasties. By the time all is said and done, if fellow Braves Andruw Jones and Fred McGriff join Chipper in the Hall of Fame, Atlanta could have 7 members of the 90’s dynasty team in the Hall. And although this exceptional group of players probably should have won more than one championship, their individual excellence is undisputed and makes the honor of Cooperstown all the more meaningful.