You could tell the decision was becoming a burden for Chipper Jones.
It was in his comments over the last few weeks. It was in his tone. It was in his body language.
He might have let it slip a bit in Jupiter a couple of weeks ago that this was inevitable, that he was actually thinking of how to end it. Maybe it was his subconscious telling him something.
People who have been around the team for the past month said Thursday Jones looked more relieved and more at peace than he's been in a while. The black cloud that could have surrounded this team all season was wiped away with Jones' announcement that he will retire at the end of this season.
It's difficult for most to believe that a year from now there will be someone else playing third base for the Atlanta Braves. When you've had the same person there for 15 seasons, it's hard to imagine someone else being there.
But just like seasons change, ballplayers come and go. That's why we have to remind ourselves that if you're a fan of a particular club, you root for the uniform, and whoever wears that uniform is the one you cheer for – especially when they've been around for so long.
I first saw Chipper Jones in a game in Jacksonville in 1992. He was a 20-year old in Double-A playing for Greenville. Jones was cocky, young and talented. He had his entire world in front of him, and he knew it.
He was the kind of prospect a team dreams about – athletic, powerful, strong, smart and tough. There wasn't an intangible you could name that he didn't have, and that's what made him more than just a player with talent.
Heck, he even had a baseball name.
Kids all over the southeast would soon learn that name, and pretend they were Chipper Jones in the backyard, swinging the bat or playing third base. He was the kind of player that got imitated, that people and particularly kids wanted to be. He was that special player that stood out in every game he played.
Jones wasn't perfect, but who would want to be perfect. He had his flaws, had his errors in judgment. But in time a young man became an adult, and he matured before our eyes year after year.
And then on Thursday, Chipper Jones the dad sat in front of his kids and told them he was coming home. It wasn't the cocky kid who was the perfect prospect anymore, but instead a soon-to-be 40-year-old who realized the inevitable needed to be announced now.
Chipper again did the right thing, as he has done so much over the past two decades. His judgment didn't fail him on perhaps his most important decision.
He had seen how things had ended between the Braves and the three future Hall of Fame pitchers – Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. He didn't want his story to end that way. He was different, by the way. Jones was a Brave from day one and wanted to go out a Brave on the last day. So he took the bull by the horns and made it his call.
Jones could have easily not done this, and instead simply played the season and see how he felt later in the year. But he knows how he feels now, and he knows that when that calendar flips to April 24 in about a month, it was going to create even more questions about how a 40-year-old third baseman can keep playing baseball.
Two years ago, the Braves had to say goodbye to Bobby Cox. It was the end of one era. But when Jones walks away at the end of this season, it will be the end of the era – the era of a tremendous amount of winning by an organization over the past two decades. The great pitchers, the great manager and now the great third baseman will all be history.
So soak up this season. It will be different. It will be sentimental. And hopefully Jones can walk away this season the same way he started his big league career in 1995 – as a World Series champion.
But on this day, Jones did what he had to do. He lifted that burden so we can all concentrate on baseball.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA, WHAL Fox Sports 1460 in Columbus, GA and WCOH Fox Sports 1400 in Newnan, GA. Shanks is a columnist for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
Jones did the right thing
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