Chipper at the bat presents a remarkably similar problem to the one Andruw Jones' inspired outfield play presents. To say that Chipper Jones makes the art of hitting look easy is incredibly unfair; anybody whose see Joe Simpson spend half a major league baseball game breaking down Chipper's swing can attest to how complicated that particular act truly is.
But our minds don't particularly care about the reality; what we see during a typical Chipper Jones at-bat is an effortless flick of his wrists, a picture-perfect follow-through and a ball shooting majestically through the night sky. That's right; even Chipper's batted balls look easy-going.
Nobody on the Braves makes the ridiculously difficult act of hitting look so fundamentally simple, and for that reason he's so much easier to overlook than any of the other Braves.
It doesn't help that many of the other players who receive more attention have back stories that lend themselves to accolades. Marcus Giles has a fascinating tale of overcoming scouting prejudices and unfair skepticism that makes him so fun to root for. Adam LaRoche is the young gun, the slick fielder, the new blood. Everyone roots for the new blood; it's so much more fun. J.D. Drew's career mix of talent and injury makes him intriguing. John Smoltz is the organization's shining golden statue, and his stuff inspires disbelief. Julio Franco…well, there's nothing about Julio Franco that isn't cool.
The Braves' left fielder has spent so much of his career being overshadowed by brilliant pitching that it's sort of shocking to discover that he ranks 17th on the list of active OPS+ leaders, within one point of several folks ahead of him. We get so lost in awe at the success of the Braves' starting rotation over the last decade that we don't realize that without Chipper's career .404 OBP in the lineup, the 95-03 years look much, much different.
In a sense, Jones is a walking stereotype of the southern super-athlete. Handsome, charming, possessed of a 50 megawatt smile, cocky, Chipper Jones simultaneously draws us and pushes us away. His grace and…well, smooth, at the plate seem to carry over to the field, where he doesn't possess nearly the same innate talent. And I don't think I've ever seen a non-Buckner error so unfairly tarnish a player's defensive reputation as the throwing error he made on the last day of the 2000 season that helped cost the Braves home field advantage in the playoffs.
At the end of the day, the amount of hustle and golly-gee-whiz-gosh-darn-moxie a player flashes is really basically irrelevant. It gives us all a big thrill to see our favorite players run out every groundball and always hustle after they hit pop-ups, but those things, they don't really matter. If Chipper Jones doesn't do a potentially hamstring-straining all-out sprint after he hits a one-hopper to the second baseman in the 8th inning of a 10-3 game, does that outweigh the two-run homerun he hit earlier to any but the bitterest of old-time minds? And what about the three walks he drew in the earlier innings, walks that not only set up critical rallies but wore out the opposing starting pitcher?
We don't notice those walks because…well, I don't really know why we don't notice them. Teams with nine Chipper Jones' win pennants. Teams with nine Mark Lemkes thrill fans on their way to fourth place finishes.
Andrew Bare is a journalism sophomore at the University of Florida. He can be reached at AndrewBare29@hotmail.com
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