After more than 17 years as a fixture in Atlanta Braves baseball, Chipper Jones has announced that he will retire as a player after the 2012 season. His $7 million club option for next year would have vested at $9 million with 123 games played this summer, but apparently enough is enough.
Jones, 40 next month, has been ravaged by (mostly) knee injuries that have limited him to fewer than 135 games in six of the last seven years. He hasn’t stopped hitting despite the physical problems though, producing a .345 wOBA and a 119 wRC+ in 512 plate appearances just last season. Chipper’s last otherworldly year was 2008, when he hit a monster .364/.470/.574 with 22 homers in 534 plate appearances, good enough for a .446 wOBA, a 175 wRC+, and 7.5 WAR. Somehow he only finished 12th in the MVP voting.
A career .304/.402/.533 hitter, Jones is almost certain to retire as just the seventh player in baseball history with a .300/.400/.500+ batting line (min. 10,000 PA). Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, Frank Thomas, and Ted Williams are the others. He also figures to retire with more career walks (1,455) than strikeouts (1,358). Chipper went to seven All-Star Games, won one MVP (1999, but probably deserved another one or two somewhere along the line), and was an offensive force when the Braves won the 1995 World Series. He’s the only switch-hitter in baseball history with a .300 lifetime average and 300+ homers. With 87.5 career wins above replacement to his credit, he’s been the 35th most valuable position player in baseball history. He’s a slam dunk, first-ballot Hall of Famer. No doubt about it.
While Hank Aaron is clearly the best player in franchise history, Jones is the greatest player the team has had since moving from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966. He’s second to Aaron in basically every significant offensive category in the team’s history, including SLG (.533), OPS (.935), hits (2,615), doubles (526), RBI (561), runs scored (1,561), and total bases (4,579). His 454 career homers are third most in team history behind Aaron and Eddie Mathews. The first overall pick in the 1990 amateur draft and four times a top-four player on Baseball America’s annual Top 100 Prospects List, Jones is also in the conversation for the best top pick in draft history (along with Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr.).
The writing has been on the wall for a while now, but Jones has finally decided to end his historically great career. He was able to do so on his own terms, which is not something many players get to do. Even great ones. He’ll also retire having never playing for a team other than the Braves, and it’s very rare to see great players stay with one team for their entire career during the age of free agency. The Braves are losing a great player and an icon, but the fans will be able to give Chipper a proper send-off later this season now that he’s has announced his decision.