Old Timer - Features - Atlanta Magazine
 
 
 

Old Timer

At 23, Chipper Jones is the kind of vintage baseball player that disenchanted fans have craved — a scrapper, full of hustly, plays like he actually loves the game

Jones photograph by Rob Kaye; Ruth, Mantle and Cobb photographs courtesy of National Baseball Library & Archives (Cooperstown, NY)

His eyes are the eyes of a hunter. Even though he cloaks them under the shadow of his low-slung baseball cap, there's no escaping the complete focus, the fierce confidence. Necessarily arrogant is the way he likes to describe it.

The face is virtually beardless, even innocent. The chaw of tobacco bulging out of his left cheek seems almost a self-conscious attempt to look a little older. But the eyes seem to say, Don’t be fooled. I’m going to succeed, and you can’t stop me.

In this cynical age of baseball as business, Chipper Jones may be just the kind of throwback player that fans, disenchanted by the Dow Jones version of the national pastime, have craved. A scrapper. Full of hustle. Wears his stockings up high like the old-timers. Plays like he actually loves the game. Already, after one full season in the major leagues, he is a marquee player for the Atlanta Braves, best team in baseball. Most experts believe he is destined to become one of the elite of the game. 

“Earl Weaver [the former Baltimore Orioles manager] used to say that certain people, you just know when they walk on the field, They’re great. And he’s one of those,” pronounces ESPN’s esteemed Peter Gammons. “He’s just a very special person. He’s the type player around whom teams build. The Braves have changed so much in a four- or five-year period, which a lot of people don't realize, and he's clearly the foundation of the next generation.”

“Even as a rookie third baseman, a position he hadn't played since he was 14 and in a Babe Ruth league, people marveled at his maturity as a player and the way he carried himself like a 10-year veteran.” He's not in awe of anything out there,” says Braves third base coach Jimy Williams. “I don't like to use the word cocky; it's an inner confidence.” 

Confidence.

That's the word that turns up again and again whenever people discuss the 23-year-old Jones. "It's not bogus, and it's not false hustle," says Braves General Manager John Schuerholz. “It shows on the field, how he handles himself and how he handles situations and, as importantly, how his teammates view him. They look to him as a guy they can count on in tight situations, which was remarkable for a rookie to be in that position. He's been a real stabilizing force on the club, and for a rookie that's about as high of praise as you can give.”

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