Chipper decides he will retire at end of season
Career-long Brave ranks among best switch-hitters in MLB history
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Chipper Jones will no longer have to deal with speculation regarding his future. The Braves third baseman erased any doubt on Thursday when he announced that he will retire at the conclusion of this season.
"I was anxious to get this announcement out and get this over with so that there is some finality to it," Jones said. "I'm tired of the speculative questions as to when it's going to happen. This way, we get it out in the open. It's final. It's definite."
Flanked by Bobby Cox, Fredi Gonzalez, John Schuerholz and Frank Wren -- the only managers and general managers he has known while playing his entire Major League career with Atlanta, an emotional Jones thanked his family, friends and fans who he said have allowed him to enjoy what will end up being a 23-year relationship with the Braves, 19 of them in the Major Leagues.
"I'm very proud that for 23 years I've donned one uniform -- the red, white and blue of the Atlanta Braves," Jones said. "I often admired, when I was coming up, guys like Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, who were able to work with their organization so that they could stay in one place.
"They knew how important it was to stay in one place and be the face of the franchise. While I don't consider myself to be in their realm, I'm awfully proud to say I've been a part of this organization for so long."
As Jones enjoyed a journey that likely has him pointed toward enshrinement in Cooperstown, he fueled the most successful stretch in Braves history. The club won the 1995 World Series with him as a rookie third baseman and notched 11 of its 14 consecutive division titles with him as an everyday part of the lineup.
"He's had 18 remarkable years and we hope his 19th year is even more remarkable," Schuerholz, the Braves' president, said. "What a fitting way it would be for him to go out as a champion, as he has been his whole career. He could have been Rookie of the Year in 1995. He made a number of All-Star teams and had over a .300 career batting average. But more importantly, he was the guy we could rely on to get the big hit and come through at the tough time."
Like former teammates Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, Jones will forever stand as an iconic figure in Braves history. His decision to make his announcement now and erase his option for the 2013 season -- worth at least $7 million -- will allow him to avoid the ugly exits Glavine and Smoltz experienced when their time with the Braves ended.
"It was a [public-relations] nightmare for the Braves to try to keep these guys," Jones said. "It was tough for them to walk away. This gives me the opportunity to appease not only myself, but the Braves organization. I can go out on my own terms."
One month shy of his 40th birthday and exactly two weeks shy of starting another season with the Braves, Jones started to come to the realization that this would have to be his final season as his knees and other body parts proved more bothersome than normal during the early weeks of Spring Training.
Jones informed his teammates of his decision last week after multiple reports quoted him as saying he "might not make it through this season." He told MLB.com that those comments were made in jest and misinterpreted by two reporters who are not around him on a regular basis during the season.
While assuring his teammates that he would not leave them in the midst of a season, Jones asked them to keep his decision private until he had time to arrange a formal announcement.
"Obviously it gets tougher and tougher every spring to come down here and get over soreness," Jones said. "But I think it was just the realization that I have fulfilled everything. There is nothing left for me to do. I'm content with my decision. I wasn't during the offseason. The body felt great. I wasn't willing to say it at that time.
"It's just time. My dad told me, one day you'll wake up and realize it's time. I'm 100 percent behind this decision. There is no hedging whatsoever."
Jones currently leads all active Major Leaguers with 18 years of service with the same club. His association with the Braves began in 1990, when Cox, then the team's GM, took him -- instead of pitcher Todd Van Poppel -- with the first overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft.
While Van Poppel totaled 98 career starts while playing for six organizations in 11 years, Jones earned seven All-Star selections and the 1999 NL Most Valuable Player Award while producing numbers that put him in exclusive company.
"I wonder how different life would have been had I gone to Seattle or Pittsburgh or whoever had one of the top five picks that year," Jones said. "Obviously it would have been a lot different. That's why I'm thankful Van Poppel didn't want to play here, because I would have given my right arm to play here."
Jones has hit .304 with 454 homers, 526 doubles, 1,455 walks, a .402 on-base percentage and a .533 slugging percentage.
Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig are the only other players in Major League history to record a career .300 batting average with at least 450 homers, 500 doubles, 1,400 walks, a .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage.
Jones was introduced to the mystique of some of the game's legends at a young age as his father told him stories about Mickey Mantle. Now, as he prepares to retire, he stands with Mantle and his boyhood idol Eddie Murray as one of the most accomplished switch-hitters in history.
Jones and Murray are the only switch-hitters in Major League history to compile 2,500 hits and 1,500 RBIs. The .364 batting average that netted him his lone batting title in 2008 stands as the second-best average ever produced by a switch hitter, trailing only the .365 mark Mantle produced in 1957.
In addition, Jones is the only switch-hitter in Major League history to post a .300 career average and hit more than 300 homers, and his career batting average ranks second all-time among switch-hitters, behind Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch's .316. Jones' home run total ranks third among all switch-hitters, behind Mantle (536) and Murray (504).
"Chipper is in great company," Cox said. "He's in there with two guys for me, Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray. When people ask me, where do you put Chipper Jones? When I put him in that company, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer."
While Jones is certainly proud of his great offensive numbers, he seemingly takes even more pride that his statistics will show that he played with just one team. Thanks to the contracts offered by Schuerholz and Wren, he will have made more than $150 million without ever experiencing what it was like to be a free agent.
"Whenever free agency was about to come up on the horizon, we sat down and got something hammered out," Jones said. "I gave a little at times and they gave a little at times. It was the perfect relationship between player and ownership, where I wanted to stay and they wanted to keep me."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.