September 6, 2012
He has a lifetime .304/.401/.531 slash with 468 HRs (third all-time among switch hitters behind Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray) and 1,619 RBIs. He is arguably the second best switch hitter of all time behind Mantle.
Yet for all of his exploits, he is perhaps best known for his success against the rival New York Mets. In his career, he has hit .314/.410/.553 with 49 HRs and 158 RBIs.
But Jones did just as well against other NL East rival teams, according to his career numbers:
Marlins: .299/.393/.505, 40 HRs, 165 RBIs
Expos/Nationals: .299/.405/.505, 41 HRs, 160 RBIs
Phillies: .332/.442/.599, 49 HRs, 151 RBIs
He also hit well in each of those teams’ home ballparks:
Pro Player (Marlins) – .294/.388/.478, 16 HRs, 64 RBIs
Marlins Park (Marlins) – 2 for 9, 1 RBI
Veterans Stadium (Phils) – .350/.471/.618, 13 HRs, 38 RBIs
Citizen’s Bank Park (Phils) – .304/.404/.557, 11 HRs, 31 RBIs
Olympic Stadium (Expos) – .341/.448/.544, 8 HRs, 42 RBIs
RFK Stadium (Nats) – .284/351/.591, 7 HRs, 17 RBIs
Nationals Park (Nats) – .314/.385/.511, 5 HRs, 21 RBIs
Shea Stadium (Mets) – .313/.407/.557, 19 HRs, 55 RBIs
Citi Field (Mets) – .208/.308/.377, 3 HRs, 14 RBIs
In short, he crushed the NL East.
So why is his rivalry with the Mets so celebrated (or reviled, as is the case with Mets fans)?
While Jones had already had success against the Mets in his career, it was the late September series in Atlanta in 1999 that truly made him public enemy number one for Mets fans.
That year, the Mets had posed a serious threat to the Braves’ running streak of division titles. They went into the series only 1 game back of Atlanta for first place in the NL East.
But instead of wresting the long-held division crown from the Braves, the Mets wilted, losing all three games. Jones played a huge role in that series, hitting 4 homers, all of which gave the Braves the lead, and collecting 7 RBIs.
The series not only bumped the Mets out of contention for the division title, but dropped them 2 games out of the wild card race. They would eventually come back to win the wild card playoff spot, but at the time, it seemed that Jones and the Braves had buried New York.
“This is the next best thing to a World Series win,” Chipper said after the series, “Now, all the Mets fans can go home and put their Yankees stuff on.”
To add insult to injury, the Braves went on to defeat the Mets in the ’99 NLCS. Jones was nearly a non-factor in the series, but the rest of the team took out the Mets in heartbreaking fashion.
Atlanta took a 3 games to none lead, but the Mets won the next two, one on Robin Ventura’s famed walk-off “Grand Slam Single” in the 15th inning of game 5.
Then, in a classic game 6, the Braves led 5-0 after the first, and 7-3 after the 6th. But the Mets rallied back to tie it in the top of the 7th. From that point on , the two teams exchanged leads at what seemed to be a furious pace. When the Mets scored a run in the top of the inning, the Braves would tie it back up in the bottom.
Finally, as if to underscore their futility against the Braves that year, the Mets lost the game in the bottom of the 11th when Kenny Rogers, pitching in relief for New York, walked in the winning run.
Just before the 1999 NLCS began, word leaked out that Chipper hated to be called by his given name, Larry. In fact, it’s been said that Mets’ catcher Mike Piazza began calling him “Larry” whenever he stepped up to the plate that year.
When Mets fans caught wind of that, they loudly serenaded Jones with chants of “Laaarrryy” whenever he came to bat during the series. The derisive chants may have even contributed to Chipper’s subpar performance in the series. But “Larry” had the last laugh when Atlanta went on to play in the World Series, and the Mets went home.
His Son’s Name
So much did Chipper Jones enjoy playing the Mets at Shea Stadium that he and his wife decided to name their second born son “Shea” in August of 2004. Yes, he had plenty of success at other ballparks, but “Shea Jones” certainly has a better ring to it than “Pro Player Jones.” No word if he plans to name any future children “Citi,” but then again, he hasn’t been as successful there.
Jones continued to pile up big statistics against New York, but never was his rivalry with the Mets as intense as it was in 1999.
This weekend, Jones will play his final series in Queens before retiring from baseball at the end of the year. Like other teams already have, the Mets plan to pay tribute to him before one of the games. It seems odd to honor the player who was your biggest and most dreaded rival, but it’s appropriate. Chipper Jones played such a large role in Mets history that it would be disingenuous to ignore his impact.
And just perhaps, Mets fans will pay their own tribute to him with one last, long, loud chant of “Laaarrryyy!” And Chipper would probably enjoy every second of it.