WOW Book of the Month: Ballplayer (1/4)

WOW Book of the Month: Ballplayer (1/4)

From the dry writing of John Schuerholz last month to the exciting retelling of Chipper Jones’ career, we open the April Book of the Month – “Ballplayer.” With the help of former Atlanta-Journal Constitution writer, Carroll Rogers Walton, “Ballplayer” is more gripping than I figured it would be. Most of the time, if you read one player’s autobiography, you’ve read them all. They are whitewashed and focus more on highlights over real substance. Chipper doesn’t do that, though. He dives in – good or bad. It’s not really apologetic for the most part. Rather, it’s an attempt to be true to both the player and the 40+ years on the planet.

"Ballplayer" by Chipper JonesHere’s the schedule of our weekly book club meetings. If you’d like to purchase “Ballplayer,” it’s definitely a fun book and recently came out in paperback. Feel free to follow along with your own thoughts.

April 8 – Chapters 1-6
April 15 – Chapters 7-12
April 22 – Chapters 13-19
April 29 – Chapters 20-Epilogue

So, with that out of the way, let’s dive in.

Foreward by Bobby Cox

Bobby Cox is a lot of things, but a captivating writer he is not. This becomes even more apparent as Chipper provides lively stories of his youth soon after Cox’s three-page foreward ends. It’s just standard fluff. I would have liked a fun story of how he decided to draft Jones in 1990 or, well, something.

Prologue – The Last Big Play

Chipper jumps right into the last time he was on the field. What again differentiates Chipper’s approach to this book compared to many other ballplayers is that Chipper doesn’t retell one of his best moments. As Chipper himself points out, it wasn’t supposed to end like this. His amazing career was supposed to have a storybook ending. He wasn’t supposed to make an error in his final game to help cost the team. But it wasn’t to be.

Chapter 1 – Chip Off the Old Block

Let’s meet the Joneses. There’s Larry Sr., a former college player who later becomes a math teacher and baseball coach. There’s Lynne Jones, a former competitive dressage horse rider. Cue the 80’s sitcom music and zoom out to show a fern farm. Yes, a fern farm. Which is more fun to say than it is to work on according to Chipper.

Chipper retells a number of stories of his youth with his parents. How his dad knocked out a tooth by hitting him with a ball, how his father taught him to switch-hit, and Chipper’s love of the 80’s-era Dodgers. There are some great back-and-forths how Chipper and his dad would watch the Game of the Week and have their own game afterward where they would mimic the lineups of both teams. Chipper would often add left-hand hitters to the lineup just to get the practice.

There’s also a good story how Larry Sr. got a tryout with the Cubs after college and they offered to sign him. However, in a situation that is similar to what many modern players decide nowadays, the money that was offered wasn’t very good and Larry Sr. had a growing family to think about. Lynn was pregnant with a boy. Fortunately, Larry Sr. was given the chance to live through his son’s career.

Chapter 2 – “I Got This”

Chipper follows his little league career and his growth as a player and a young boy. There’s a great moment when Chipper strikes out looking on a “cock shot.” That’s when the pitcher throws a belt-high, fastball and you freeze. Chipper had battled the guy for a dozen pitches and was his team’s last hope. After the game, he was inconsolable. Later, after he calmed down, his Dad tried to reason with him. “You play this game enough? You’re going to do it again.”

This is a quick chapter that serves as a transition from being a boy playing ball with his dad to becoming a young man many people were taking notice of.

Chapter 3 – The White Elephant

Before his tenth-grade year, Chipper Jones was given an opportunity. He could stay at Taylor High School, where he had starred as a freshman. Or, he could attend the private Bolles School, which has some of the best athletic programs in Florida. He didn’t want to go at first, but the opportunity was too great and even though he suffered a lot of scorn from his Taylor buddies – many of whom he had played with for years – Chipper made the right call.

There’s a fun comparison made between something his father said and what Chipper later said. His dad was the offensive coordinator for the Taylor football team and publicly felt that despite Chipper also playing football for Bolles, that Taylor could beat them. It was a reasonable assumption. Bolles was going through a few lean years on the gridiron, though having Larry Sr. say his team was going to beat his son’s was certainly a problem for Chipper. Of course, many years later, Chipper publicly said that the Braves would lose to the Dodgers in the NLDS.

The Braves were livid. Chipper had just retired and had played with much of the roster the Braves had. He was also supposed to throw out the first pitch. The team sent their former mascot, Homer, out to catch the ball. Not a former teammate. Not even a bullpen catcher. Apparently, that was Tim Hudson’s doing. He later apologized.

Chapter 4 – Draft Day

You already know this story. Todd Van Poppel was the can’t miss guy. In his final year of prep ball, he had a 0.97 ERA and 170 strikeouts. However, with his agent Scott Boras, they sought to manipulate the draft. The Braves – and they weren’t alone – were told that if they drafted Van Poppel, he would go to college. That’s all Bobby Cox, then the GM, needed to hear. Boras and Van Poppel wanted to be drafted by the A’s. At the time, the A’s had won back-to-back pennants, including a World Series in 1989, and would win a third pennant in 1990 and make the playoffs again in 1992. They were a dynasty and Boras worked the system to get Van Poppel there.

He became the first multimillion-dollar draft choice. Meanwhile, the Braves tried to get Chipper signed before the draft. Chipper wanted $300K while the Braves countered with $250K. They met in the middle and for nearly a million dollars less than Van Poppel, the Braves got Chipper.

This chapter is full of fun stories about Chipper being recruited for the University of Florida, working out in front of scouts, and walking out on a meeting with Boras. Apparently, he didn’t care for the super agent’s bravado.

Chapter 5 – Carry a Big Stick

For those of us who will never know what it’s like to be a professional player (at least 99% of people who read my stuff), getting a glimpse into the beginnings of a Hall of Famer’s career is fascinating. Chipper recalls staying in the same hotel with three other guys in his room and two other teams in the same hotel. He would face a Pirates or Expos pitcher and get lunch the next day with them.

If you’re ever curious why Chipper hit an abysmal .229 with three extra-base hits in 1990, it’s because just before he was drafted, he got into a fight with a teammate. The teammate was upset because Chipper got a second turn at BP during practice so Chipper could show scouts what he could do both left-handed and right-handed. It was hot and the teammate likely felt tired of all the attention Chipper was receiving. Chipper confronted him, the dude swung at him, and Chipper nailed him with a punch. He broke a knuckle in the process and simply didn’t have the swing strength once he started his professional career.

By the way, Chipper has no problem embarrassing himself. He writes of getting drunk off Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. I mean, what the hell?

In another twist, Chipper got his rookie league manager, Jim Procopio, fired. I’m sure it wasn’t the only thing that led to the decision. As Chipper’s numbers slumped in 1990, he went to his manager and suggested hitting right-handed for a week to get his numbers up. His manager gave him that leeway. It was just a few days later when Bobby Cox and company showed up to make it clear Chipper was going to be a switch-hitter. They didn’t care about the numbers. They cared about the progression.

There’s some good stories of Chipper meeting and working with Willie Stargell and Frank Howard to close off the chapter.

Chapter 6 – Major Motivation

Chipper tells of all the baby ballplayers, including him, and 70+ other recent draftees and Latin America signees who were on a spring training field in 1991. David Justice, who had just won a Rookie of the Year, spoke to them. He told the group that one, maybe two, of them would get to the majors. Who would it be? According to Chipper, he was right. Not counting Chipper, the only other person from that group to make it to the bigs was Tony Graffanino.

It was that kind of motivation that drove Chipper. I’m sure it drove the other players who heard it, too, but Chipper was convinced he wasn’t going to be one of the many who didn’t make it to the majors. He also received motivation when, as spring training games opened up, he was still on the Gulf Coast League roster. The Braves had a rookie-league team in Pulaski, VA and short-season-A squad in Idaho Falls. Chipper wasn’t on either one. He worked his butt off and by the end of spring, he still wasn’t on either roster. Instead, he jumped both teams to open 1991 with Macon. In 2004, he would again be in the South Atlantic League on a rehab assignment. This time, he was in Rome, as the franchise moved from Macon.

There’s some good stuff with Chipper hanging out with his new roommate, Tyler Houston, and even playing with Justice during a three-game rehab assignment. Justice even gave Chipper one of his bats before he left. We also meet Karin, a young lady Chipper is quickly smitten with.

There are some of the highlights of the first six chapters of “Ballplayer.” Are you reading along? If so, what are you enjoying? In addition, if you need some supplemental reading material, consider the 2018 Atlanta Baseball Preview. It’s just $9.99 and is full of player profiles of nearly every player in the system from the Gulf Coast League to the majors.

6 Comments

Tommy….there are a lot of parallels between playing a poker tournament and running a MLB team (as GM). You can make really good decisions all day long..however one bad move/bad read…and it can really cost you! Whether it is one hand that causes you to lose your whole stack that you spent all day building up…OR….a bad decision on who to take at the top of The Draft.

Chipper Jones was not the consensus #1 pick back then. Also, a difference of $25k could have made Chipper decide to attend Florida instead of signing with The Braves. In ‘a parallel Universe’….I wonder what would have happened to The Braves after 1994 (Chipper was a rookie in 1995) had Chipper not been drafted OR signed with The Braves in 1990? One move, either way, can have all kinds of rewards/repercussions.

Meanwhile, 6-3 is a nice start to The 2018 Season. Winning 2 out of 3 of each series to begin the season…will hopefully set the tone for 2018. It is ESSENTIAL that we stay away from getting swept (it’s tough to go through a whole year without getting swept..but I feel that the difference between a good manager..and a bad one….are the decisions within a series that make the difference between getting swept, as opposed to being able to grind out 1 win out of 3).

This Washington Series is one where we HAVE to get AT LEAST 1 win out of it. While Wednesday looks to be ‘one of those games’…I seriously doubt that we’re going to score 10 runs off of Cole again. Just like Newcomb came back from his bad 1st start (which surprised me..not because I feel that he doesnt have the stuff…but because it’s HELLA TOUGH to predict when he’s going to pitch like he has good stuff, as opposed to resorting to the ‘needing 100 pitches to get into the 5th inning’ MESS that seems to be ‘his shtick’).

Teheran needs to get back to grinding out 6 innings while holding the other team to 2-4 runs (again, the way our offense is going, even against Scherzer, it should be enough to give us a chance to win the game AND not blow through our bullpen).

The bullpen….has a lot of depth! After Brothers got sent down…other than Luke Jackson….there is NOT A BUM in our bullpen! On the days where we get a lead going into the 6th inning….Snitker can throw out Sam Freeman, Moylan, Winkler, Carle, Minter and Vizcaino! On days where he trying to save the bullpen or we may not have the lead…he can throw out Jose Ramirez and Luke Jackson. If he can harness some control, I really like Josh Ravin (who can take Jackson’s place).

However, when Luis Gohara comes back in early May….I really like having Anibal Sanchez taking Jackson’s spot…being the long man who can come in and throw strikes and give an effort to save our bullpen on a day where one of our starters gets pulled early! Perhaps Newcomb watched Sanchez throw strikes on Saturday and get hitters out with WAY LESS STUFF than he has! Maybe Newcomb decided that he would come out on Sunday and ATTACK HITTERS the way he did! Regardless, if Sunday wasnt a mirage…then The Braves may not be ‘going away’ anytime soon when it comes to competing in 2018.

While I hope that we can take at least 1 of these games in Washington, I’ll OBVIOUSLY be rooting for us to take all three. With that said, despite’s Washington’s struggles to open the season, I recognize that they are indeed a good team who can reel off a winning streak at any time. One thing that worries me is the bullpen getting overworked.

That’s why it is ESSENTIAL that we get more innings out of our starting pitching. The off day on Thursday will help going into The Chicago Series that starts on Friday.

However….also creeping up…will be THE FIRST DAY that Acuna can be called up (Friday) where he wont become a Free Agent until after The 2024 Season. The fact that Acuna is off to an 0-8 start in Triple A DOES NOT faze me one bit (he started Spring Training 0-7..then went on an 19 for 37 tear before getting sent down to The Minor League Camp, lol).

However, as I’ve stated before….if Acuna does get called up in a few days…it HAS to be as a starting outfielder (NOT as a 4th outfielder..because of the financial implications it would have. If The Braves were going to use Acuna as a 4th outfielder, because they dont want to bench either Tucker or Markakis..then I would wait until mid-June to call up Acuna…when he’d lose his Super 2 status. That way, The Braves would get 3 1/2 seasons of Acuna at pre-arbitration prices..as opposed to 2 8/9ths of a season. Another way of looking at it..is that you’d be getting Acuna as a STARTING OUTFIELDER for 3 full seasons at pre-arbitration prices starting in 2019.. as opposed to 2 seasons as a starting outfielder at pre-arbitration prices starting in 2019…IF they only intend to use him as a 4th outfielder AND they wait until mid-June to call him up).

What are your thoughts on that Tommy? I agree, having Acuna on the team in a few days would make The Braves better right away! However is having Acuna on the team for 2 months (is he going to be THAT MUCH BETTER right away..than what Tucker OR Markakis has/will produce during the next 2 months) WORTH The Braves having to pay Acuna potentially a $10 million plus salary via arbitration going into The 2021 Season (as opposed to only paying him The MLB Minimum in 2021 IF we waited until mid-June to call him up?).

Before the season began, SURE…we all wished that Acuna could have been in the line-up from GAME ONE! However, both Tucker and Markakis have gotten off to GOOD STARTS during the 1st 9 games. That CANNOT be ignored. Sometimes, things ‘unexpectedly happen’ (even good things, lol). It may suck for Acuna to have to wait 2 more months to get promoted…however I just dont see AA benching either Tucker or Makakis AS LONG as both are hitting!

I have been a big fan of Newk for awhile. My recent article points that out so I’m not surprised by any success he has. As for Acuna Jr., it’s for me to imagine a situation where you keep the world’s best prospect who everyone agrees is ready down in the minors for two months in order to play Preston Tucker and Nick Markakis. I mean, their good starts are nice, but no way do I keep Acuna Jr. in Triple-A for Super 2. Even if it means a rotation where Acuna Jr. starts 5 or so times a week, stealing a couple of games from both Tucker and Markakis and one from Ender. Also consider that the lineup is lefty-heavy right now and could use another dynamic right-handed bat.

If the Braves are going to have any chance to compete in 2018 – and it’s definitely possible – they ought to have Acuna Jr. in the majors sooner rather than later. Take care of future salary in the future.

Tommy….I stated in my previous post that having Acuna on The Braves roster RIGHT NOW makes The Braves A BETTER TEAM! However, they HAVE to START HIM if they bring him up! It makes LITTLE ECONOMIC SENSE for The Braves to BURN THROUGH one of Acuna’s three pre-arbitration years…..as a 4th outfielder! We’d only get him as a starter for 2019 and 2020 when he’s HELLA CHEAP!

I also know that a 9 game stretch is considered a SSS. However I’ve watched every one of Tucker’s at-bats in 2018. Other than one at-bat in Colorado where he swung at the first pitch early in Saturday’s game after the pitcher walked Markakis on 4 pitches (he grounded weakly to 2nd on a pitch that was low)….Tucker has really had a great approach at the plate. I feel that The Braves have to AT LEAST give Tucker a chance to be The 2018 Version of Chris Taylor (a player picked up for peanuts who seems to have adjusted nicely to the ‘launch angle’ approach at the plate).

Tucker is also making The MLB Minimum Wage! If Tucker were to have a really nice 2018 (and considering that he’ll have 2 more seasons before he’s eligible for salary arbitration)….he could provide GREAT VALUE (in relation to WAR vs his salary)…allowing The Braves to really go all in for a player like Manny Machado (if he insists on playing short…we can move Dansby to 3rd) during The 2018 Free Agent Offseason.

This is just something to ponder! If Tucker reverts back to his ‘fringe prospect’ self….then of course this will all be a moot point and we can go back to having Acuna being our left fielder for the rest of 2018. But to totally DISMISS the potential economic upside of keeping the lineup as is (meaning that Acuna stays in Triple A until mid-June) AS WELL as the financial benefit when it comes to constructing The 2021 Roster with Acuna being in the last year of his pre-arbitration salary (as opposed to paying him a $10 mil-plus salary in 2021 via arbitration IF we call him up on Monday and bench Tucker)…..would be UNWISE.

I’m not saying that we should 100% keep Acuna in Triple A until mid-June. I’m saying that given how Tucker and Markakis have started the season raking at the plate….it is a move that Braves Management should AT LEAST ‘ponder’.

Tommy…Charles Darwin stated that the species that have historically survived were not always the ‘fastest, strongest, the most intelligent’…but the species that were most able to ADAPT TO CHANGE! Sure, prior to the season beginning..I was 100% of the mindset that Acuna should be brought up AS SOON as he was eligible (not waiting until we get back home)…because I ‘feared’ (based on Tucker’s lack of MLB track record AND on Markakis’ being a ‘meh’ type player at this point in his career) that The Braves would have a tough time scoring runs with our lack of power. I would have been TOTALLY SATISFIED with a 7-8 record when we finished playing in Chicago on Sunday! Now…not so much, lol!

HOWEVER, towards the end of Spring Training, I saw some things that changed my assessment of this team. I went from saying “WE’RE GOING TO SUCK in 2018” (I was more than OK with that, because of what I was looking forward to seeing the 2nd half development of Soroka, Allard and Wright in our rotation)….to predicting that we’re going to win 86 games during your post where you and your fellow journalists made your predictions.

I’ve been watching sports long enough to know that sometimes THE UNEXPECTED happens! While ‘The Unexpected’ tends to be ‘The Exception to The Rule’…I’m flexible enough to understand that ‘The Exception to The Rule DOES NOT make it The Rule’!

This Braves team is FAR from being The Most Talented Team in all of MLB. However, if managed properly (and if we can avoid any catastrophic injuries), this Braves team can seriously compete in 2018 (not because we are 6-3 to start the season..but because of the balance this team has offensively COMBINED with what looks to be a WELL ROUNDED BULLPEN….COMBINED with the reinforcements that will soon be coming in Acuna, Carmago, Gohara and Fiowers…IN ADDITION to the likes of Soroka, Allard and Wright sometime after The ASB).

This team is only going to get YOUNGER/MORE TALENTED/DEEPER as time passes on! I also recognize that economics play a HUGE ROLE in roster construction….and it would be smart to evaluate the value of having Acuna on this team for 2 months in 2018 VS. not having to pay him $10 mil plus in 2021 via arbitration! Remember, AA dealt Kemp and ABSORBED over $42 mil TOTAL salary in 2018…for Brandon McCarthy and Charlie Culberson! We’re paying Adrian Gonzalez AND Scott Kazmir $16 mil EACH…to NOT play for us in 2018. That’s $32 mil in DEAD PAYROLL! In other words, if a rash of injuries hit us..AA IS NOT going to be making any moves that add any ‘significant contracts’ to The 2018 Payroll! If we’re going to compete in 2018…it’s going to be with the team we have…ALONG with whoever we bring up from The Minors…whenever they are ready to compete against MLB competition!

If adding Acuna on Monday was a guarantee for us to win the division in 2018..that would be one thing. However, with it being so early in the season, along with potential injuries killing our depth (if we lost any of our starting pitchers right now….Wisler, Blair and Sims would be called up NOT Soroka, Allard or Wright. Do you really have any faith that either Wisler, Blair and/or Sims can give The Braves quality starts?)…it’s too early to ‘go for it’ (a playoff push).

Let’s see how Tucker and Markakis do during the next 6 games in Washington and Chicago…and I’ll let you know where I stand come Sunday evening (not that it’s going to ‘matter’ to Braves Management what I think, lol….just being a fan who wants to post his take on the matter, lol).

“I stated in my previous post that having Acuna on The Braves roster RIGHT NOW makes The Braves A BETTER TEAM! However, they HAVE to START HIM if they bring him up! It makes LITTLE ECONOMIC SENSE for The Braves to BURN THROUGH one of Acuna’s three pre-arbitration years…..as a 4th outfielder! We’d only get him as a starter for 2019 and 2020 when he’s HELLA CHEAP!”

As Luke Skywalker might say. “Impressive. Every word in that sentence was wrong.”

I kid – sort of – but let’s go back to my post. I bring up Acuna Jr. regardless of how Markakis or Tucker is playing. It’s not like he’ll sit on the bench. “Even if it means a rotation where Acuna Jr. starts 5 or so times a week, stealing a couple of games from both Tucker and Markakis and one from Ender.” That’s five starts in a given week. That means he wouldn’t start 1, maybe 2 games a week. He’d almost certainly play in those games as well. Lane Adams has played in all but one game. Bourjos has played in every game. Combined, that’s 26 PA. Tucker has 30. And that’s only on the off chance that both Tucker and Markakis keep hitting – things that are hardly guarantees. The Braves won’t “burn” through a pre-arbitration year. They’ll be utilizing the best roster and giving their team a chance.

Games matter now just as much as they matter in September in the tangible sense. Certainly, games in a pennant race feel more important and that can’t be discounted, but the actual value of a game on April 9 vs. September 19 is the same. I get waiting until Acuna Jr. gets going after a few off games. Sounds great. But once he strings a couple of good games together and we get passed this week, it’s downright a slap in the face of every player on the team – let alone Acuna Jr. – to keep him in the minors for Preston Tucker and Nick Markakis.

I don’t see me changing my mind. Are the Braves destined for the playoffs? Who the hell knows? But I’d be sick to my stomach with the idea that the Braves left Acuna Jr. in the minors during a run of left-handed starters in mid-May to get to a hypothetical Super 2 deadline and had Peter Bourjos in the lineup instead.

Final thought. Getting passed the Super 2 deadline may not even affect financial earnings. That is if the Braves sign Ronald Acuna Jr. to a contract extension after his second year. So, I’m just not going to worry about it.

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