Only 4% of the reviews currently on Amazon are negative for “Ballplayer” by Chipper Jones. One of them, from an anonymous customer, reads, “I was very upset when I started reading this book. The language he uses is awful. Did he not think that some of his fans are kids and would be reading it? I was very disappointed in it and would not recommend it.” To be fair – the customer is right. Chipper doesn’t hold back in terms of the language he utilizes. If such coarse language turns you away, this may not be the book for you.
Last week, I looked at the first six chapters of “Ballplayer,” which you can order now in paperback. Chipper talked about his time as a youngster in Florida, transferring to the Bolles School, and his first year in professional ball. This week, we continue from there and will finish with the 1996 World Series.
Chapter 7 – On the Defensive
Did you ever watch the show, “Scrubs?” Throughout the series’ run, they had a running joke about a character named Dr. Hooch. This doctor is easily set off by the things the duo of J.D. and Turk do to him. One scene includes them putting bouillon cubes in the shower head and Dr. Hooch threatening that he would kill whoever did it. Each time, the main characters would say, “Hooch is crazy” in a good-natured way. Well, according to Chipper Jones, Keith Mitchell is crazy. During a brawl, Chipper made the mistake of pulling Mitchell off a player while trying to place peacemaker. Mitchell later threatened the entire team that if they “test” him again, he’d kill them. Mitch is crazy.
This chapter is full of amazing stories of Chipper’s run up the ladder to the majors. Some huge laugh-out moments and for those of us that really recall the 90’s, a lot of the names Chipper brings up make for a trip down memory lane. We also find out that Chipper missed a playoff game with Greenville because of his first wedding. In addition, we find out the name of one of the few people Chipper hated in baseball – Jose Oliva. Apparently, Oliva stole some bats from Chipper and Javy Lopez.
The chapter itself isn’t very long and I won’t go over every single story he drops. The Mitchell story, which includes the Indians Triple-A squad with Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, starts because of a bat flip by Ryan Klesko. Any Braves fan reading probably said something like, “makes sense.” The chapter ends with a story of facing Roger Clemens during
The chapter’s name comes from Chipper’s 50+ errors with Macon. Fans for the Macon Braves used to wear catcher’s gear as they set on the first base side. They had to be ready for Chipper’s throws.
Chapter 8 – Showtime
Chipper covers his brief cup-of-coffee in September of 1993 and his feelings that the 1993 Phillies were juiced. But this chapter is more about the 1994 season. In the lead-up to spring training, Chipper tells us what Bobby Cox‘s plan was with Chipper moving into the season. However, his facts are a little shaky in this chapter – which calls into question too much everything he says about his personal life. I’ll get back to that in a second. Anyway, the plan was for Chipper to platoon at both 3B and LF. He’d take the southpaws so that Ryan Klesko could be protected while he’d play every other day at third base.
The best part of this chapter, for me, is the description of Deion Sanders. Having just read “Tomahawked” and “Built to Win,” it’s fun to compare-and-contrast what the Braves front office and management thought of Deion and what his teammates thought. The latter loved him. Chipper tells some fun stories about playing in the outfield with Deion and his glove, nicknamed “Lucille.”
Chipper covers his ACL tear that spring and the rehab back. He also talks about having to borrow money during the 1994 Strike to cover bills.
But…there are some things that just don’t add up. For instance, he talks about coming to spring training in 1994 and seeing the lineup. Marquis Grissom, Jeff Blauser, Jones, Fred McGriff, David Justice. The problem is that Grissom isn’t acquired until a year later. Further, he brings up how he’d platoon at third with Jose Oliva, but Terry Pendleton is still the starting third baseman. Anyway, this is probably one of those things where he can’t keep all the details straight. However, this is what his co-writer, Carroll Rogers Walton is for.
Chapter 9 – Going Deep
The 1995 season. Coming out of the strike, Chipper moves full-time to third base for the Braves and we follow along with his first season. From an entertainment standpoint, there really isn’t a lot here – especially compared to earlier chapters. It’s basically a rundown of different accomplishments along the way and not as personal as we have grown to expect from chapters of this book.
A few highlights include Chipper’s take on Hideo Nomo and the NLDS against the Rockies. While many Braves fans still to this day believe Chipper should have been the Rookie of the Year, Chipper doesn’t really think too much of the argument. What matters to him is that Nomo was amongst the best pitchers in the game in 1995. Chipper was among the leaders in rookie hitters, but not amongst the best in baseball.
The NLDS is covered in some detail. Chipper talks about a matchup between Greg McMichael and Andres Galarraga. There were runners on first-and-third and nobody out of a game the Braves led by one run in the 8th. McMichael was going to throw a changeup. Chipper knew this because Jeff Blauser whistled at him as a sign that something offspeed was coming and he better be ready to field a hot shot. He moved a few steps to his right and Galarraga hit a shot down the line. Chipper dives, catches the grounder, holds the runner at third, and throws to second to force a runner. An RBI double tied it next, but if Chipper doesn’t make that play, the Rockies take the lead and may win it. The next inning, Chipper hits a homer to put Atlanta back on top and they win.
Chapter 10 – Our Time
Ah, the 1995 World Series. Chipper Jones actually didn’t do much during the Series. He didn’t have a bad run by any means, hitting .286 with three doubles, four walks, and three strikeouts. It’s just that he didn’t have a big knock. As a result, his retelling of the Series is more blow-by-blow rather than about the moments he made something happen.
He does discuss David Justice’s remarks on the morning of Game 6. Asked to compare the experiences of playing in Jacobs Field versus Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Justice pointed out how the fans were much louder, more supportive, much more of a factor in Jacobs Field. Chipper Jones agreed, though he certainly wasn’t going to say it at the time. In the book, he talks about how Atlanta fans were acting like they were watching any August game. Not in Game 6, though.
It’s great memories, but again, because he didn’t really accomplish a lot during the Series, it lacks the big moment personal touch.
Chapter 11 – Raising the StakesAfter the 1995 season, Chipper signs his first multi-year contract – literally with almost no effort from the Braves. Essentially, they said, “hey, here’s $13M over four years.” And Chipper said, “cool, I’ll take it.” To be fair, his pay jumped over $600K after one season and he did become the highest-paid second-year player at the time. He moved into a new home with his wife, Karin, and the two began to fight like crazy. Chipper wanted to be free, Karin wanted to reign him in. As Chipper said earlier in the book, he got married about five years too early.
But Karin does play a big role in this chapter. I will give Chipper a lot of credit here. He admits that he “was seriously thinking about it at the time.” The “it” in question? Steroids. At the All-Star Game that year, Chipper was selected to join Matt Williams as the NL third basemen. After Williams went down with an injury, Ken Caminiti was chosen as a replacement. When Chipper compared himself to them – especially Caminiti – he could see the difference. He knew steroids were prevalent. And he thought, “why not me?”
It’d be easier for Chipper to say “nope, never thought about steroids.” But Chipper doesn’t do that. He explains his options with Karin. But Karin tells him what he needs to hear. She tells him about the potential effects of steroids to his body and their chances of having children. She mentions how disappointed his parents would be. Chipper does right by including this in the book. Even for guys who did it “the right way,” the call to join the crowd that was filling their bodies with PEDs is still there.
On the fun note, this chapter includes a little bit of fun of watching Ozzie Smith play shortstop at the All-Star Game next to Barry Larkin. Like a point guard, Smith is no-look throwing the ball to second. Once that loses its magic, he starts throwing it to first without looking. Every time, he’s perfect. Chipper looks at Larkin, who says, “Don’t look at me. I can’t do that.”
Chapter 12 – World Series Ghosts
Chipper starts his recollections of the 1996 postseason by going over how he finally solved the Hideo Nomo conundrum. In the regular season, Nomo threw a perfect game against Chipper – 0-for-27. Overall, Chipper would only be 2-for-35 against Nomo. But in the NLCS, he delivers a monster two-run homer to help put the Braves in the NLCS.
Next, Chipper talks about how the team didn’t like the Cardinals much. It started with their manager, Tony La Russa, and continued down the roster. That includes Dennis Eckersley, who the Braves felt showed them up in the ’96 NLCS by looking right into their dugout after nailing down a save and celebrating. The win put the Braves on the brink of elimination after just four games. However, with the injured David Justice pushing his teammates to wake up, Atlanta roared back to outscore the Cards 32-1 over the next three games.
And then the World Series. After the first two games went their way, Atlanta falls in Game 3. But they had a 6-zip lead in Game 4. The lead was cut in half by the time the eighth came around. Chipper talks about how, if you get beat, get beat with your best pitch. Instead, Mark Wohlers got beat on his third-best pitch. The slider hung and Jim Leyritz destroyed it. The entire series changed on a dime.
Chipper ends the chapter by saying, “We had it right there. And I never got that close again.”
Are you reading along? What are some of your highlights of Chapters 7 through 12? Any of my observations you disagree with? Let me know below. Next week, I’ll go over Chapters 13 through 19.