We’re half-way finished with “Ballplayer” by Chipper Jones. Up to this point, we have followed Chipper from his childhood in Florida to becoming a top prep baseball player. We then followed him through the draft and the minor leagues. Finally, we lived through the heartache of a blown-out knee, rehab, and finally, the breakthrough of back-to-back World Series visits in 1995 and 1996. If you’d like to purchase “Ballplayer,” the hardcover is on sale at Amazon and it’s also out now in paperback.
This week, we look at the rest of the 90’s, some of the hijinks behind the scenes, and too much of the unfortunate personal drama as well.
Chapter 13 – Inside the Clubhouse
There are some amazing stories here. One of them is about one of my favorite Braves, Steve Avery. On the pitching mound, Avery was emotionless and stoic. It’s easy to think that’s the person he was off the pitching mound as well, but apparently, he was a real cut-up as far as pranks go. Chipper details another story when Avery gave up a two-run homer to the Mets’ Todd Hundley. Jose Vizcaino, their shortstop, was loudly yelling for the ball to go and celebrated wildly when it did. Avery asked if Vizcaino had done what he thought he did. Chipper nodded.
Next time up, the Mets’ shortstop got one in the knee. He’d miss the rest of the series. After coming back to the dugout, Avery deadpanned, “Hey, was Vizcaino doing cartwheels when they were carting him off the field?”
We also learn that Greg Maddux would pee on people in the shower and hock loogies everywhere. You never want to meet your heroes, right?
There are plenty of great recollections in this chapter involving the aforementioned Avery and Maddux, along with John Smoltz and Jeff Blauser. Chipper ends it by talking about Barry Bonds and how Bonds treated him poorly when Chipper was a second-year player. Chipper asked Barry to sign a couple of baseballs for him – one for charity and one for his own collection. Bonds chose not to and even talked down to Chipper.
Chapter 14 – The Perks
It’s funny when you read about Chipper Jones getting starstruck. Earlier, it happened with Ozzie Smith, and now we see it with Cal Ripken Jr. The best part, though, is that Ripken was actually asking Chipper for advice. Baseball’s Ironman was making the transition to third base and wanted to run some things by Chipper. Ironically, Ripken’s ideas on how to play third made Chipper a better defender.
Chipper details some of his biggest introductions, including with President George H.W. Bush in Houston and Muhammad Ali. The latter scared Chipper by asking the young ballplayer if he had just called The Champ a racial slur. He had head Chipper call him “Champ,” but wanted to mess with the boy.
We also go into a long story on why Chipper got into supporting cystic fibrosis charities after meeting a young boy who wanted to realize his dreams of hunting. With Chipper, the boy named Matthew shot a few deer before later relapsing and passing away at the age of eleven.
Chapter 15 – Leading a Double Life
Chipper Jones paints a pretty negative picture of his first wife, Karin. He refers to her as a “doting mother” as she attempts to control him. For the record, the now-Dr. Karin Luise refutes much of this. She didn’t go into specifics, but does point out that Chipper used “convenient omissions to benefit the author.” But for the time being, we have this chapter where Chipper first speaks of his troublesome marriage and, finally, the spring of 1997. For the first time, Karin doesn’t accompany Chipper to spring training.
Chipper meets Jennifer and his first affair is off-and-running. There were “girls in Atlanta,” “girls in three or four cities around the league,” and more. On one hand, it’s nice for Chipper to address this. Like his dash with considering steroids, he could have left this out. This chapter makes Chipper look awful.
He gets caught because of course, he does. A husband of one of the ladies finds his phone number among her things. In a piece of ironic glory, the night he gets busted is the same night Jennifer gets pregnant. That’s just a beautiful touch. And she wasn’t alone. One of Chipper’s little Michael Phelps got loose and swam for the gold with another woman in Philadelphia.
Chapter 16 – Coming Clean
It’s a little comical that Chipper kind of realizes how he needs to tell Karin everything because hitting Kevin Brown‘s stuff is hard enough with a clean head. Chipper finally tells Karin, who promptly throws a vase at him. Maybe she didn’t as she later disagrees with Chipper’s version of history, but you can’t really blame her if she did.
The two later decide to stay together and Chipper tells his parents. He gets an earful from them. Later, as Karin and Chipper try to work things out, it becomes obvious that Karin can’t forgive Chipper for his transgression. All of this boils over into a 26th birthday party that is straight out of Jerry Springer. If you ever thought to yourself, “did Pedro Borbon and Chipper Jones ever trade punches?” The answer is apparently yes.
In a last ditched – pretty dumb – effort to fix what seems unfixable, Chipper comes clean to Bill Zack. All that did was make him lose a bunch of endorsements and get publicly flogged. The couple finally files for a divorce.
Chipper heads into the 1999 season focused on fixing his life. He put all the mess with Karin, Jennifer, and so on behind him. And the Braves would benefit.
Chapter 17 – The Worm Has Turned
Don Baylor enters Chipper’s life and gives him some keen advice. After Chipper talks about his right-handed approach and how he simplifies things because he’s often turned around late in games by left-handed relievers. Instead of driving the ball, Chipper would focus on just making solid contact and getting on base. Basically, he willingly was choosing to be a slap hitter over being Chipper Jones. When he told Baylor that, he was given this constructive criticism: “(Expletive) that.”
Baylor goes onto to say that there is no difference between striking out and hitting a two-hopper to shortstop, which I’m sure Joe Simpson would argue with. Baylor: “You’re still 0-for-1 either way.” I love these exchanges between Baylor and Chipper. After two chapters of re-living Chipper’s personal hell, it’s nice to get back to why we wanted to read this book in the first place.
Instead of the demons from the past, we re-live the 1999 chase for the playoffs between the Braves and the Mets. It’s an exciting back-and-forth between two contending teams and Chipper is at the forefront, hitting bombs and making big plays. He talks about a Rick Reed/John Smoltz matchup in September. Chipper hits a solo homer to put the Braves up, but the Mets tie it in the third. In the eighth inning, still 1-1, Chipper faces a guy I can’t ever forget – Dennis Cook.
It would always bug the crap out of me how Cook would rub the baseball after getting a new one. The idea that Chipper smacks a homer off him from the right-side is just glorious.
Chipper would hit another homer the next night and a three-run bomb in the finale of the three-game set. If one series clinched Chipper’s MVP award that year, it was this one.
Chapter 18 – Lar-ry
Fans who may have been too young to remember the 1999 NLCS don’t know how hot this rivalry between the Braves and Mets were at the time. These two teams hated one another. The Mets suggested Chipper had been tipped pitches during his four-homerun outburst. After the Braves seemingly had the Mets on the ropes of elimination during the regular season, Chipper told the press, “Now all those Mets fans can go home and put their Yankees stuff on.”
But credit to the Mets – they fought back, won the Wild Card, and then beat the Diamondbacks to get to the NLCS. This chapter goes into the genesis of the “Larry” chants. Apparently, Mike Piazza found out from one of the Braves pitchers that Chipper hated being called Larry. Chipper didn’t mind it from Piazza, who he would call Michael. But once other Mets, Orel Hershiser specifically, and the Mets’ announce team, learned about it, they spread the word and the chant stuck.
The series ends in a Walk-Off Walk. Hey…you don’t think I got the name for this blog from that, do you?
Chapter 19 – Playing the Villain
Because Chipper has never heard of birth control, he finds out he got his newest lady friend Sharon pregnant less than two hours away from first pitch of the 1999 World Series. This guy has amazing timing.
There’s not much to talk about when it comes to the 1999 World Series. The Braves were outmatched and it showed. We’re still talking about divorce proceedings and, according to Chipper, Karin wanted everything. In the end, she got nearly everything but no future earnings. With the divorce finalized, he marries Sharon.
Chipper talks about his relationship with the city of New York. How he didn’t like the city – especially early in his career. He used an alias, tried utilizing decoys, and did everything he could to avoid the autograph hounds. But it was the Mets fans that really drove him nuts while also motivating him. Chipper also gets into the John Rocker story.
He also mentioned that the relationship with the city changed after 9/11. The city began to respect him and he started to respect the fans, too. We also get a bunch of stuff in Derek Jeter, who Chipper “hated” for his success against Chipper. But things there thawed after they were teammates in the World Baseball Classic.
That takes us up to page 254 of the hardcover version. Are you following along? Let me know below and next week – hopefully, Sunday – I’ll post the final part of this series. After that, we’ll jump into a bit of history with “Never Say Die: The 1914 Braves” by Matthew McConkey. It’s a short book at just 121 pages.