Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones Jr., 44, did it all during his career with the Atlanta Braves — as the No. 1 overall pick in 1990, World Series champion in 1995, NL MVP in 1999 and MLB batting champion in 2008. Chipper’s new autobiography, Ballplayer, covers those bases and much more. We caught up with the switch-hitting third baseman, who will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2018.
What was it about those 1990s Braves teams that made them so successful?
I would say cohesiveness, especially ‘95. Coming off the heartbreaks in ‘91 and ’92, got ousted by the Phillies in ‘93 really kind of unexpectedly. The strike in ’94. Everything really set up for that (1995) team to be successful. We got to the World Series against Cleveland, and their obviously vaunted offense — one of the scariest I’ve ever played against, they were awesome. It lends more credence to the fact that good pitching is going to shut down good hitting, 90 percent of the time anyway.
Could you sense that everything was going to culminate with a World Series win in your first full big league season in 1995?
Yeah, it was time. I didn’t have the monkey on my back that some of the other guys did. All I knew was a little itty bitty part of me didn’t want the Braves to win the World Series until I got there. That sounds terrible to say. I was obviously rooting for the Braves to win. But, yeah, there was a little part of me that said, okay, ’95, I’m here now, it hasn’t been done yet, let’s see what I can contribute to us getting back and getting it right. And it worked out.
What was it like as a rookie on that loaded Braves team?
One of the biggest things with championship ball clubs is trust, and your teammates have to trust that you’re going to go out and do your job, that you’re going to be one-ninth of the equation every day that helps you win ball games. Earning that trust in Spring Training and in the early season, until the guys knew, “Hey, this kid’s come in, he’s hitting third, in front of McGriff and Justice and behind Grissom and Lemke, and he’s not missing a beat.” Gaining that trust from my teammates early on in ‘95 was paramount for me.
Your parents were seemingly at every game you played. What did that mean to you?
Yeah. I owe them everything. Every championship that I ever won, whether it was Babe Ruth or a high school state championship or a World Series, I was never going to let the moment slip by to let them know that I was sharing it with them. And I was always glad that they were there.
I remember the state championship my junior year, come off the field first thing and dad’s there with a big old hug. All those hours and hours and hours and days and days and days of fieldwork when I was a kid in the backyard, imitating the lineups that we saw on TV on a Saturday afternoon. I’d turn it around and hit left-handed whenever a lefty was hitting, and then I’d go out trying to be my dad. When you win a championship you have a time of reflection. After Game 6 was over, I went and tried to get my parents’ attention up in the stands and blow them a kiss, because I owe it to them that I’m standing in after this and right there.
I get chill bumps just thinking about it now, and a little choked up. Nobody will ever know the amount of work that was put in, and to have it culminate with the people that I love most in the stands, and us being the last team standing in ‘95, doesn’t get any better than that.
Why do they call you Chipper?
I’m obviously a junior, and my mom got really sick of “Big Larry” and “Little Larry” when I was a kid. People always said I looked like “a chip off the old block” when I was a kid. Yep, he’s a “Chipper,” and it just kind of stuck. That’s how it was explained to me. I’ve been Chipper my whole life. The only person that ever called me Larry, when I was growing up was my great-grandma. She couldn’t get Chipper out for some reason, she just called me “Little Larry.” I didn’t hear it again until I got to New York.
You broke into the bigs and you were almost young enough to be a teammate’s son and then you retired as a man old enough to be a teammate’s father. Which side of that spectrum suited you best?
I was probably suited better to be the mentor. Most of my teammates will probably tell you that I was brash and cocky and sometimes open my mouth when I shouldn’t have and sometimes did things when I shouldn’t have, got a little lippy from time to time. Fortunately, I grew out of that and I had some instances during my career and during my life off the field that kind of humbled me a little bit. And I learned from it and I became what I feel is hopefully a good mentor. You would have to ask some of the younger guys that I played with towards the end of my career, whether I was or not.
The fact of the matter is I tried the best I could to lead by example, tried the best I could to pull guys aside and let them know how things were done, maybe give them a suggestion here or there that might help them. So I would definitely say I was better suited to be the old fogey as opposed to the brash young kid.
There’s another No. 1 overall pick on the Braves right now. What advice do you have for Dansby Swanson?
Keep your head down. Don’t read your press clippings. Go to work every day, play every day, lead by example. I really see Dansby as a Derek Jeter-type of player, personality. Now, he will not have the spotlight on him ever, like DJ does because Dansby plays in Atlanta and DJ played in New York for the Yankees. That being said, he has some of the same attributes as Derek, and I think that the Braves are damn lucky that they got this kid because feel like he’s something that they can build around for many years still.
Speaking of Derek Jeter, your career and Derek Jeter’s career, there are many parallels. Do you think you were underrated because you played in Atlanta and not New York?
You can’t help where you’re drafted. I could not be happier to play for the Atlanta Braves. I’m a southern kid. I wouldn’t trade my life, my career for anything. I go out and I put up the best resume possible and let other people decide all that. I had a blast playing for Bobby Cox, playing for the Atlanta Braves, playing with the Hall of Famers that I did throughout my career.
Who’s to say that playing in New York would have suited me? I know that Derek had the perfect personality and outlook to play in New York. And I can’t say that I necessarily had that. I might’ve gotten in a lot more trouble than he did, through the years. Atlanta’s a lot more laid back, you get away with a lot more in Atlanta. But as far overrated/underrated, I’m up for the Hall of Fame coming up this year, and there’s people out there that say that I got a great shot to get in. How can I deem that being underrated?
You did play well in New York, well enough to name your son Shea…
New York was a special place to me. My dad always said if you can be successful on that stage, in New York, you’ll be successful anywhere. And fortunately for me, I got off to a good start in New York, hitting my first home run in the big leagues in Shea Stadium, playing a couple of World Series and some playoff games there in New York, so a lot of experience in New York, some love/hate along the way with some of the fans and whatnot, but I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences every single time going to the Big Apple and playing.
You mentioned the Hall of Fame and you are eligible for this next class. What will that mean to you? What does the Hall of Fame mean to you?
It means a lot. It’s not everything. It is a crowning achievement, but it’s not why I played the game. It will be quite an honor if I’m selected, but it will not be the end of the world if I’m not. Is that politically correct enough for you? I spent 20 years of my life trying to put up the best resume possible. And right now it’s out of my hands. My motto in life is to not worry about things I can’t control. And I can’t control that right now. I spent 19 years having it in my hands and now it’s on to somebody else.
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, how do you think the Hall of Fame voters should handle the "Steroids Era" of the late ‘90s, early 2000s? Guys like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are not in the Hall of Fame...
I would say use common sense. Your instincts are normally correct. You know? If you think somebody is doing something bad, chances are they probably are. If you haven’t heard anything and they’ve been clean, chances are they probably have. It’s a very tough situation for those guys to be in. I get it. It’s unfortunate that some of the best players in the game are linked to steroids, but not everybody did them. There were guys that took pride in their job and doing it the right way. And I think if these voters use their heads and do their due diligence, and investigate a little bit, they’ll have a pretty good idea who was doing it and who didn’t.
What was the best prank you were part of or that you saw?
Oh, boy. I would have to say Maddux was probably the king as far as that goes. But see, Greg was gross. He was one of the grossest human beings you’ll ever want to meet in your life. He would come in — I don’t even know if you can print this — he would come in after playing golf all day, and drop trou right there at his locker, and take his underwear off. And the sanitary bin was right next to his locker, and he would take his sanitary and he would wipe his rear end with his sanitary. And he would put the sanitary back into the sanitary bin, and he would wait patiently for somebody to come by and pick up that sanitary to wipe off. So, yeah, that’s Greg Maddux in a nutshell right there. Many hours of entertainment that guy provided me.