His teammates had long since departed the visiting clubhouse at Citi Field on Tuesday night, but
Just a few moments before, Jones had been laughing with a few fellow Braves about their upcoming team outing on Thursday to play paintball in Washington, D.C., on their off day, which will be his first time playing. But as the room emptied out and talk turned to his retirement rumors and his general state of happiness, his smile quickly vanished.
"It's to the point where if I'm not having fun and if we're not in contention then I'm not just going to stick around to try and accumulate numbers and pick up a paycheck," he said. Asked if he was having fun, he thought for a long moment and said, "I've had more fun this year because we've been winning, but with my not producing, that's been my main concern. I'm not having fun putting up the numbers I have this year."
Those numbers -- especially his career-low totals of home runs (17), RBIs (68) and slugging percentage (.441) -- are, as Braves catcher
But he is also 37 years old, and there have been days where his aches have been so numerous -- from his surgically repaired knees to his balky back -- that he has needed his wife to push him out of bed some mornings. If he still looks like the same dangerous hitter in the batter's box, his .269 batting average (nearly 100 points lower than his .364 total that won him his first batting crown last year) suggests he isn't. And not being Chipper Jones is unacceptable to Chipper Jones.
"I'm proud of the fact that my standards and everybody else's standards for me are better than this," he said. "I don't want to be an average player."
There are still times when even an old Jones can still be the Jones of old. Like on Monday night at Citi Field, when the 37-year-old future Hall of Famer smoked a three-run home run in front of the Mets fans who love to hate him. But those moments are becoming increasingly rare, and as a result, Jones is becoming increasingly frustrated with his play. Two weeks ago, he went to the batting cage with hitting coach
Even after that session, Jones says he still doesn't know entirely what is going on, especially from the left side, and that it will take an entire offseason and "watching a ton of video" this winter to get it fixed. Pendleton says he won't give Jones any winter homework assignments because "he's going to go home and do what he wants to anyway. That's Chipper Jones."
It is entirely possible that Jones finally puts his finger on the problem, corrects it and returns to the Braves hitting the way he has for much of his 16-year-career. "With him, there's not telling, to be honest," Pendleton said. "He might hit .360 again. He's just very talented. He's been blessed with the ability to play this game."
If Jones doesn't get himself straightened out, he says, then next year will almost certainly be his last. His comments caught even the Braves brass that had just signed him in March to a three-year contract extension off guard. "That was a surprise," club president
The mere thought of Jones' potential retirement is enough to send shockwaves through the city of Atlanta. Along with the team's revered pitchers, Jones has been the fuzzy-chinned face of the Braves franchise from the moment they made him the first pick in the 1990 draft. The Braves were terrible in those days. But thanks in large measure to Jones, they quickly established the longest sustained run of success in baseball history, winning 14 straight division titles, of which Jones played a leading role on the last 11. Teammate
"You can only play so long," McCann said, adding that whenever Jones does leave, "It's gonna be a sad day in Atlanta for sure."
That day is not here just yet, and when Jones finally left the Braves clubhouse on Tuesday night he did so with a smile on his face. He wants to make sure that whenever he finally leaves the game, he does so the same way.