Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones may have played his last game in the big leagues after blowing out his knee Wednesday, unless he can rebuild the knee through a lengthy rehabilitation to play the second half of next season at age 39. It's hard to think of the Braves without Jones. And it's harder to think of them as a playoff team without him.
Jones may not have been having a huge year, but he was their three-hole hitter with a .381 OBP, a .293 average with runners in scoring position and the wisdom and experience to be their Sherpa guide back up the pennant race mountain. Brooks Conrad may have provided some big hits for Atlanta this year, but there is no way to underestimate how hard it will be for the Braves to replace Jones.
It's a credit to Jones that he has defied the industry trend and continued to be a major component of his club into his late 30s. Jones and Raul Ibanez, 38, of the Phillies are the only players 37 and older with enough playing time to qualify for the batting title. (Three years ago there were eight such players.)
Jones is part of another diminishing breed in baseball: the superstar player who spends his entire major league career with one club. Jones began the year as one of 12 active players to play at least 10 years in the big leagues, all with one club. One of them, Lance Berkman, was traded from Houston to the Yankees. Another one, Eric Chavez, is thinking of retirement.
The others are Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera of the Yankees, Todd Helton of the Rockies, Jason Varitek of the Red Sox, Vernon Wells of the Blue Jays, Mark Buehrle of the White Sox, Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies and Michael Young of the Rangers.
In 2000, there were 18 such franchise icons. In 1975, just before free agency began, there were 29.
There is no doubt that Jones is a rarity who is bound for the Hall of Fame, whether he plays another game or not. He has enjoyed an amazing career, all in one place. But this may be most amazing of all notations about Jones' career: in 9,654 plate appearances, the switch hitter batted .306 left-handed and .306 right-handed.
Jones is one of 10 active players with a .300 career batting average while playing at least 1,500 games. What's so interesting about that list is that nine of those players were selected to at least five All-Star Games in their career: Jones, Jeter, Helton, Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Manny Ramirez, Magglio Ordonez and Alex Rodriguez.
And then there is one guy who has hit .300 for this long but has been selected as an All-Star only once: the ever-underrated Placido Polanco of the Phillies.
Just how much does Roy Halladay like the National League? Do the math on how well his AL exile has worked:
• His ERA (2.34) is lower by almost half a run from last year (2.79).
• His strikeout rate (8.2 K/9) is the best of his career for any full season.
• His strikeout-to-walk rate (7.64) is the best of his career.
• He leads the league in strikeouts (168) after having never finished higher than third in the AL.
• He is on track for his goal of fewer walks (22) than starts (24), something he did once in a qualified AL season.
He has put himself smack in the middle of a fantastic NL Cy Young Award race, one in which there is little separation among Halladay, Adam Wainwright, Tim Hudson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Carpenter. Entering games Thursday, 13 of the top 14 strikeout pitchers in baseball were in their 20s. The exception is Halladay, who at 33 is at the top of his game. Halladay even has added another weapon in the NL: a changeup.
"I have to start tricking people I guess," he said, laughing. "You hang around Jamie Moyer enough here and this is what happens."