KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The last Superstation superstar walked toward the batter's box, and "Crazy Train" seared through the speakers at Kauffman Stadium. Everyone here wanted to make sure Chipper Jones' night was faultless down to the finest detail, including the walkup music he uses with the Atlanta Braves. Perfection wasn't too much to ask for his final All-Star game.
Chipper Jones is 40. This remains difficult to believe for his peers, the majority of whom grew up watching him on TBS before televisions and computers could beam in every baseball game being played. The Superstation was one of baseball's greatest inventions, late and lamented, because it turned ballplayers like Jones into generational icons. His game was so pure, his name so perfect – Chipper Jones, he of the gorgeous left-handed swing and almost mirror image from the right, of the yo-yoing between third base and the outfield, of one World Series won and too many more lost, of a career now in its twilight and a pair of eyes suddenly welling up at that thought.
They stood tall and strong here, trying to remind everyone what a good crowd they really are, and Kansas City gave a player to whom it has no connection – one who had in fact played in all 29 other major league cities but never here – a standing ovation. And because he is now in his fourth decade and scoffs at that whole myth about crying in baseball, he got a little misty, which was a problem because a 95-mph fastball was about to leave Chris Sale's left hand.
Jones, in his eighth All-Star game, took no time swinging. He squirted a ball to the right side. It eked through. He was 1 for 1. He wouldn't have a second time to ruin perfection.
"At 40 years old, legging out an infield hit in the All-Star game," Jones said. "That's exactly the way I scripted it."
Jones laughed. He runs like a water buffalo these days. His body is practically a junk bond. And still, that swing – it's Walter White's meth in "Breaking Bad," pure and sweet and blue in how it makes pitchers feel.
Granted, Sale wasn't exactly lamenting becoming Chipper's latest pelt on his farewell tour. He's retiring this offseason, to a life with his four sons and whatever else $150 million can provide, and unless the Braves secure a playoff spot, this will represent the highest-profile event of Jones' final season.
"You never like giving up hits," Sale said. "This was awesome. You've got to be remembered somehow."
"It was awesome," said Adam Dunn, Sale's teammate with the White Sox.
"Thanks for the support," Sale said.
Dunn stood at the top of the American League dugout's steps next to Derek Jeter during Jones' at-bat in the sixth inning. The three were teammates during the 2009 World Baseball Classic and represent a triumvirate of well-respected and well-liked veterans, particularly Jones and Jeter, who in almost two decades each have engendered a different sort of esteem. They are dueling Yodas, Jones the folksy hunter, Jeter the grounded bourgeois.
And so everyone, from 19-year-old Bryce Harper – who wasn't even a year old when Jones debuted – to those on the AL team, wanted Chipper to go out right. His ball toward the right side wasn't hit particularly hard.
"In the regular season," second baseman Ian Kinsler said, "I'm picking up that ball and throwing it to first."
Problem was, Kinsler had neither stretched properly nor run a sprint for two days.
"My hamstrings always exploded," he said. "It was very lethargic. I felt like I had cement in my shoes."
Now, Kinsler may have been sandbagging. Perhaps he took a lesson from Chan Ho Park in the 2001 All-Star game, when he grooved Cal Ripken Jr. a first-pitch fastball and watched it soar for a home run. To Kinsler, 30, Chipper Jones might as well have been Cal Ripken.
"I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and we didn't have baseball," Kinsler said. "We had TBS and WGN. The Cubs were basically nap time, and the Braves were the tomahawk chop. I started crying one World Series when they lost. I was up on the couch jumping, doing the tomahawk chop, and they lose the game, and I go to my room crying, and my dad says, 'What are you doing crying? You don't even like them.' But I was so into it, because Chipper was a big part of that."
That piece of Jones transcends age. To Harper, "he was one of the guys everybody looked up to." His transition into elder-statesman status went smoother than most. Never did Jones' skills entirely erode. He's hitting .318/.396/.480 this year. Only one player has finished a full season with a slash line that good at age 40: Ty Cobb in 1927.
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The grace with which Jones is easing into retirement doesn't take away from just how the game will miss him. National League manager Tony La Russa asked Jones to give a speech before the game, and he started with the perfect encapsulation of his life and, frankly, all of theirs: "It's been a dream of mine to play this wonderful game since I was 4 years old."
Part of Jones' charm is his smile, an infectious mess of teeth and smugness. Chipper would break into this smirk – devilish and mischievous, the sort that never flashed unless something was up … and, rather often in the Braves' clubhouse, as long as he was there, something was up.
Here, it was nothing more than a clever little wrap-up. Jones' Braves teammate, backup catcher David Ross, throws out quotes from the movie "Major League" all the time. Jones pinched the idea and tried to urge the NL, which had won a pair after a 13-year drought.
"What'd Lou Brown say in 'Major League'? " Jones said to his All-Star teammates. "We won two. We win three, that's a winning streak. We've got an opportunity to do that tonight. And I am not going out losing my last one, all right?"
Whatever impact Jones had on the NL's five-run first inning in an 8-0 whitewashing of the AL – "Nothing," he said, "absolutely nothing" – he did nonetheless go out a winner. And, even better, he carried with him memories beyond the hit, the ovation, the warmth and the heat.
"Bryce almost killed my 7-year-old yesterday with a line drive," Jones said in his speech, quite matter-of-factly, and what in all that is good in this world is a 7-year-old doing shagging big-league batting practice?
His name is Shea Jones. Remember him? The one Jones named after the New York Mets' stadium that was his personal launching pad? Well, he's Chipper's Chipper, a you-know-what off the old block, mischievous and silly and "paying me back for all the bad things I've done as a kid."
Chipper Jones is 40. Still just as tough to fathom as it was 1,000 words ago. He'll retire with 2,700-something hits and maybe 470 home runs and over 1,600 runs and RBIs and 1,500 walks and even 150 stolen bases. He is perhaps the best switch hitter not named Mantle, a first-ballot, 95 percent-sort of Hall of Famer. A man for whom perfection was neither too much to ask nor too much to be given, as he finished the night with a batting average and winning percentage of 1.000 and a group of men who sat before him in reverence.
"Guys," Jones told his teammates in his speech, "it's an honor to stand here in front of you."
And they all looked at him, too, as if to say one simple word: Likewise.
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