When Chipper Jones announced back in spring training that this would be his last season playing baseball, no one wanted to see him go. After turning in one of the more remarkable age-40 seasons in recent memory, it's even harder to say goodbye to Atlanta's 3rd baseman of the last 18 years.
As excellent as Chipper's season was, his body did its best to remind us why Chipper was insistent on hanging up his spikes after this season. Chipper appeared in only 112 games this year, missing 50 due to various nagging injuries or simply the need for extra rest. For Chipper, it was the 4th lowest number of games he's appeared in since being a regular (only in 2005, 2006, and 2010 did he appear in fewer). Though frustrating, it was also vindication for Chipper, as he often said that his nagging injuries were proof that his retirement was the right decision.
Despite his limitations, Chipper's bat was a sight to behold. At an age where most players have long since hit their proverbial wall, Chipper just kept hitting. Though age and various ailments sapped some of his power, Chipper's batting eye and sweet swing made him a threat every time he was at the plate.
Chipper started the season hitting in his traditional 3 spot, but by mid-season, he passed that torch to Jason Heyward. From then on, Chipper would spend most of his time hitting cleanup, sandwiched between Heyward and Freddie Freeman in the order. But wherever he hit, he thrived. On the year, Chipper delivered a slash line of .287/.377/.485 with 23 doubles, 14 home runs, and 62 RBI. Chipper was good for 2.7 WAR in his final year, which was the 21st best mark ever delivered by a player 40 years or older. Given some of the names above him (Ruth, Gehrig, Bonds, Wagner, Fisk, et al.) this is impeccable company.
Chipper showed he had a flair for the dramatic in his final year as well. Chipper came into 2012 having hit 7 walkoff homers in his previous 17 seasons. But in his final year, he would add 2 more - both coming against the hated Phillies. His first came off Brian Sanches, and broke an insane 13-13 tie to give the Braves a 15-13 win. This was the game where Atlanta had beat up on Roy Halladay but allowed Philly to get back in it. Fortunately, Jones was there to ensure the Braves didn't lose a heartbreaker. But Chipper's most memorable walkoff would be his last career home run. On September 2nd, with the Braves down 5-7 with 2 outs in the 9th, Chipper stepped to the plate against Jonathan Papelbon with 2 men on base. After blowing a 1-0 fastball past Chipper, Papelbon tried to throw a second heater past him, but Jones didn't miss it, drilling it deep into the Atlanta night for a 3-run walkoff shot. Chipper's 468th and final home run will be one of the lasting images of his time as a Brave.
Though Chipper's performance in the Wild Card game was no fitting end to his time in a Braves uniform, Braves' fans should count their blessings. Not only did we have the pleasure of watching one baseball's best switch hitters of all time, but his 2012 was nothing short of remarkable, as he delivered one of the best seasons ever by a 40 year old hitter.