The 2005 season wasn’t just a disappointment for Chipper because of the early end to the Braves post-season. It was also the second straight season he missed a large number of games due to injury. In fact, he would play in the fewest games of any of his full-time seasons. In 2006, injuries would again limit his playing time and he saw action in only one more game than in 2005. Despite being limited by injuries, Chipper had returned to form following his disappointing 2004 season. In 2005, he pushed his OPS back over .900, but in 2006, he re-established himself as one of the best hitters in the National League with his first OPS higher than 1.000 since his spectacular 2001 season. It was clear after 2006 that if he could stay healthy, Chipper was ready to put up the same kinds of numbers he put up at the end of the 1990s and the start of the 2000s, the years that established him as a superstar.
He would again lose games to injury in 2007 and 2008, but they were fewer in number. Chipper was in a groove at the plate and it may have been the best sustained hitting of his career. In 2007, he just missed hitting 30 home runs while also hitting a career high 42 doubles. His impressive 1.029 OPS led the National League and Chipper found himself back in MVP discussions. More importantly to Chipper, he just missed out on a batting average title finishing only three points behind Matt Holliday.
I don’t think we can say with any certainty that Chipper was better in 2008, but it was certainly another impressive year of hitting. His power numbers were off quite a bit, but he increased his walk rate substantially and finished with a stunning 1.044 OPS, the second highest of his career and his third straight year with an OPS over 1.000. Chipper would also lead the National League in batting average with a career high .364. Chipper always wanted a batting title, and in 2008, he walked away with the title.
It is obvious from recent interviews that Chipper is as proud of his career .300 batting average as anything he’s accomplished in his career. He owes that average to this three year period. Remove his 2006 through 2008 totals from his career statistics and Chipper’s batting average drops to .297. We can debate the relevance of batting average as a statistic all we want, but there’s still a certain cachet to being a career .300 hitter.
Of course, as good as Chipper was in 2006 through 2008, it’s hard not to think about how great he would have been had he been able to play a full slate of games. As it was, in 2006, he put up a 4.3 fWAR in 110 games. If you take that number, and assume a similar performance over 42 additional games (for 152 games total), and Chipper would have put up around a 5.9 fWAR. In 2007, he put up a fWAR total of 7.5 in only 134 games. Granted, that number would be spectacular over 162 games. Assuming he had played in just 18 more games to again hit 152 games, with similar performance, his fWAR would have been 8.5. If you add 24 more games to his 128 game, 7.5 fWAR performance of 2008, he might have hit an 8.9 fWAR total. That’s the thing about Chipper Jones. As good as he was, you can’t help but wonder, "What if?"
Baseball card collecting experienced a titanic upheaval in 2005. Fleer entered bankruptcy early in the year, and that Summer, Upper Deck purchased the Fleer name. After the completion of the 2005 season, MLB decided not to re-license Donruss to product baseball cards. This left the industry with only two manufacturers: Topps and Upper Deck. Although each manufacturer continued to release numerous sets, they were fewer that in previous years thanks to limits imposed by MLB in an attempt to reduce market confusion. This didn’t lead to a substantial reduction in the number of Chipper Jones cards released each year.
No matter the set, if there were veteran players on the checklist, Chipper Jones would be included. A set might only have four Braves players on the checklist, but at least one was always guaranteed to be Chipper Jones. He remained a popular inclusion in insert sets as well. From 2006 to 2008, there were nearly 500 different Chipper Jones cards printed, including parallels.
While it was easy to acquire Chipper Jones cards in general, his manufacturer signed autographs were much more difficult to acquire. Unlike young players, Chipper didn’t come up in a world where rookies would sign literally thousands of autographs for insertion into products. That relative scarcity when coupled with Chipper’s popularity has led to his signature cards being priced fairly highly on the secondary market. They are also a rare enough pull that it is highly unlikely for your average Braves fan to find one in a pack. Chipper signs for many products, but they are usually limited to short runs. (One perk of Chipper not having to sign too many cards is that he has retained his gorgeous signature throughout his career. His name is perfect and everyone loves the inclusion of his uniform number.)
I find it hard to recommend specific cards from this period, even though this is the period where I threw myself back into the hobby. At the time, Topps was in the midst of a run of spectacularly mediocre designs that began in the late 1990s. It wasn’t simply a Topps problem though. Many of the sets lacked personality. Even many of the better designed sets were simply rehashes of a previous year’s set. If you are Chipper Jones collector looking for cards from this period, I’ ll recommend two different types of cards.
The first are those with full bleed photography. Yes, there were many boring designs during this period, but great photography can cover up for many a design flaw. Upper Deck released a set under the Fleer Ultra brand in 2007 that is a nearly perfect example of excellent photography covering up for a mediocre design. (I’m not sure who at Upper Deck thought it would be a good idea to make the player’s last name a major design element in script, but it was a poor decision.) Even better is Upper Deck’s 2008 base set. The photo on Chipper’s Braves checklist card is perfect and the design remains readable and clean and does nothing to detract from the great photography.
The seconds cards I would recommend are from the so-called retro sets. (I’m going to apply the term retro loosely here.) Each of the Topps Heritage sets released during this time period were nice. The Bowman Heritage sets varied a bit in quality, but were overall good. The best of these sets, however, was the Upper Deck Masterpieces sets released in 2007 and 2008. The paintings on the cards are uniformly excellent, the canvas feel of the card surface is unique, and the card design is a simple throwback that is never boring. I don’t just recommend Masterpieces for player collections. It makes an excellent choice for set builders as well.
Cards Featured in this Post
- 2006 Upper Deck Exquisite Endorsements Autograph ($120)
- 2007 Upper Deck Masterpieces #79 ($1)
- 2008 Upper Deck SP Legendary Cute #13 ($1)
- 2006 Fleer Top 40 Insert #T40–21 ($1)
- 2006 Bowman Chrome Refractor #185 ($3)
- 2006 Upper Deck World Baseball Classic Box Set #9 ($1)
- 2007 Fleer Ultra #8 ($1)
- 2007 Topps Chrome Blue Refractor #26 ($7)
- 2007 Topps Heritage #314 ($1)
- 2008 Bowman Chrome #164 ($1)
- 2008 Upper Deck #355 ($1)
- 2008 Upper Deck Sweet Spot #25 ($3)