It isn’t often that Topps comes up with an innovation in recent years that I wish they had implemented years earlier. At the end of each season, Topps issues a special team set of whichever team captures the World Series trophy. The cards include parallel versions of that year’s base cards for many of the players, along with a special World Series foil stamp. The team set also includes highlight cards from throughout the post-season. It’s a great idea and should be a great way to get fans of the world champion interested in collecting.
It may have taken the Astros 18 innings, but Chipper Jones last post-season appearance (so far) ended with a whimper. The Braves, behind Tim Hudson, carried a 6–1 lead into the eighth. After a single and a walk, Kyle Farnsworth took the mound. A few minutes later Lance Berkman would hit a grand slam and the Astros were now facing a one run deficit. Farnsworth would finally get out of the inning. He looked better in the ninth getting the first two Astros out with 7 pitches. Then Brad Ausmus happened and the game was tied at 6. They’d play another 9 innings and the Braves had their chances, but no one got the big hit. In the bottom of the 18th, Joey Devine would serve up a gopher ball to Chris Burke and another Braves post-season ended in disappointment. (Four names that will send any Braves fan into a depression: Lance Berkman, Brad Ausmus, Chris Burke and Kyle Farnsworth.)
I wonder if coming into the 2006 season, Chipper Jones just assumed he’s be playing in October again. After all, the Braves had appeared in the post-season in every season of his career up to that point. Between 1995 and 2005 he would suit up for 92 post-season games. That’s 412 plate appearances. His numbers in the post-season are fine, good even, although, they do fall below his career averages. Still, isn’t that to be expected? It’s not like you face a lot of bad pitching staffs during the post-season. More post-seasons than not, Chipper played well.
Coming into the 2005 season, there was worry that this would be the first Braves team to miss the post-season since 1991. Instead, the Braves claimed sole possession of first place on July 26 and never let it go. Coming into the 2006 season, it again looked like the Braves might have trouble making it to the post-season. The 2006 Braves hit pretty well, but the pitching, of all things, let the team down. The Braves finished third, a staggering 18 games behind the dominating Mets. They were a full 9 games behind in the wild card race. For the first season of his career, Chipper Jones would spend the post-season hunting and fishing.
The 2007 Atlanta Braves were better, but not a lot better. The team hit well and pitched fine, but they never seemed capable of putting together a sustained run at the top. They finished only five games behind the Phillies, but they were a full six games behind in the wild card race. The team tried to make a blockbuster trade and make a run at the division title when they dealt Beau Jones, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus and Jarrod Saltalamachia to the Rangers for star first baseman Mark Teixeira. It wasn’t enough. Neither was the performance of Chipper, who was in the midst of the second peak of his career. Chipper and Tex couldn’t carry the Braves back to the post-season. The Braves again spent October watching baseball on television.
Let’s not beat around the bush. The 2008 Atlanta Braves were a bad baseball team. The Braves finished a full 20 games out of first and at times, they resembled a Braves team of the 1980s. At the end of July, the Braves were already out of the race and sold off Teixeira to the Angels. It was a season where seemingly nothing went right and was clearly the low point of Bobby Cox’s second tenure as Braves manager. The only plus in an otherwise disastrous season was Chipper winning his first and only batting title.
Other than an awful June, the 2009 Atlanta Braves hovered near contention most of the season. With just six games to play, the Braves found themselves with an outside chance of winning the division, as they were just four games back of the Phillies. They were also just two games back of the Colorado Rockies for the Wild Card berth. It wasn’t to be though as the Braves would drop six games in a row to close out the season, including 4 straight to the Nationals who had already lost 103 games. The Braves fell to third place. More troubling was the performance of Chipper Jones. For the first two months of the season he was hitting as well as he had throughout 2008. After holding steady for a bit, his average and power dropped throughout the season. In the final month of the season, Chipper could only muster two home runs and four doubles over the season’s final month. He finished the season with a .264 batting average, a severe blow to Chipper’s pride.
If 2009 was a disappointment for Chipper, then 2010 was a disaster. From the start of the season, fans and the press were wondering if this was Chipper’s last year. With his long-time mentor and manager Bobby Cox having already announced his departure, no one would have been surprised to see Chipper walk away. He started out the season hitting poorly, mustering a lowly .251 average through the end of July. It was clear from anyone watching the Braves that his struggles were wearing him down. The worst was yet to come. On the 10th of August, in the midst of a hot streak that saw Chipper finally swinging the bat as well as he had in 2008, he tore his ACL. Without him, the Braves squandered away the division lead and barely hung on at the end to secure the wild card spot. Even though the Braves were going to be playing October baseball, Chipper Jones would only be able to watch.
The general impression before Chipper’s injury was that he would retire after the 2010 season. No one would have blamed him. That’s not how he wanted to go out though. After his surgery, he attacked his rehab and worked himself back into shape. When the 2011 season started, Chipper was in the Atlanta Braves lineup, hitting third and playing third base. Chipper started the season hot, but slowed down a bit. He settled into a comfortable and consistent groove for most of the season. His numbers may have been down from his career norms, but they were still respectable.
The team looked good through most of the season. On August 25, the Braves may have been six games behind the division leading Phillies, but they were 9.5 games ahead of the Giants and 10.5 games ahead of the Cardinals in the race for the NL Wild Card. The Braves owned the second best record in the league. The Braves seemed certain to return to the post-season. Chipper Jones would get one more chance to shine in October. Except, inexplicably, the Braves imploded. The Braves would win only 10 of their remaining 30 games. The Cardinals would surge ahead and take the wild card shot on the last day of the season. Everyone associated with the Braves, from the office, to the players to the fans were shell shocked. It was the most crushing collapse in Braves history.
It again looks as though Chipper Jones is headed to the post-season. Whenever his career ends, it’s nice to know that it will not be in Pittsburgh in the afternoon on the third of October. It’s only fitting that a player who spent his first eleven full seasons in the big leagues playing post-season baseball go out in the post-season. As a Braves fan, there’s one more Chipper Jones collectible that I want.
I want a 2012 Topps World Series Champion Atlanta Braves Commemorative Set with Chipper Jones as the player showing through the plastic on the front. Is that too much to ask?
Cards Featured in This Post
- 2011 Topps Lineage 1975 Style Mini Relics #75R-CJ ($5)
- 2011 Topps Tier One Crowd Pleasures Auto #CP-CJ ($100)
- 2012 Topps Gypsy Queen #20 ($1)
- 2011 Topps Heritage #30 ($1)
- 2011 Topps Lineage All-Star Rookie #195 ($2)
- 2011 Topps Diamond Anniversary Parallel #169 ($3)
- 2011 Topps Dual Relics w/ Hank Aaron ($20)
- 2012 Topps Heritage New Age Performers Insert #NAP-CJ ($1)
- 2012 Bowman #91 ($1)
- 2012 Topps #305 ($1)
- 2012 Topps Allen & Ginter #33 ($1)
- 2012 Topps Golden Moments Auto #GMA-CJ ($80)