All aboard to the HOF

By Justin Hubbard

 

You can’t hear it, but Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” is stuck on repeat in my head as I write this column.

It’s the only Ozzy song I know and, if I’m being honest, I only know the short intro by heart. I can kind of mumble along to the rest of it and remember a word here or there every now and then. Sorry, his music just isn’t for me.

The primary reason I know of “Crazy Train” is because the best baseball player I’ve personally seen used it as his entrance song. That’d be the legendary Atlanta Braves third baseman, Chipper Jones.

Last week, Jones was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, appearing on more than 97 percent of the ballots during his first year of eligibility.

There are not many players in the history of Major League Baseball more deserving of a hall of fame nod than Jones. Just look at his resume!

Jones, as you are probably aware, was one of the game’s all-time greatest switch hitters. He batted .304 from the left batter’s box and .305 from the right. Only one other switch hitter in history – Frankie Frisch, a hall of famer who played from 1919 to 1937 – batted .300 or better from both sides.

Overall, Jones batted .303 and had a .930 career OPS. Jones’ 468 career homers are 33rd-best in MLB history, which is astounding when you think about the thousands of players who have suited up over the years. That total may not be up there with Hammerin’ Hank and The Babe, but Jones is still in rarified air.

In terms of runs batted in, Jones’ 1,623 RBIs rank 34th in MLB history. My favorite factoid regarding Jones’ career statistics is the fact he had fewer strikeouts than walks (1,409 strikeouts versus 1,512 walks).

From the time he was drafted to when he hung up his cleats, Jones played in Atlanta and was a great representative for the team and the city. He stayed clean, too, during the height of the Steroid Era when his peers saw fit to juice themselves in chase of illustrious home run totals.

Everything about Jones just screams “hall of famer,” and it became official last Wednesday when he, along with Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman, learned his spot in Cooperstown was reserved. 

Jones is my all-time favorite athlete. I’m a male who grew up in Georgia during the 1990s, so that shouldn’t shock anyone. I had the honor and privilege of participating in a small group interview with Jones back at the UGA baseball team’s season kickoff banquet in February 2016. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

It’s ironic and bittersweet (for me) how Jones’ career started and ended.

His official rookie season didn’t come until 1995 but Jones’ debut was actually on Sept. 11, 1993 – 56 days before I was born. Jones’ final season was 2012.

He debuted during the year of my birth and retired months after I graduated high school. Jones’ career really encapsulated my childhood and formative years. Crazy, but that’s how it goes.

As such, it still feels strange watching the Braves and not seeing No. 10 out on the field. I reckon that feeling never will go away.

I desperately wish I could attend Jones’ induction ceremony in July. I highly doubt it will happen but you can guarantee I’ll be glued to my TV watching at home, just like I was all those years Jones dominated with the Braves.

In a lengthy message to Braves fans, Jones had this to say, via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“This is bigger than me. I really want everybody to share in this with me because you never forget where you came from. This one is for all the small-town kids that dream big.”

I was one of those small-town kids who dreamed big. I felt inspired watching my hero, Jones, drill homers and come through in clutch situations. Later on, after watching him play in person for the first time in September 2007, I decided to one day become a sports writer and, hopefully, end up covering the Braves at some point.

That’s how I got where I am today. There’s a great chance my life would be drastically different if not for the effect Jones and baseball in general had on my life.

So, thank you, Chipper, for everything. And congratulations. You’ll always be the best in my mind.

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