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Chipper: Sitting out playoff race 'torture'
Imagine if Chipper Jones were healthy.
Wait, don’t imagine that. You can’t imagine that. Seasons lasts 162 games, players get injured, that’s baseball.
Jones, though, does imagine what the Braves’ season would be like if he hadn’t suffered a season-ending knee injury. And, as the Braves struggle down the stretch in manager Bobby Cox’s final season, Jones hates feeling so helpless.
The Braves trail the Phillies by three games in the NL East, but lead the wild-card race by a half-game as they begin their final nine-game trip to New York, Philadelphia and Washington (Saturday, 4:10 p.m., MLB on Fox).
In a telephone interview Thursday, Jones spoke about his injury, his frustration and his planned comeback, his Hall of Fame chances and his desire to send Cox out a winner.
Q: How difficult is it for you not playing right now?
A: It’s torture. Sitting there watching, not being able to have some kind of impact offensively, defensively, on the bases, whatever . . . Everyone was pretty confident that for the short term that I could be replaced, but the longer and longer the season goes . . .
Whenever you’re struggling, you lean on a couple of guys. I’d like to think I would be one of the guys helping us keep our heads above water. It seems like in the three facets of the game, we’re not bringing two of 'em on pretty much a nightly basis now.
Q: Pitching as well as hitting?
A: The pitching has been our staple all year. It’s what has gotten us to this point, but (Tim) Hudson has been a little inconsistent the last couple of weeks, (Jair) Jurrjens has been hot and cold all year and the injury to (Kris) Medlen was huge. (Medlen was 5-0 with a 3.86 ERA as a starter when he suffered a season-ending elbow injury on Aug. 4.)
(Rookie left-hander Mike) Minor has come up and done yeoman’s work, started off 3-0. His ERA is almost 6.00, but we’ve scored some runs for him. (Tommy) Hanson is the one guy pitching really well of late, and we haven’t scored him any runs.
Q: How badly does the team want to win for Cox?
A: Now that we’re in the situation we’re in, you don’t really think about it. It was more a motivational tool through the dog days of July and August when it was 120 degrees out on the field. There might be a day or two where you didn’t feel like going out there. You look down at the end of the dugout, see Bobby sitting there and say, “Yeah, I’ve gotta go play.”
As we sit here right now, we’re in control of our playoff destiny. We’re just focused on that. We’re not trying to focus on sending Bobby out this way or that. It’s something that can’t be avoided in our conversations. It’s been our motto all year: Let’s get Bobby another opportunity to get back to the playoffs and World Series. But at this point in the season, everyone is focused on the job at hand.
Q: But what happens if you fail to make the playoffs? How disappointing will it be fall short in Cox’s final chance?
A: You’ve got to keep it all in perspective. If Medlen and I were healthy and we didn’t make it, that would be extremely disappointing, but it’s hard to overcome losing your No. 3 hitter and third baseman and one of your pitchers in the rotation, replace them with people in your organization and not have a little bit of a dip, not let it affect you.
Either way, it obviously would be disappointing. We’re a good enough team to represent our division and the National League in the playoffs, but you have that check in the back of your mind that says, “What would happen if I didn’t go down? If Medlen didn’t go down?”
Q: How is your rehab going?
A: I’m doing great. I’m riding the (exercise) bike 5 to 6 miles a day. I have full range of motion. I’m walking without a limp. If you look at me in uniform or in street clothes, you wouldn’t know that anything is wrong with me.
That’s what is so difficult. People say, “You look like you could play.” But there’s nothing you can do rehab-wise to replace a ligament. It takes six months to fuse the ligament. I could swing a bat, but I would need somebody to stand outside the home-plate circle to run for me. They’re not going to let me start running until the three-month mark. Hopefully, baseball activities will come soon after.
Q: Any second thoughts about your decision to attempt a comeback next spring rather than simply retire?
A: The last month before I got hurt was really the determining factor. At the time I got hurt, I was swinging the bat as well as I had in over a year. I was productive. I felt dangerous again. I was hitting balls out of the ballpark, hitting some doubles. Along with that, I was playing good defense. My legs felt great. I was running the bases better than I had in a couple of years.
That was the deciding factor. I also didn’t want everyone’s last image of me to be lying on the field behind third base in Houston. There’s that old adage — you want to go out on your own terms — and I needed to use spring training as a motivational tool to fully rehab the knee. If I had decided to ride off into the sunset . . . the last thing I like to do is get in the weight room. It would have been a lot harder to rehab the knee.
Q: How quickly will you know that you can be an effective player again?
A: I’ll know probably the first month of the regular season. Spring training is always just to knock the rust off. You feel a little slow. Maybe you’re not getting to balls that you would during the regular season — the bat speed is not there.
All that stuff has a way of playing itself out. Usually you’re caught up a couple of weeks, a month into the season. You’re primed and ready. I don’t expect to come out in spring training the first game and be in midseason form. That will take some time, a couple of weeks, a month.
If I get to the point where I don’t feel like I’m helping the team, that’s something that will be decided between me and whoever the next manager is. The last thing I want to do is hurt the club’s chances of winning. I’m used to playing the game a certain way and at a certain level. When I can no longer do that, I’ll quit.
Q: Yes, but players of your stature often say that, then find it difficult to walk away. The same pride that makes a player great often prevents him from accepting the end of his career.
A: I agree with you. I feel exactly the same way. Here’s my outlook: So many of the guys who try to hang ‘em up, this is all they have, and it’s all they’ve ever been. While it’s all I’ve ever been, it’s not all I have.
I enjoy other things in life. My family is a big part of that. I honestly think that while I’m still competitive — and while I will miss that terribly — I have other things that I enjoy doing and want to do. You have a shelf life where you can make absurd amounts of money playing this game. I will take advantage of that shelf life for as long as I can.
Q: What kinds of other things are you thinking about? Broadcasting? Coaching? Both?
A: There are things outside the game. I would be doing a severe disservice to my family if I jumped into coaching or broadcasting right away. They’ve made enough of a sacrifice over the years.
I think I owe 'em some time. Once my wife starts getting sick of me, it will be time to get into the coaching aspect of it. I like teaching everything I’ve learned about hitting. I think I’m a good communicator, a good illustrator. I don’t think I ever want to manage. You couldn’t pay me enough money to manage, but I would like to instruct.
Q: Your 436 career homers are the third-highest total by a switch-hitter, behind only Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray. How would you assess your Hall of Fame chances? Do you think you’ll get in?
A: I really don’t have any clue. It depends upon your point of view. Which category do you put me into? Do you look at me as an all-around baseball player and compare me to everyone who has ever played, the hitters — and switch-hitting third basemen?
There are not a lot of third basemen in the Hall of Fame. There are certainly not a lot of switch-hitters. If you look inside my numbers for a switch-hitting third baseman, I’ve got to think I’m pretty close. If you look at where I am all-time in home runs, RBI, runs scored, batting average — it’s mind-boggling to think of some of the guys that haven’t made it.
That’s where you start thinking to yourself: What makes you different? They said no to them, they’re going to say yes to you? You’ve got to look at the resume and make a decision. Certainly the fact that I played in a juggernaut organization during its heyday, won championships, won an MVP, won a batting title, those are all notches to have on your belt. But I ultimately have no control. I’m happy with the resume I have. That’s all I can control.
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