Braves legend Chipper Jones punches Hall of Fame ticket in landslide

ATLANTA — For more than a decade, the Braves were at the center of the baseball universe. They’re continuing to do the same with the Hall of Fame induction ceremony as Chipper Jones was the latest to gain induction with Wednesday’s announcement of the Class of 2018.

The career Brave appeared on 97.2 percent of the ballots in his first year of eligibility to join Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman. They’ll be joined by Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, who were put in via the Modern Baseball Era Committee, for the July 29 induction.

“Ultimately this is a day that’s going to change my life forever,” Jones said. “We have a handful of those in a lifetime, transcendent moments that just change your life forever. Today was certainly one of them and there’s no getting around that.”

In the levels of greatness for switch hitters, Mickey Mantle has long been the measuring stick, and for Jones, it hit that much closer to home. His father, Larry Wayne Jones Sr., idolized the Yankees legend, so he taught his son to hit from both sides. If the career numbers put Chipper in the conversation with Mantle as one of the greatest switch hitters of all time, the HOF voting saw Jones do something even The Mick couldn’t.

Jones is one of only 10 players to reach the 97-percent mark, joining Ken Griffey Jr. (99.3 percent), Tom Seaver (98.8), Nolan Ryan (98.8), Cal Ripken (98.2), George Brett (98.2), Ty Cobb (98.2) George Brett (98.1), Hank Aaron (97.8), Tony Gwynn (97.6), Randy Johnson (97.2) and Greg Maddux (97.2).

“I haven’t looked at the names in and around 95, 96, 97 percent (agent) B.B. (Abbott) told me I was the 10th-highest of all-time, which is apropos seeing how my whole world has revolved around the No. 10,” Jones said.

For the Braves, it’s an continuation of a parade of icons from the run of 14 consecutive division titles.

Pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were inducted in 2014 and John Smoltz a year later; and manager Bobby Cox (’14) and general manager John Schuerholz last summer — and Jones could be the last of that era to be so honored.

“For us to have our own little fraternity up there in a little piece of heaven in Cooperstown, New York, it’s something we can and should be very proud of, because we did an awful lot of winning in the 90s and early 2000s down here in Atlanta,” Jones said.

Despite rattling off 10 consecutive Gold Gloves in center field, Andruw Jones received just appeared on just 7.3 percent of ballots in his first year. He’s above the five percent threshold to stay on the ballot, but is seemingly a world away from the 75 percent needed for induction.

“That was what we were all hoping and praying for,” Chipper said of Andruw staying on the ballot. “I didn’t foresee Andruw getting enough momentum to make it on this first ballot, but certainly he is a guy that deserves to be discussed in years to come. … A guy that most people will tell you is the best defensive center fielder they’ve ever seen.”

But while Andruw Jones’ Hall of Fame case teeters, Chipper Jones’ was never in doubt.

An eight-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, the 1999 National League Most Valuable Player and 2008 batting champ, Jones hit .303/.401/.529 with a career 141 OPS+ and a 84.6 fWAR that’s tied for 20th all-time.

He played third base, outfield and shortstop during his career, but as primarily a third baseman, he and ranks behind only Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews with 468 homers. That HR total was bested by just two switch-hitters, Mantle with 536 and Eddie Murray at 504 and remarkably, Jones and was as effective from one side of the plate (304/.391/.498 as a righty) as the other (.303/.405/.541).

He is one of six players with at least 450 homers, 2,700 hits, a .400-plus on-base percentage and career OPS+ of 140 or more. The others: Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds.

But most crucial of Jones stats amid his 19-year career might have been this: one. As in the number of uniforms he’d wear throughout his nearly two decades in baseball.

Glavine was drafted by the Braves, but he’d spend five productive seasons with the Mets; Maddux starred before — Cubs — and after — Cubs again, along with the Dodgers and Padres — his stint in Atlanta; and Smoltz, originally in the Tigers’ system, was with the Red Sox and Cardinals before retiring.

Chipper Jones was the Atlanta Braves to a generation, the Crazy Train-themed mainstay, the definition of a franchise player, who was taken by the organization with the first pick in the 1990 draft — over the perceived can’t-miss pitcher Todd Van Poppel — and enters the HOF as the 51st to do so for one team.

There is no other overall No. 1 pick on the list.

“I can honestly say it never got close to free agency,” Jones said. “I don’t ever think I went to the spring training of a free-agency year that I wasn’t re-upped, extended. Not many people can say that. It was because that I had that relationship with the city, the the organization, the manager, the general manger, the players on the club. I’m extremely grateful they wanted me this long.

“I never wanted to play anywhere else.”

Jones’ legacy was equal parts longevity, commitment to a single franchise, and consistency, never dipping below 117 OPS+ after his first full season of 1995.

When he won his MVP, it came amid an 11-year stretch when he hit .316 and averaged 30 home runs, and included leading the NL in OPS in 2007 at 1.029 and his batting crown season when he posted a career-best .470 OBP, 179 sOPS+ and a 7.1 WAR … at age 36.

The only other players to have better seasons at that age were Bonds, Ruth and Musial.

When Chipper Jones retired four years at age 40 in 2012, he did so as the last link to the Braves’ run of division title. His Hall of Fame induction may serve as the same.

History has a knack for rewriting itself. The narrative that Van Poppel didn’t want to play for the Braves was a false one. The reality was, he didn’t want to play for anyone, instead setting his sights on playing for the Texas Longhorns.

The Athletics would change that with a record contract that in total was nearly $1 million more than Jones received. But with Jones headed to the HOF and Van Poppel’s career long since labeled a bust, it serves as a reality check.

From the first No. 1 pick to the Cooperstown to do it all for one team, Larry Wayne Jones Jr. left an undeniable mark on a city and the game.

“The year I was drafted, I by no means thought I was the best player in that draft,” Jones said. “It was just a matter of a certain team needing a certain type player. I was that player for the Atlanta Braves having the No. 1 pick.

“That’s the only reason I was No. 1 pick in the draft. If they would have gone with Todd Van Poppel, I probably would have been the fifth or sixth player taken in the draft. How much different would my life, my career, have been?”

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.