Hall of Fame countdown: Chipper Jones a worthy addition to third base fraternity

Jones was the embodiment of the ballyhooed prospect who lives up to every one of the high expectations placed upon him.

USA TODAY Sports is counting down the top 24 candidates on the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, based on voting by our power rankings panel, which includes five Hall voters.

No. 2 Chipper Jones

The nasal voice of the late Atlanta Braves broadcaster Skip Caray still resonates in the mind of baseball fans when Chipper Jones’ name comes up. Caray’s frequent references to the star third baseman typically involved something good happening for the Braves.

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Jones, the first overall pick in the 1990 draft, was the embodiment of the ballyhooed prospect who lives up to every one of the high expectations placed upon him. Jones earned an MVP award, helped the Braves win a World Series and became a franchise cornerstone for the better part of their run of 14 consecutive division crowns.

The next logical step for Jones is election to the Hall of Fame, and that should happen Wednesday in his first appearance on the ballot.

The case for: An eight-time All-Star, Jones combined hitting ability and power, and in his early days he was even a decent base stealer. Jones was a lifetime .303 hitter who got on base at a .401 clip and finished with a .930 OPS. His 468 home runs rank third all-time among players who primarily played third base, trailing only Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews, and he’s also third in homers by a switch-hitter, behind Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray.

During his 18 full seasons in the majors, all of them spent with Atlanta, Jones was a paragon of offensive production. His MVP season of 1999 came amid a stretch of eight years in which he batted .313 and averaged 32 homers and 107 RBI.

A solid though not Gold Glove-caliber defender at third base, Jones was versatile enough to play two full seasons in left field and start 41 games at shortstop, his position in the minors. He won a batting title at 36 and remained a force even as he battled injuries throughout his late 30s, delivering an OPS of at least .800 in each of his final four years. His lifetime OPS-plus of 141 would rank 34th among Hall of Famers, just above Duke Snider and Reggie Jackson.

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The case against: There isn’t much of one. Jones played in an era of elevated power numbers, but his consistency as a hitter throughout his career sets him aside from steroid-inflated sluggers. Jones walked 103 more times than he struck out and never had an OPS-plus lower than 108. And he was just as effective from either side of the plate, batting .303 left-handed and .304 right-handed.

The worst thing that can be said about Jones’ career is his Atlanta teams repeatedly fell short in the postseason. He reached the playoffs 12 times but only won the championship in 1995, his rookie season, and at one point the Braves were eliminated in the division series five times in six tries.

But that can hardly be blamed on Jones, who batted .287 with an .864 OPS in 93 postseason games.

X-factors: On teams best known for their Hall of Fame pitching trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, Jones and center fielder Andruw Jones – who is also making his debut on the ballot – provided much of the thump.

Chipper Jones’ caustic wit and willingness to speak his mind endeared him to the news media but not always to his teammates, and his post-career tweets have rankled some, though not at the level of Curt Schilling. Regardless, Jones was widely respected as a player and did not draw the suspicion of steroid use that dogged many of his contemporaries, a key factor for many voters.

Consensus: The Hall of Fame’s most underrepresented position is about to gain a well-deserving member. Jones is a shoo-in to become the 14th third baseman enshrined in Cooperstown.

View the rest of USA Today's list of potential Hall of Famers.