ATLANTA – At 2:20 p.m. on Sunday, Chipper Jones batted leadoff for the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, expressing his admiration for fellow Hall of Famers like Alan Trammell (his boyhood hero), Trevor Hoffman ('most devastating change-up' he's ever seen) and Jim Thome, who famously first met Jones during a minor-league brawl during the early 1990s.
Dressed in a classic navy-blue suit and matching tie (white shirt), Jones was also appreciative of the friends, family and countless others who helped him achieve his dream of becoming a major leaguer (20 total seasons, including an injury-wrecked 1994 campaign) ... and eventual Hall of Famer.
With Sunday's official ceremony, Jones became this century's seventh player (or manager) with prominent Atlanta Braves ties to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame—joining such luminaries as: John Smoltz (2015 inductee), manager Bobby Cox (2014), Tom Glavine (2014), Greg Maddux (2014), Joe Torre (2014) and Bruce Sutter (2006).
Jones, who spent his entire 20-year career with the Braves (1993-2012), ranks among the game's greatest third basemen.
He's also part of the exclusive listing of baseball's most prolific switch hitters.
In fact, if we were to construct a Mount Rushmore for switch hitters, the elite-level group would likely include Mickey Mantle (536 HRs, 1,509 RBI, three-time AL MVP), Eddie Murray (504 HR, 1,917 RBI, .359 career OBP), Pete Rose (baseball's all-time hit king) and Jones, who boasts one NL MVP trophy, 468 homers, 1,623 RBI, 1,619 runs, 150 steals and a lifetime batting average of .303.
Among the other Cooperstown legends for 2018:
Vladimir Guerrero (one-time MVP, 449 HR, 1,496 RBI, 1,328 runs, .318 career batting, a throwing arm reminiscent of Roberto Clemente), pitcher Jack Morris (254 career victories, four-time world champ, one of the most clutch pitchers in playoff history), shortstop Alan Trammell (185 homers, 1,003 RBI, 1,231 runs, 236 steals, 1984 World Series MVP), first baseman Jim Thome (612 HR, 1,699 RBI, 1,583 runs) and reliever Trevor Hoffman (601 career saves, 2.87 ERA).
CHIPPER JONES HOF BLOG
Check out this AWESOME tweet from 11Alive anchor Jeff Hullinger, detailing the time-stamp significance of Jones' Hall of Fame speech ... and Mickey Mantle.
Jones spoke of being in awe with Yankees icon Mickey Mantle, upon initially meeting the Hall of Famer in 1992.
After watching fans of all ages fawn over Mantle for a few hours, Chipper asked Mickey if he ever tired of the fame.
Mantle's paraphrased response: When he finally reached the Pearly Gates, Mantle had a recurring dream of encountering God upon reaching Heaven.
At that point, God said, "Don't worry, Mick. You'll get in. But hey, before that, can you please sign these 15 baseballs?"
Jones credits Bobby Cox for being the one man in the Braves organization who never wavered in his support of the kid's talents, especially after Chipper tore his knee prior to the 1994 season and didn't play a single major-league inning that year.
Before Jim Thome crushed 612 homers in the majors, he was duffing it in the Indians organization in the early 1990s.
For their first-ever meeting, during the aforementioned brouhaha/brawl, Jones said he had been grabbed 'by the hand of God,' in the form of Thome securing Chipper by the throat.
After Jones wailed in agony for a few minutes, the burly Thome looked at Chipper and bluntly asked, "Are you done?"
Chipper sheepishly said yes ... "and we've been buddies ever since."
People forget Jones was originally earmarked for playing shortstop in the major leagues, prior to growing out of that role.
In the 1980s, Jones modeled his game after the Hall of Famer Trammell. As such, Jones was absolutely thrilled to share the Cooperstown stage with a childhood idol, while saying, "The people of Detroit have so much to celebrate today."
Tigers fans got two for the price of one at Sunday's induction ceremony, with Trammell and pitcher Jack Morris getting enshrined on the same day.
Jones was quick to praise Trevor Hoffman (601 saves) for his 'devastating' change-up, but how did Chipper fare against the Padres over the years?
Charting the 132 career games, Chipper notched 24 homers, 75 RBI, 89 runs, 13 steals, a .315 batting average, .417 on-base percentage and lethal OPS tally of .970.
Jones poked a little fun at John Smoltz while addressing the podium, congratulating the Hall of Fame pitcher on his absurd athleticism ... while also chiding him for an opening-round 85 at last month's U.S. Senior Open.
In the spring of 1990, the Braves (averaged 67.3 victories from 1984-89) were mocked nationally for passing on prep pitcher Todd Van Poppel with the No. 1 overall pick.
Leading into the draft, there were reports of Von Poppel—a schoolboy legend in Texas, reminding some of Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens—nixing Atlanta's overtures, so he could sign with his hometown team (Rangers) or baseball's model franchise around that time (Oakland Athletics).
By extension, Jones was viewed as a consolation prize for the Braves, as if they turned down a once-in-a-lifetime arm for some random infielder from Florida.
As history dictates, the pundits were wayyyyyyy off the mark with this assessment.
To be fair, Von Poppel had a respectable 11-year career in the majors (40 wins, 5.58 ERA), but he never lived up to the immense promise from that spring of 1990; and obviously, he never came close to securing a bust in Cooperstown.
One last thing: Check out this Tweet from ESPN's Tim Kurkjian, regarding Chipper's supreme confidence about his long-term projections with the Braves.