Chipper Jones was booed relentlessly every time he stepped into Shea Stadium. Fans would chant his given name — Larry — derisively, and when he came to the plate, it was clear that the communal loathing masked a deep respect for what he could do with a bat, particularly in big-game situations.
On Wednesday, the day he became a first-ballot Hall of Famer — elected along with Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman — Jones could speak of those times only with fondness. His dad told him if he could succeed in New York, against those same fans who tried to make his life so difficult, he could succeed anywhere. For Chipper Jones, who named one of his sons Shea after the ballpark he ended up loving so much, that bit of wisdom turned out to be very true.
The 1999 National League MVP was one of the best switch hitters of all time, hitting .303 lefthanded and .304 righthanded, and amassed 2,726 hits and 468 home runs in 19 seasons with the Braves. He won the 2008 NL batting title and was a 1995 world champion. He tormented the Mets constantly, with 49 homers, 159 RBIs, a .309/.406/.543 slash line and a .949 OPS in 295 games.
“I never had so much fun playing the game of baseball than against that team, that organization and that city,” he said of the Mets, minutes after the announcement that he had received 97.2 percent of the vote from qualifying members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. “Early in my career, it was a hate-hate relationship. It took a little growing up. I started wandering out of my hotel room and interacting with fans.” After succeeding there, “you do have confidence.”
Players, who are eligible five years after retirement, must earn 75 percent of the vote to get to Cooperstown. The BBWAA cast 422 votes, including a blank one. Guerrero, in his second year of eligibility, earned 92.9 percent. Thome received 89.8, and Hoffman, whose 601 saves are second to Mariano Rivera, earned 79.9. Edgar Martinez, one of the best designated hitters ever, was just short (70.4). It was his ninth year of eligibility, meaning he has one more before shuffling off this ballot and into the hands of the veterans’ committee.
Mike Mussina earned 63.5 percent, while Johan Santana, who needed at least 5 percent to stay on the ballot, fell off with 2.4. Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and Livan Hernandez also fell off.
The ballot’s two most controversial figures, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, held mostly steady from last year’s results in their sixth year of eligibility. The specter of performance-enhancing drugs follows two of the most statistically distinguished players of all time, as many refuse to vote for them. Bonds got 56.4 percent, while Clemens had 57.3.
“I’m a new member of the fraternity, so I’m going to have to take the pulse of what’s going on,” Jones said. “I have no problem — and I’ve said this publicly — that Barry Bonds is the best player I ever saw wear a uniform. It’s unfortunate that some players have a cloud of suspicion, because you’re talking about the best.”
Guerrero, who spent seven years with the Expos, spoke fondly of his time in Montreal, and of being only the third Dominican — and the first position player — in the Hall. He had 2,590 hits and a .318 average. The rightfielder was a nine-time All-Star, the 2004 American League MVP and an eight-time Silver Slugger winner.
Thome praised his Indians manager Charlie Manuel.
“This was a father figure. This guy was my guy. I would not be here if it wasn’t for Charlie,” he said. “I think the Hall of Fame is so magical . . . It’s the greatest place there is.”
Thome, a five-time All-Star, hit 612 homers, eighth all-time. Hoffman is the sixth pitcher who was primarily a reliever to be elected. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were elected by the Modern Baseball Era Committee (better known as the veterans’ committee).
“It’s a nerve-racking process,” said Jones, who also called it “spine-tingling.”
From the beginning, it appeared his election was never in doubt.
“Once you see you’re trending as high as I was (with the online ballot trackers), I did check it out. It’s kind of addictive,” he said. “I try not to worry about it, but ultimately, this was a day that’s going to change me forever. We have a handful of those in a lifetime — those transcendent moments that will change your life forever.”
HONORS: Eight-time All-Star; 1999 NL MVP
HONORS: Nine-time All-Star; 2004 AL MVP
HONORS: Five-time All-Star
HONORS: Seven-time All-Star
TOP 2019 FIRST-TIME ELIGIBLES