Former NL MVP: The 2012 season will be my last

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Former NL MVP: The 2012 season will be my last

From Comcast SportsNet
ATLANTA (AP) -- Flanked by his family, his former manager and a group of teammates he hates to leave behind, Chipper Jones choked up a bit and delivered the news that's been looming for years: It's time to call it a career. This time, he means it. With his 40th birthday approaching and a long string of injuries slowing him down, Jones announced Thursday he will retire after one more season as the Atlanta Braves' third baseman. "I have fulfilled everything," Jones said during a news conference at the team's spring training stadium in Kissimmee, Fla. "There's nothing left for me to do." Jones, who has spent his entire 18-year career with Atlanta, actually planned to retire after the 2010 season, only to change his mind. As he battled leg issues this spring, he openly wondered if he'd be able to make it through the season. So, he'll give it one more year with the Braves, then become a full-time dad to his three children. "I just want to make it final," Jones said. He praised the Braves organization, calling Bobby Cox "the greatest manager any of us will ever know," thanked team executives John Schuerholz and Frank Wren for building a perennial winner and fought back tears as he turned to his teammates. "I've been thinking about this and the reason I stayed around is you guys," Jones said. "I played on teams where clubhouse cohesion wasn't there. That never happened with you guys." Around baseball, Jones was praised for this long, consistent career, which included the NL MVP award in 1999, an NL batting title in 2008, seven All-Star games -- and, quite possibly, will include an induction ceremony at Cooperstown. Even fans of the rival New York Mets, who were continually battered by Jones as crowds in the Big Apple tried to rattle him by chanting his actual name ("Larry! Larry! Larry" was a familiar chant at old Shea Stadium), offered up nothing but respect. Jones already reciprocated by naming one of his children Shea. "He's a great ballplayer who has always been a Mets nemesis," said New York fan John Ring, speaking before Mets' spring training game in Port St. Lucie, Fla. "I mean, he just tore them apart. He's been an asset to the game, but as Mets fans we never wanted to see him in the lineup." Mets third baseman David Wright grew up wanting to be like Jones, which didn't change after they both wound up in the big leagues. "He's been one of those guys where I always looked across and tried to take away some of the things from his game and apply it to mine," Wright said. "He's been so consistent, so good for so long and been part of a lot of great times. It's going be a little odd looking across there and not seeing Chipper in uniform, that's for sure." New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, whose 17-year stint with one team is surpassed only by Jones among active players, has always been impressed by the way the Atlanta player carries himself: a wad of tobacco in his jaw, a batting glove always dangling out of his back pocket when he took the field. "He just looks like a ballplayer, you know? His actions, his mannerisms, everything he does," Jeter said. "I really can't say enough good things about him. The way he's gone about his business, his consistency, how he took care of himself, what he means to the team. He could flat-out hit. He's a Hall of Famer, for sure." He should be a first-ballot selection, according to Cox, who attended the news conference with the only other manager Jones will have in his big league career, current Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez. Schuerholz, the former general manager and now team president, and Wren are the only GMs of the Jones era. Stability meant a lot to the third baseman, who never seriously considered leaving the Braves. "To have two top executives and only two managers at one table after all these years says a lot about this organization," Jones said. "There have been times when I could have gone into free agency to see if the grass is greener, but it never was." While other players came and went, Jones was always the one constant in the clubhouse. "He was the face of the franchise," said former teammate Andruw Jones, who's now with the Yankees. "You don't see it too much any more. It's hard for players to stay with one organization." No matter what happens in his final season, Chipper Jones will go down as one of the game's greatest switch-hitters, a guy who could hit for average (.304 in his career) and power (454 homers and 1,561 RBIs). Shortly after reporting for what will be his final spring training, Jones marveled that he was still with the Braves with his milestone birthday coming up in April. "Never in my mid-20s would I have given myself a snowball's chance to be in camp and have a job at 40 years old," Jones told The Associated Press. "But I like to think I've kept myself in pretty good shape over the years. The skills are still there to go out and get it done. I don't know for how much longer, but we're going to ride it as long as we can." That ride lasts one more season. The Braves said Jones hopes to remain with the organization in another capacity after his playing career ends, but it won't happen next year. First, he plans to spend some long-overdue time with his family. "I just want to be a full-time dad," Jones said. But he'll always stay involved in the game. While Jones has no desire to go into managing, he has indicated a desire to be hitting instructor some day. "I have such a passion for hitting," Jones said last month. "I'm kind of a one-track-mind kind of guy. I can't have my hands in a bunch jars and be delegating responsibility for a bunch of different areas. I'd much rather stay focused on just one area and be able to do that well. While I think I could manage, I really don't have the urge to manage. I'd much rather be a hitting coach than a manager." Jones, the top overall pick in the 1990 draft, was initially pegged to join the Braves' lineup four years later as a left fielder. But he suffered a season-ending knee injury in spring training, delaying his debut. What a debut it was. Back at his natural infield position in 1995, Jones finished second in the NL rookie of the year balloting and helped the Braves win their first World Series title in Atlanta. That remains his only championship, even though the Braves kept right on winning the NL East through 2005 in an unprecedented streak of 14 straight division titles. Jones was on teams that lost to the Yankees in the 1996 and '99 World Series. After the team slumped for a couple of years, Jones was joined by a new generation of players who led the Braves back to the postseason in 2010 -- the final year of Cox's long tenure as manager. Atlanta lost to the eventual champion San Francisco Giants in a tightly fought division series that Jones missed, having gone down in August with the second season-ending knee injury of his career. Now, the Braves have one more chance to send Jones into retirement with a second World Series title. "He's had 18 remarkable years," Schuerholz said, "and I hope his 19th is his most remarkable." Injuries were an unfortunate hindrance to Jones' career, preventing him from reaching 500 homers. In addition to the two major knee operations, Jones had to deal with nagging ailments since 2004. This spring, he reported in top shape but his legs tightened, leading him to question whether he could even make it through the season. "There's not a day goes by that I don't take some kind of pill or injection ... to help me go out there," he said. When Jones was healthy, he was one of game's most feared hitters. His best season was 1999, when he won the MVP award with a .319 average, a career-leading 45 homers and 110 RBIs. Nine years later, at 36, he won his first batting title with a career-high .364 average, which remains the last of his 10 seasons hitting above .300. Despite his impressive power numbers, Jones always considered average to be the most important statistic. "You're never going to convince me I can't hit .300-plus," he said. "Hitting .300 -- that's my benchmark."

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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