Chipper Jones spent the better part of 18 major league seasons tormenting the New York Mets and their fans. He is their Lex Luthor; their Joker; the arch-nemesis that they constantly try to vanquish, but still respect in their own defeats.
Now the relationship that has become synonymous with “respectful loathing” has come to a close in New York. Chipper Jones played his final series against the Mets in New York this weekend, and baseball is now a little less than it was because of that fact.
Chipper didn’t go out with a bang. He didn’t club his 50th dinger against the Mets at Citi Field. As a matter of fact, he went 0-for-7 in the series, and only got a pinch-hit appearance in Sunday’s series finale, a 3-2 Atlanta Braves win in 10 innings.
But that’s ok.
Chipper had done more than his share of damage to the Mets over the years, (49 home runs, 159 RBI, and a .311 batting average) and to further inflate those numbers this weekend would have only been rubbing salt in the wound.
Mets fans know that Chipper had always gotten the best of them when it counted the most.
Chipper’s final plate appearance was an unintentional-intentional walk. Mets closer Frank Francisco wasn’t going to give Chipper anything worth swinging at in a 2-2 tie during his pinch-hit appearance in the 9th inning of Sunday’s game.
Chipper took his base…walked down to first…and then was lifted for a pinch-runner. As he slowly made his way back into the Atlanta Braves dugout to a chorus of mixed cheers and boos, Chipper removed his batting helmet, and acknowledged the crowd.
It’s the oldest and simplest of baseball gestures, and yet still the most powerful. A simple tip of the cap, a nod, and an assuring smile, throwing respect to the opposing fans who had so often jeered at your greatness, and reveled in your failures.
The Mets organization presented Jones with a painting depicting his feats at Shea Stadium. Chipper didn’t need it. The memories of dozens of games played at Shea Stadium and Citi Field are the only things that both sides really need.
There was no grandiose ceremony, and no key to the city. In fact, the entire weekend series was played out in front of sparse crowds, and the attention of the New York media was understandably more focused on the impending collapse of the New York Yankees, the U.S. Open tennis tournament, and the opening of the NFL season.
Listen closely, and you can still hear the echoes of “Laaaaarry…Laaaaarry…Laaaaarry” making their way through the rafters in Citi Field.
Chipper Jones may never cast his shadow on the infield grass in Flushing again, but he will always be a part of the lore there.