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Chipper Jones talks baseball, significance of playing in New York

Chipper Jones was fortunate enough to experience a great deal of winning in his career, which included one world championship, but his shot at taking home the ultimate prize for a total of three times was stolen from him twice by the same team.

The former Atlanta Brave–and future Hall of Famer–told WFAN’s Mike Francesa on Friday that he’s still bitter about the result of the 1996 World Series, a postseason which ended the Yankees’ 18-year championship drought and ignited a dynasty. 

“That ’96 Series, I felt like, ‘You know what? We’ve got the best team in baseball,’” said Jones, whose team was up 2-0 in the series entering Game 3 at Fulton County Stadium. “We showed it all year during the course of the season. We go to New York, we beat them, I think, 15-1 in the first game (actually 12-1), beat Jimmy Key 4-0 in the second game, and I’m coming home to Atlanta going, ‘Man, I’m going to win the World Series the first two years in the league. We’re not going back to New York, either.’ And true to championship form, the Yankees showed their mettle.

“We had a lot of disappointments, it’s been well-documented, through the years in the postseason. But I felt like most years, if not all, that we got beat, at that particular time in the season, we got beat by a better team.”

Jones, who retired in 2013 after playing 19 seasons at third base with Atlanta, made eight All-Star games and won National League MVP in 1999. Of course, that career year also ended in disappointment, this time with the Braves being swept by the Yankees in the Fall Classic. 

But Jones’ time in New York was mostly pleasant. In 88 games at Shea Stadium, the switch-hitting slugger hit .313 against the division rival Mets, and smacked 19 home runs and 55 RBI. He acknowledged his success in Queens by naming one of his four sons Shea. 

When Jones called it quits, he had totaled 468 career home runs, which remains the second-most long balls ever hit by a switch hitter in history. The one player who sits above Jones, with 536 career homers, is still worshiped in New York, and he happened to be placed on a pedestal back at the Jones’ family household in Florida, too. 

“Mickey Mantle wasn’t just regional. He was universal. He was countrywide. He was worldwide,” Jones said. “His influence stretched well outside of New York City. And my dad was certainly one of them. My dad had like a 35-inch, 33-ounce Mickey Mantle signature bat in his closet, and I grew up grabbing that bat. Whenever we went out into the backyard, I don’t think there was a day that he didn’t say the name Mickey Mantle to me.

“And being as young as I was, I didn’t know who Mickey Mantle was, but my dad put him up on such a pedestal that this guy was like God. And when I finally got the chance to meet him in 1992, I found myself in the bathroom looking in the mirror, practicing how I was going to meet Mickey Mantle. That’s how revered he was.”

Jones discussed his relationship with his father, who constantly reminded his son how special it was to visit and play in the Big Apple. 

“One of my dad’s little sayings that really stuck with me through the years, he always said, ‘If you can be successful on that stage in New York, you can be successful anywhere. Because when you go up there, it’s going to be tougher than anywhere else you’ve ever played,’” Jones said. “He was right. It is one of the toughest places to play, but that little saying motivated me. Every time I went to New York, whether it was Shea Stadium or Citi Field or either one of the Yankee Stadiums, there was a little more intensity, a little more pep in your step. It was like an in-season playoff game every time we went up there.”

Having a debate on whether or not Jones is bound for Cooperstown is futile. With a .303 lifetime batting average, 2,726 hits, 1,623 RBI and two Silver Slugger awards all with one team, there are no doubts to his worthiness of a plaque. But Jones’ time at the plate wasn’t always successful, as he believes a former Yankee ace constantly gave him fits. 

“The toughest guy, just to put the ball in play against was Roger Clemens,” he said. “He had tremendous angle on his pitches. Balls that looked outside would be on the corner. Balls that looked low would be right at the knees. He was a pitcher with dominant stuff.”

Jones’ new autobiography, Ballplayer, hits the bookstores on Tuesday.

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.

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