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Richard Justice

Chipper's legacy goes beyond the Braves

Justice: Chipper's legacy goes beyond the Braves

Chipper's legacy goes beyond the Braves
To understand why Chipper Jones just had to be part of this All-Star Game, let's begin with his impact on the First-Year Player Draft. In becoming the enduring face of one of the most successful franchises in history, Chipper helped make it cool to play baseball in the South.

Georgia now ranks behind only California, Florida and Texas in producing players for the Draft. In the last six Drafts, there were 30 Georgia players taken in the first round alone, and that number doesn't include players from neighboring states who were influenced by the Braves.


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These players didn't all play baseball because of Chipper Jones. Ted Turner constructed a great organization, beginning with the hiring of Bobby Cox, one of the best baseball men who ever lived.

John Schuerholz did brilliant work as general manager, and so did Stan Kasten as team president. They hired good people up and down the masthead.

And there were those pitchers.

One day in Spring Training a few years ago, I watched as first John Smoltz and then Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine walked in from the bullpen to throw a round of batting practice.

Seeing them all together that day was a reminder of the greatness of the Braves. As Cox said, "They make a manager look real smart."

Together, they transformed a franchise. Attendance soared, division championships became the norm and Braves merchandise became a hot commodity across the country. And a whole bunch of kids decided they wanted to play baseball. In recent years, scouts have been amazed by the number of quality players available in Georgia, a number far out of proportion to the state's population. That talent almost certainly is a tribute to the Braves.

They'd averaged 99 victories in the three full seasons before Chipper became a full-time player in 1995. In 1993, Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux and Steve Avery AVERAGED 19 victories and 243 innings.

Yes, Chipper stepped into a great situation. He was playing for one of the great managers in history and behind a pitching staff that was the measuring stick for every other.

Cox had made him the first pick of the 1990 First-Year Player Draft because he admired, not just his skills, but also liked the way he looked him in the eye and answered his questions.

Cox came away from their meeting convinced that Chipper was someone he could build a lineup around. That's how it worked out. In 19 seasons, Chipper has been an eight-time All-Star and a National League Most Valuable Player.

He helped the Braves go to the playoffs 11 times and win the National League pennant three times. That he won but one championship in 19 seasons is the lone hole in his resume.

It's not just that he was a great player. He was a consummate professional, respectful of opponents, available to fans and the media, always humble, always gracious for his success.

When he announced this spring that this season would be his last, it seemed only fitting that he be invited to one final All-Star Game. It's a chance to hear the cheers and for all of us to let him know how much we appreciate him.

In a perfect world, he'll go out just the way Cal Ripken did in 2001. Ripken was struggling through his final season that summer when he arrived in Seattle, but in a magical moment, he homered in the game and circled the bases to a thunderous ovation.

Here's hoping Chipper gets to experience something like Ripken did, that his final All-Star Game is one he'll remember forever. We certainly won't forget him.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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