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Terence Moore

Andruw's career leaves much to be desired

Moore: Andruw leaves much to be desired

Andruw's career leaves much to be desired
This had to be a mistake. I mean, surely the headline writers got it all wrong earlier this week with this one: "Andruw Jones signs deal to play in Japan."

Well, it's true. It's sad, but it's true.

The guy who was predicted by baseball's elite nearly 17 years ago to be in the Hall of Fame stretch at this point of his career is preparing to play for the Rakuten Eagles of Japan's Pacific League.

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Let that sink in.

The bottom line: Jones is only assured of joining the inaugural class of the Hall of Fame of Disappointment.

Jones hit .303 in 2000 while leading the National League in at-bats with 656. Five years later, he led the Major Leagues with 51 home runs and the NL with 128 RBIs. He captured 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards. Those were just some of the highlights for Jones during his dozen years with the Atlanta Braves through 2007.

The majority of Jones' lowlights came later.

For one, he hit .197 with 14 home runs and 34 RBIs last season during his second and final year as a reserve player for the New York Yankees. Jones' decline at the plate wasn't sudden; it was steady. In five of his last six seasons in the Major Leagues, he finished with a batting average below .230.

Defensively during his Yankees days, Jones functioned mostly as an emergency corner outfielder.

With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel, where have you gone, Andruw Jones, and how did you lose your way to Cooperstown?

Just last summer, I chatted with former Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz about the rise of Braves outfielder Jason Heyward. During Smoltz's two decades with the franchise through 2008, he teamed with much of the game's best young talent in the home clubhouses of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field.

Like Heyward, the others had "it."

David Justice. Brian McCann.

"Steve Avery also had some of it," Smoltz said, pausing and thinking. "Chipper [Jones] had some of it. But Andruw Jones had most of it. In fact, Andruw Jones was the most talked-about guy I've ever seen, from coming up in the Minor Leagues to his big league debut.

"Then, of course, the World Series, doing what he did."

What Jones did during that 1996 World Series has become greater than Mickey Mantle. More impressive, Jones did so in The House that The Mick Reconstructed after it was built by Babe Ruth and renovated by Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.

It happened in a New York minute -- you know, whatever amount of time it took for Jones to homer during his first at bat in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.

Jones became the youngest player in history to do so at 19 years, five months and 27 days. He broke the old mark set by Mantle, who homered in the World Series just two weeks shy of his 21st birthday.

If that wasn't enough, Jones also homered during his second plate appearance in the World Series. The only other player to do that was Gene Tenace in 1972 with the Oakland Athletics.

"It was a real big deal," said former Braves manager Bobby Cox, recalling how the New York media and others treated Jones as baseball royalty back then, especially since he ended that World Series hitting .400 (8-for-20) with those two homers and six RBIs.

He wasn't finished thrilling -- and frustrating.

There was that 2000 season, when Jones made his first All-Star Game en route to racking up 36 homers and 104 RBIs. It's just that his average dropped 52 points to .251 the next season while his strikeouts soared from acceptable (100) to ridiculous (142).

In 2004, Jones finished with fewer that 30 homers in a season for just the second time in his career, but he ripped those 51 the next year.

Cox also believed that during a game early in Jones' career, the smooth-gliding outfielder wasn't hustling on a sinking drive to center. Cox yanked him in the middle of an inning.

It was a move the manager later said he regretted. He spent the rest of Jones' career dishing out high praise, even during slumps for the power hitter, who often vanished in the middle of the Braves' lineup.

"He has RBIs in his glove," Cox used to say. The manager joined others in the front office and around the clubhouse in suggesting Jones' defense was a key to the NL Cy Young Awards earned by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Smoltz during much of the Braves' record march to 14 consecutive division titles, five pennants and a World Series championship.

Not only was Jones supposed to waltz from Yankee Stadium in October 1996 to the Hall of Fame, he was supposed to do so as a lifetime member of the Braves.

The latter didn't happen. Jones bolted the Braves as a free agent to sign a two-year contract worth $36 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he did so after 2007 -- another contradictory season (26 homers and 94 RBIs, but with a .222 batting average and 138 strikeouts).

There wasn't anything contradictory about Jones' game after that. He was consistent -- just average to bad.

Jones was done with the Dodgers after one season. You could blame that on a nagging injury during what had been a durable career, a .158 batting average and a spot on the bench after then-Dodgers manager Joe Torre decided Jones wasn't worthy of starting anymore.

In 2009, Jones signed a Minor League contract with the Texas Rangers, and even though he made the big club, he did little worth mentioning. The same was true the next season, when he became mostly an afterthought with the Chicago White Sox.

Then came the Yankees.

Now come the Rakuten Eagles.

Sad. Really sad.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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