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Playing with a Chip on His Shoulder
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
June 6, 2008
I don't think enough attention is being paid to what appears to be one of the all time great responses to being "called out" in the history of sports (myopic short-attention span assertions aside).
Braves fans may or may not remember last June, when the Braves endured a five-game losing streak during which they scored a grand total of one run. On June 22nd, in the middle of that streak, the Braves were limited to two hits by Kenny Rogers and the Detroit Tigers bullpen, and lost 5-0. After the game, John Smoltz, the Braves losing pitcher, said the following in the dugout:
"You can't worry about who's in the lineup and who isn't. You can't worry about that stuff anymore. . . . I certainly appreciate the effort of the guys who are on the field busting it." When asked about whether he was bothered by a sore shoulder, Smoltz responded "We all could wish we were feeling better, but that's the way it goes."
At the time, the comments were understood to be singling out one Larry Wayne "Chipper" Jones, the Braves third baseman ans future Hall of Famer who in recent years hadn't been playing a full load of games each season and hadn't been in the lineup that day against the Tigers.
A short time after that day, Jones indicated that he had come back from an injury early, but felt backed into a corner about it because teammates, implying but not naming Smoltz, didn't believe that he was actually injured. But, importantly, he shrugged off any tension between he and Smoltz, and also shrugged off any notion that he shouldn't be playing. Jones instead simply stated that it was his plan to "play the rest of the games this year and do whatever I can." For good measure, Chipper added, "somebody I know better not miss a start."
What happened next is, as they say, history. It may turn out to be that John Smoltz's frustrated post-game words have inspired one of the most remarkable seasons in memory.
On the day that he was called out by Smoltz, Chipper had already missed 24 of the Braves' 74 games; he would go on to miss only four more games the rest of the way. Chipper was hitting .323/.411/.603/1.014 on the day he was called out, a pretty great line in its own right, but he went .347/.433/.604/1.037 the rest of the way, a significant improvement.
And, of course, we all know what he has done this year. Last night, he hit homerun number 400 and went 4-for-5 to raise his line to .418/.498/.667/1.165, which is actually hard for the human brain to comprehend. In a season in which he has already added his name to the short list of players with 400 homeruns and may have 1400 runs and RBI by the end of the year, Chipper is also hitting better than he ever has and has as good of a shot at hitting .400 as anyone in the last 60 years has had at this point in the season. Most importantly, he has only missed five games this year, at an age where most third basemen have either converted to first base or retired.
Chipper likely didn't need this season to guarantee his future status as a Hall of Famer, but what he is doing right now is probably eliminating any residual doubt that may have been left in the minds of the most dissident voters. I just hope that if he continues to hit the way he has and makes history in 2008, he mentions John Smoltz in his Hall of Fame induction speech.
It would certainly appear as though Smoltz's call-out in the clubhouse in Atlanta has earned him a shout-out from the podium in Cooperstown.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.