Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Integrity of Chipper Jones

Chipper Jones is many things, a steroid user he is not. In an interview with MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the Braves third baseman spoke candidly about the temptation in the 90s to use steroids or other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Chipper, like many players of the 90s, was aware that other players were using PEDs to up their game. He said in his conversation with Bowman that he knew that other elite players at his position were utilizing steroids and/or PEDs to improve their game (presumably guys like Alex Rodriguez, , Jerry Hairston, Jr., Matt Williams and David Bell as well as eventual Braves teammates Gary Sheffield, Matt Franco and Troy Glaus), but that he didn't want to disappoint his parents and he feared the long-term effects of using steroids.

It's refreshing to read a story about the steroid era in baseball that doesn't include accusations or revelations. For those of us who grew up in the 90s and idolized baseball players of that era, it is heartbreaking each time it is revealed that so-and-so used steroids during their playing days. Unlike today with Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program that tests players for steroids, PEDs and other banned substances, when new revelations of drug use surface surrounding players of the 90s, there's no solid proof for or against those players and the unfortunate outcome is a taint on all players of the era. Chipper Jones is an example of this. He didn't use steroids or PEDs, but he played in an era tainted by malfeasance.

When Chipper Jones retires, a juncture that is fast approaching, he will continue to be proud of the fact that he didn't cheat the game or himself. And when Hall of Fame voters look at Chipper's numbers, they will note (as did Bowman) that Jones is in elite company. Only Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray have more switch-hit home runs in baseball history than Chipper. He trails only Murray in RBIs by a switch-hitter. And when career batting average, home runs, doubles, walks and on-base percentage and slugging percentage are compared to other players throughout baseball history, Chipper finds himself in the company of Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. Elite company is an understatement.

Chipper Jones will enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot as an Atlanta Brave (perhaps one of the last single-team stars) and as a man who played in an era tainted by substances that he chose not to put in his body despite the possibility of them advancing his career. Hopefully when time has past and new generations of fans discover the game the taint of the steroid era will no longer hang like a cloud over players of integrity like Chipper Jones.

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