New York Mets fans have been on a first-name basis with Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones since 1995. It was then that Jones hit his first of many big league home runs at Shea Stadium. To make matters worse, it was a ninth inning game winner. Since that day in May, Jones has been readily identified by one name…kinda like Yogi, the Babe or Snooki.
Chipper Jones is one of the only visiting baseball players I can think of whose New York identity rose to the one-word level. A certain familiarity exists with him in these parts. It is one that has bred a degree of contempt for the Braves third baseman in Gotham. Jones has been a formidable foe, something it pains me to write. However, MLB.com says it better. “He has been the primary party pooper in the Mets’ recent history.”
Whether identified as Larry, Mets fans’ preferred way of taunting him, or Chipper, Jones has been synonymous with defeating the Mets since…I don’t know, forever? New York, as well as New York Mets fans, has come to regard Jones as they once regarded Pete Rose. They loathe him, but secretly would have given their right arm for him.
Few opposing players have battered the Mets during their 51 seasons as Jones has during 19 of them. Jones undermined the Mets at every turn. A shot at Shea, a sac-fly at Citi, and that doesn’t even touch what he did to them in Atlanta. Jones and Mike Schmidt have hit 49 home runs each against the Mets. Only Willie Stargell hit more has hit more. Only Stargell and Schmidt have driven in more runs against the Mets than Jones at 158 as well. Although Jones didn’t do much against the Mets last night, he is probably contemplating what lasting damage he can inflict on the Flushing faithful in his final five games against them.
Yes, it’s always been Larry Wayne against the entire borough of Queens.
Before the first pitch was thrown in last night’s game, the Mets saluted the player who so often has personified a wet blanket in Queens.
“After what Chipper did against us that year , he had to be the MVP,” former Mets third baseman Robin Ventura said this summer to MLB.com. “If I was managing then, I probably would have held up four fingers [intentional walk] when he was on deck.” That’s a no brainer for even slowest armchair quarterback.
Ventura and some of his contemporaries recall vividly how Jones single-handedly created a path of destruction through the Mets’ September. The Braves led the Mets by one game with 12 games remaining for both teams. They played three games in Atlanta.
• Sept. 21: Jones hit home runs in the first and eighth innings against Rick Reed and Dennis Cook. The Braves won, 2-1. I had one helluva headache that night.
• Sept. 22: Jones hit a two-run home run in the first inning against Orel Hershiser and walked and scored the Braves’ final run in the eighth. The Braves won, 5-2. I think I threw a high heel at the wall.
• Sept. 23: Jones hit a three-run home run in the fifth inning against Al Leiter. The Braves scored four times in the inning and won, 6-3. I cried in the shower.
“It was the high point of my career,” Jones said earlier this season to MLB.com. You think?! “I had four hits in the series, all home runs. That was as good as it gets for one player. You know you’ve carried your team in a real important series.” If none of the other Braves showed up to the ballpark that series, it wouldn’t have mattered.
“Lots of guys have a big series, or they get real hot and you can’t get them out for two or three days,” Leiter said years afterward. “But Chipper was like a bomb that went off, only at the perfect moment. He just leveled us that series.”
Larry Wayne will not be missed, but he’ll never be forgotten.