Another thing to miss: Jones’ love-hate relationship with Mets’ fans
There are countless things I am going to miss as the 2013 season elapses without the presence of Chipper Jones in the Braves’ clubhouse. Sure if I stick around long enough, there is a chance I will encounter another analytical and witty Hall of Fame-caliber player who is accessible to the media on a daily basis throughout the calendar year (as long as he is not in a deer stand).
But there will never be another Chipper Jones. And in all likelihood, I will never again cover a player who has a love-hate relationship as genuine as the one Jones shares with Mets fans.
Mocking chants of “Lah-REE, Lah-REE” have only fueled Jones’ desire to further damage the hopes of these Mets fans. But as time has evolved, it has become evident that the two parties have a genuine mutual respect for each other.
“I wouldn’t really have it any other way,” Jones said. “That’s the way it’s been up north, and I don’t expect it to be any different. I’ve been a thorn in their sides for a long time so …”
When speaking to Jones’ parents in July, I mentioned something about this last trip to New York and without any prompting, his mother used “love-hate” when speaking of the relationship her son shares with the Mets faithful.
There really is not a better way to describe it.
Given the nature of this relationship, the assumption has always been that Jones has beat up on the Mets more than he has any other team during his career. But a quick look at what he has done against National League East foes shows Phillies fans have even more reason to spew venom in the direction of the 40-year-old third baseman.
But while Jones has added to Phillies’ fans frustrations with a couple of walk-off shots this year, he has never done to them what he did to Mets fans in 1999, particularly the final weeks of that season.
The Braves held a one game lead over the Mets in the NL East standings when the two teams began a three-game series at Turner Field on Sept. 21, 1999. Jones homered in the first inning off Rick Reed and then hit another in the eighth against Dennis Cook. The Braves claimed a 2-1 win that night.
With Jones also hitting a home run both of the next two nights, the Braves swept the three-game series, gained a four-game advantage over the Mets. By the time Atlanta traveled to Shea Stadium the following week, a fifth consecutive NL East title had been clinched.
After hitting .400 with seven homers and a 1.000 OPS in 12 games against the Mets in 1999, Jones became Public Enemy Number One in Queens. The level of hatred Mets fans expressed toward him was fueled by John Rocker’s antics when these two teams met that same year in the NL Championship Series.
With this being said, Jones certainly stirred the pot. After the Braves essentially wrapped the division title, he said, “Now all Mets fans can go put their Yankee stuff on.”
It was one of the greatest lines ever delivered by Jones. There have been numerous attempts to get him to say something similar in the years that have followed. But instead of taking the bait, he has usually smirked and said something like “I’ve learned my lesson.”
Now as Jones prepares to spend this weekend playing against the Mets in New York one last time — 13 years after that memorable 1999 season — we still find ourselves intrigued by the possibility of hearing more “Lah-REE” chants or watching Chipper deliver one last crushing blow.
The Mets are not in the postseason race and the mocking heard since Citi Field opened in 2009 seems much tamer than it was during the days of Shea Stadium.
But this love-hate relationship remains special and something to appreciate for one last time this weekend.
Jones vs. NL East teams
Mets .314 BA, 49 HR, .963 OPS 998 plate appearances
Phillies .332 BA 49 HR, 1.041 OPS 1,017 plate appearances
Nationals .299 BA, 41 HR, .911 OPS 1,123 plate appearances
Marlins .299 BA, 40 HR, .898 OPS 1,007 plate appearances