Mets fans appear to be a bit miffed that the Mets might in some way honor Chipper “Larry” Jones during his last visit to Citi Field this season. The sure bet Hall of Famer will retire after the 2012 season.
What has always separated the New York sports fan from all others is their sophistication and understanding of sports, especially baseball.
I learned that at 8 years old when Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game for the Phillies against the Mets at Shea Stadium. My father was rooting for Bunning as we watched on the black and white TV. It was obvious the crowd at Shea on that Father’s Day Sunday was rooting for the Phillie pitcher too. I was confused. Why would Mets fans be rooting against the Mets?
My father explained that what was happening was a rare monumental feat being attempted by an athlete. Only a handful of pitchers had retired all 27 batters they faced. You root for greatness regardless of who it is. It’s the same reason why Mets fans cheered for the likes of Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, and others who would one day be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. New Yorkers, while mostly rooting for the home team, understood excellence and let the opponents to their favorite team know their effort was appreciated.
The Mets/Braves rivalry is a long one. It was the Miracle Mets of 1969 that disposed of the Braves in 3 games in the first NLCS of all time. The powerful Mets teams of the 1980s wiped the field with Atlanta, even one time playing till 4:00AM on Fireworks Night on the 4th of July (which ended on the 5th of July).
The tables turned in the nineties when the Braves shot to the top while the Mets plummeted to the bottom. Then the Mets challenged the Braves in the late 90s, missing the post season because of them in ’98, losing to them in the NLCS in ’99, then bypassing them in 2000 to win the NL Pennant.
The Braves dominated the NL East, winning the division title for 11 consecutive seasons. The team that finally knocked them off the pedestal was Omar Minaya’s resurgent Mets in 2006 . And through all this back in fourth (mostly back) there was one player who was the true nemesis of Mets and that was Chipper Jones. The fact he was an utter thorn in the Mets side is why so many Mets fans hate him. Yes, I hate him too for all the pain he has caused me. But when I remove my Mets cap, I appreciate his greatness, what he brought to this game and what he brought to the rivalry. If you cannot lose with grace, you cannot win with dignity.
In 231 games against the Mets, Chipper Jones hit 48 home runs and batted in 154. His Avg/OBP/OPS is .318/.414/.559. He has 258 hits and scored 160 runs with 44 doubles and 4 triples. He has worn the Mets out. He loved hitting at Shea Stadium so much, he named one of his kids Shea.
No one is suggesting the Mets should flood Jones with a car, a gold watch, and money. But a video board tribute and a nice ovation from the crowd would go a long way of showing the baseball world that Mets fans are still the classiest in all of baseball.