Chipper Jones best switch-hitter of his era: batting higher than .300 with goodpower, braves slugger challenges pitchers from both sides of the plate
THE IDEA WAS BORN BEFORE Chipper Jones was, when the “old block” was just a chip himself.
Larry Wayne Jones Sr. was a kid in Baltimore when he fell in love with the switch-hitting Yankee Mickey Mantle. He saw the power Mantle could generate left-handed from the right field bleachers at Memorial Stadium.
“He hit a line drive that went over our head like a rocket,” Larry Jones said.
Like Mutt Mantle taught his son, Larry taught his only son Chipper to switch-hit in the backyard in Pierson, Florida. Now, 15 years into his career, Jones is in Mantle territory as one of the best switch-hitters ever.
Through June 1, he was two home runs shy of reaching 400 for his career. He was in line to become only the third switch-hitter to get there after Mantle (536) and Eddie Murray (504).
“When I started switch hitting, no way in a million years would I have ever thought that I would be hitting 400 homers in the big leagues,” Chipper Jones said. “I was thinking: steal 30 bases a year, slap the ball and hit .300 from both sides.”
Jones, a natural right-hander, became much more than a left-handed slap hitter, one-step closer to first base. The left side is his power side, with more opposite field pop. He hits a homer every 16 at-bats left-handed, every 22 at-bats right-handed.
Jones could become the only switch-hitter with more than 300 home runs to hit .300 for his career. He was hitting .310 for his career through late May. Mantle hit .298, Murray, .287.
“For Chipper to be from one-stoplight Pierson, Florida, mentioned in the same breath as Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray is just beyond anything,” said Larry Jones, who has a signed photo of Chipper and Mantle from a 1992 card show. “We’re so fortunate as a family to experience what we’ve experienced.”
Larry Jones made sure batting left-handed in the back yard was fun. Chipper would imitate the Dodgers lineup and when Reggie Smith came up–or Mike Scoscia or Kenny Landreaux–he batted left-handed.
“I loved working on it because it was a challenge,” Jones said.
He hit one over the hay barn to the family fernery for the first time left-handed at age seven or eight. He homered left-handed in a game at 11 or 12. “Once you do it once, you’re hooked,” Jones said.
He started switch-hitting regularly at 13, and it was his idea. His dad had one rule: he couldn’t go back and hit right-handed when things got tough. Chipper made that commitment, even if his coaches didn’t. In the finals of a Babe Ruth tournament, a coach asked if Chipper could hit right-handed.
“I said no,” Larry Jones said. “If he does it once, then in crunch time, he’ll want to switch back.”
As a pro, the idea struck Jones once. He was a month into rookie ball, after the Braves drafted him No. 1 overall. Coming off a broken hand and struggling to adjust to wood bats, he heard about it from buddies with the Pirates and Expos, who also trained in Bradenton, Florida.
Jones asked his manager if he could hit right-handed to get through the season. His manager obliged. Several days later, after Braves executives Bobby Cox and Paul Snyder came to town, that manager was out of a job.
“I realized that the fact that I was a switch-hitter was what made me so attractive in the draft and to give it up a month into my pro career was really stupid,” Jones said.
What he’s learned is to maintain it, “it’s twice the work” as his father says.
He has two swings, with two sets of needs, and often two different bats. Left-handed he uses a bat one ounce heavier to help generate power.
“I’ve got a lot more moving parts in my (left-handed) swing,” Jones said. “Right-handed things are a lot more simple. It’s basically just see it, hit it.”
He’s done that both ways this year. Through June 1, he was hitting .432 right-handed and .402 left-handed while leading the majors with a .413 average overall. For his career, he holds a batting average of .310 from both the left and right side of the plate.
At age 36, 500 homers is in range, and 3,000 hits isn’t all the way out (2,198 and counting).
“When you think of Mickey you think of the home runs,” Jones said. “When you think of Eddie Murray you think of the longevity, the runs produced and the 500 homers. I want to be the guy who hit a bunch of homers, drove in a lot of runs, scored a lot of runs, hit for a high average, had a high on-base percentage.
“I want to be the all-around switch-hitter.”
By Carroll Rogers
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Best Switch-Hitters in Major League History
Here is a list of the top 15 switch-hitters of all time, listed alphabetically
* Roberto Alomar–A great fielding second baseman, Alomar was potent with the bat, hitting .300 for his career with 2,724 hits, 504 doubles, 210 homers, 474 stolen bases, 1,508 runs and 1134 RBI He was more productive from the left side (312) than the right (.268), but he was always a tough out from either side
* Lance Berkman–Playing in his lOth big league season, he already has established himself as one of the greatest switch-hitters in the game with a .304 lifetime average and 276 homers through June 1, 2008. By the time he’s through, his numbers may pave a path to the Hall of Fame
* Max Carey–The speedy outfielder swiped 738 bases in his career that also included six 300 seasons, 2,665 hits, 419 doubles, 159 triples and 1,545 runs. Playing 20 seasons from 1910 through 1929, he became one of the first switch- hitters to be productive from both sides of the plate.
* Chili Davis–Playing most of his final years as a DH since age robbed him of his defensive abilities, Davis never lost his effectiveness as a slugger. He clubbed 350 career homers (233 from the left, 117 from the right), which alone ranks him as an outstanding switch-hitter, not to mention his 1,372 RBI, 1,240 runs and 2,380 hits.
* Frankie Frisch–The “Fordham Flash” became the first switch-hitter elected to the Hall of Fame due to his great leadership and defensive and offensive abilities. As a batter, he hit .316 for his career with 2,880 hits, 1,532 runs, 1,244 RBI, 466 doubles, 138 triples and 105 homers. He won the 1931 N.L. MVP and was selected for the first three All-Star teams.
* Chipper Jones–An all-around hitter, Jones bats .300 from both sides of the plate with power (398 homers through June 1, 2008). If he continues 1o put up prodigious numbers, he will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame electee.
* Mickey Mantle–The Mick was the most devastating switch-hitter of all time with tremendous power from both sides of the plate and had the ability to hit for high average. His 536 homers are most by a player who hit from both sides of the his success in the art led many to follow in his footsteps as switch-hitters.
* Willie McGee–The Cardinals outfielder won two N.L. batting titles and though he didn’t possess a picture-perfect swing, he still hit .295 during his 18-year career with 2,254 hits and 1,010 runs. He won the 1985 N.L. MVP and batting crown with a .353 BA and hit .300 or better seven times.
* Eddie Murray–During his 20 seasons in the majors, Murray was one of the most consistent hitters in the game by totaling 90 or more RBI in a season 12 times including six 100-RBI campaigns. His lifetime mark of 1,917 RBI ranks first among switch-hitters and ninth all time, while his 504 homers rank second to Mantle’s 536 among switch-batters.
* Tim Raines–Known for his great speed and base running ability (808 stolen bases, 1,571 runs), Raines also won a N.L. batting title in 1986, collected 2,605 hits, 170 homers and batted .294 during a 23-year career.
* Pete Rose–Charlie Hustle’s lifetime numbers as a switch-hitter speak for themselves as the all-time hit leader (4,256) averaged .303 in 24 major league seasons with 746 doubles, 135 triples, 160 homers, 2,165 runs and 1,314 RBI. Add 198 stolen bases, one league MVP and one World Series MVP award along with three N.L batting titles and Rose may be the top switch-hitter of all time.
* Red Schoendienst–When discussing switch-hitters, Sehoendienst is often forgotten but it should be noted that the Hall of Fame second baseman had a stellar career with 2,449 hits, 1,223 runs and a 289 average. The 10-time All-Star hit .300 seven times during his 19 seasons and ranked in the top ten in MVP voting four times.
* Ted Simmons–He hit .285 for his career with 2,472 hits, 483 doubles, 248 homers, 1,389 RBI and fanned only 694 times in 9,085 plate appearances. On top of that, he caught 1,771 games–clearly one of the best hitters at the game’s toughest position.
* Reggie Smith–With his career sandwiched between Mantle’s and Murray’s, Smith never got the appreciation he deserved as a quality switch-hitter and productive player. During his 17 years in the majors, he hit 314 homers with 2,020 hits, 1,092 RBI and a .287 batting average. He clubbed 20 or more homers in a season eight times, batted .300 seven times and five times exceeded 80 or more RBI.
* Bernie Williams–He was a center piece on four Yankee World Series-winning clubs and during his career the four-time Aft-Star won one A.L. batting title, hit 297 for his career with 287 homers, 1257 RBI, 1,366 runs and a .381 on-base percentage.
On Their Way Up
* Jimmy Rollins–With a standout season in 2007 when he won the N.L. MVP with 212 hits, 38 doubles, 20 triples and 30 homers, the slick fielding shortstop with be among the top switch-hitters in history before his career ends.
* Mark Teixeira–In only his sixth big league campaign, the powerful slugger already holds the single-season mark in RBI (144) for shortstops and if he continues 1o produce at his current rate, he will join the ranks of Mantle, Murray, Berkman and Jones as the most powerful switch-batters.
* Victor Martinez–In 2008, he began only his fifth full season in the majors and has already hit .300 three times and driven in 100 runs two times. Ted Simmons is the greatest switch-hitting catcher of all time followed by Jorge Posada, but if Martinez contineus at his current pace, he will surpass them both.
How Some Switch-Hitters Fared From Both Sides of The Plate
Avg. from Avg. from Overall
Player Years Left Side Right Side Avg.
Chipper Jones 1993-2008 .310 .310 .310
Lance Berkman 1999-2008 .313 .275 .304
Pete Rose 1963-1986 .306 .293 .303
Roberto Alomar 1988-2004 .312 .268 .300
Jose Vidro 1997-2008 .299 .303 .300
Mickey Mantle 1951-1968 .281 .333 .298
Bernie Williams 1991-2006 .292 .308 .297
Willie McGee 1982-1999 .297 .289 .295
Tim Raines 1979-2002 .294 .293 .294
Luis Castillo 1996-2008 .291 .298 .293
Eddie Murray 1977-1997 .292 .276 .287
Reggie Smith 1966-1982 .287 .288 .287
Ted Simmons 1968-1988 .287 .281 .285
Willie Wilson 1976-1994 .285 .287 .285
Ken Singleton 1970-1984 .291 .260 .282
Carlos Beltran 1998-2008 .277 .288 .280
Jimmy Rollins 2000-2008 .275 .288 .279
Jorge Posada 1995-2008 .268 .301 .277
Mark Teixeira 2003-2008 .277 .303 .285[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
Switch-Hitters With Most Homers …
Year Player, Team HR
1961 Mickey Mantle, Yankees 54
1956 Mickey Mantle, Yankees 52
1999 Chipper Jones, Braves 45
2006 Lance Berkman, Astros 45
2005 Mark Teixeira, Rangers 43
1958 Mickey Mantle, Yankees 42
2002 Lance Berkman, Astros 42
1996 Todd Hundley, Mets 41
2006 Carlos Beltran, Mets 41
1960 Mickey Mantle, Yankees 40
1996 Ken Caminiti, Padres 40
1991 Howard Johnson, Mets 38
2001 Chipper Jones, Braves 38
2004 Carlos Beltran, Royals/Astros 38
2004 Mark Teixeira, Rangers 38
1955 Mickey Mantle, Yankees 37
1987 Howard Johnson, Mets 36
1989 Howard Johnson, Mets 36
2000 Chipper Jones, Braves 36
1934 Ripper Collins, Cardinals 35
1964 Mickey Mantle, Yankees 35
1979 Ken Singleton, Orioles 35
2006 Nick Swisher, A’s 35
1957 Mickey Mantle, Yankees 34
1993 Bobby Bonilla, Mets 34
1998 Chipper Jones, Braves 34
1998 Tony Clark, Tigers 34
2000 Carl Everett, Red Sox 34
2001 Lance Berkman, Astros 34
2001 Jose Cruz, Jr., Blue Jays 34
2007 Lance Berkman, Astros 34
Year Player, Team HR
Mickey Mantle 1951-1968 536
Eddie Murray 1977-1997 504
Chipper Jones+ 1993-2008 398
Chili Davis 1981-1999 350
Reggie Smith 1966-1982 314
Ruben Sierra 1986-2006 306
Bobby Bonilla 1986-2001 287
Bernie Williams 1991-2006 287
Lance Berkman + 1999-2008 276
Jose Valentin 1992-2007 249
Ted Simmons 1968-1988 248
Ken Singleton 1970-1984 246
Mickey Tettleton 1984-1997 245
Tony Clark + 1995-2008 244
Carlos Beltran + 1998-2008 241
Ken Caminiti 1987-2001 239
Howard Johnson 1982-1995 228
Jorge Posada + 1995-2008 219
Roberto Alomar 1988-2004 210
Devon White 1985-2001 208
Jose Cruz, Jr. + 1997-2008 204
Todd Hundley 1990-2003 202
Carl Everett 1993-2006 202
Ray Durham + 1995-2008 188
Mark Teixeira + 2003-2008 177
Tim Raines 1979-2002 170
Dmitri Young + 1996-2008 168
+ Total through June 1
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