Chipper Jones: 'Failure like that doesn't go away'

Chipper Jones will be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2018. Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Larry "Chipper" Jones is one of the game's all-time greats and among the best switch-hitters in major league history. Jones was a No. 1 pick and a star for the Atlanta Braves almost from the first time he took the field. He'll likely head to Cooperstown next year as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He recently released his autobiography with writer Carroll Rogers Walton, and he took a few minutes out of his trip to ESPN to talk about the many aspects of his career.

You had so much success in your career, but you started your book with a story of failure: an error in the 2012 NL wild-card game against the Cardinals. Why did you begin with that?

Jones: I think baseball has such a way of humbling you. You can go 20-for-20, and before you know it, you’re going to go through an 0-for-30. It has that way of knocking you back down to earth. My whole last year was such a Hollywood script, so many things went right. I thought it was extremely appropriate to open it up with what baseball does to you. You talk about a game where you fail 70 percent of the time, and they consider you for the Hall of Fame. It just seemed like a good hook.

I felt like people need to see the other side. People open the book expecting to see or hear about the home runs and victories. To hook them with something that is probably one of the more disappointing plays of my career, I thought it was a cool way to start.

How do you deal with failure as a ballplayer?

Jones: Failure like that doesn’t go away. I think any athlete will tell you that season-ending losses stay with you for a long time. If you are one of the main reasons for a season-ending loss, it sticks with you longer.

Baseball was important to me -- don’t get me wrong. But at the end of my career, it wasn’t as important as four or five years before.

What advice would you give the Braves, who might fail a lot in the next year or two?

Jones: Just stay the course. They’re headed in the right direction. The minor league system has gone from one of the worst to one of the best. It’s going to take some time to draft and develop these players so that they’re ready to contribute when they get to the big league level. But help is coming.

What advice would you give your fellow No. 1 pick, Dansby Swanson?

Jones: Keep his head down. He’s a smart kid. He went to Vanderbilt. He has a good head on his shoulders. He has some unique Derek Jeter qualities about him, leadership-wise. Just be one-ninth of the equation that goes out there to win a ballgame.

Tell us something about Freddie Freeman that the average fan wouldn’t know.

Jones: Freddie is a homebody. He’s gifted, and he listens. He’s a sponge whenever we talk hitting. He knows what works for him. What works for him doesn’t work for everybody, but he knows what makes his swing tick. You’re seeing him go from a good player to a great player. He’ll be a perennial top-five MVP candidate from here out.

What do you think of when you watch Ender Inciarte?

Jones: One of the better center fielders, and I know center fielders from playing with Andruw Jones. He’s a tremendous outfielder and a bona fide leadoff hitter. That's something the Braves have been missing -- a bona fide table-setter.

What case would you make to convince someone to vote Andruw Jones into the Hall of Fame?

Jones: Four-hundred home runs and 10 Gold Gloves. You probably would mention Andruw to most voters, and they would go, 'No.' But if you really sit down, study his numbers and look at [him] objectively, he has a really good case. It might not be first-ballot, but second or third. I definitely think he’ll get in at some point.

What about a contemporary at your position, Scott Rolen?

Jones: Scott was one of the best athletes I ever played against. That guy was a freak. I was often envious of his defensive prowess. I think I stacked up well hitting-wise, but defensively he was head-and-shoulders [above]. He and Andruw were both unbelievable at certain points during their career.

You saw both Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer in their very early days. What do you remember about them compared to what they’re like now?

Jones: Just how much they developed and were fastball pitchers and then had the good breaking stuff but hadn’t learned how to command it. Now that they’ve learned that and other pitches as well, you’re starting to see them become perennial Cy Young finalists. A lot of people would tell you if they needed a guy to win Game 7, they’d take one of those two guys on the mound.

Who had the best fastball you faced?

Jones: Kerry Wood had the best fastball. He threw one at my kneecaps once. I don’t know how I jackknifed away. He might not have thrown 100, but it looked like it.

You’d take his over Randy Johnson -- because you hit six home runs against Randy?

Jones: I hit a couple off Wood too. Lefty, I’d say Randy. Righty, I’d say Kerry Wood.

Who had the best breaking ball?

Jones: Kerry Wood had a really good curve too. [Stephen] Strasburg has a really good breaking ball.

Whose pitch owned you?

Jones: Hideo Nomo's split-finger. I went 0-for-27 off Nomo before I got a base hit. You couldn’t pick it up. It came out the same arm slot and same arm speed [as his fastball]. It was impossible to pick up.

When you’re watching a pitcher as a hitter, what are you watching?

Jones: I’m watching anything that allows me to pick up him tipping his pitches. Whether he’s fanning his glove on his changeup. If he tips his curveball. If he comes to the side on his slider. You can pick up a lot if you just watch.

What should fans watch that they might not be watching?

Jones: That’s a good question. When I sit down and watch a game, I’m looking to see if a pitcher is tipping his pitches. If he has a good changeup, I wanna see if he flares his glove on it. If I can pick something up and relay it to the boys in the dugout, it gives them an advantage.

Eduardo Perez, whom you credited in the book for a tip on Billy Wagner, said Johan Santana used to tip his changeup. Who else tipped?

Jones: Randy Johnson tipped his pitches. Curt Schilling tipped. One guy that I had a lot of success, Shane Reynolds, he tipped his pitches. When he came over to the Braves and I told him he was tipping pitches, he looked at me like I’d shot his dog. He was very upset.

How hard is it to pick that stuff up?

Jones: You’ve just got to know what you’re looking for. When you throw a changeup, you have to grab the ball with all your fingers, so in order to get in there and grab it, you’ve got to fan your glove. You could do like a Greg Maddux did. When he came up, he fanned everything. If he fans everything, there’s no way to tell what he’s doing.

What advice would you give an aspiring switch-hitter?

Jones: Take twice as many swings from your off side as your strong side. That's what got me to where I was.

Would you recommend switch-hitting to kids?

Jones: Yes. It’s a lot easier to hit breaking balls coming in to you than going away from you.

What would you say to a Mets or Phillies fan who came up to you and said, ‘You ruined my childhood?'

Jones: (Laughs) I heard it all weekend. It was my job. I loved playing on those stages. Those fans being as fanatical as they are made it a lot of fun to play.

In New York, the Knicks fans had Michael Jordan to hate, and then the Mets fans had you.

Jones: New York is always going to have a Public Enemy No. 1. They have to have somebody to yell and scream at. Sometimes it’s somebody on their own clubs. But I was definitely on that list when I played. That means I’m doing my job.

A Braves fan friend told me to ask you this: What’s the circumstance by which you would manage or coach?

Jones: I can’t think of one. I’m happy at home. I’ve lived out of a suitcase for 23 years. I’m ready to put down roots. The package would have to be large and extensive for me to ever put a uniform on. The front office appeals to me more than getting back in uniform.