Forget all the home runs Chipper Jones hit against the Mets – 49 going into Saturday -- or the way Met fans used to chant “Larry….Larry….” as if that could slow him down.
Jones showed his class in 2000 after a teammate, John Rocker, was quoted in Sports Illustrated, spewing vile sentiments about New York plus “gays, people with AIDS, welfare mothers, people who speak foreign languages in the United States, minorities and other urban types,” as I put it.
Plus, the dope denigrated our multi-ethnic No. 7 elevated line that runs from midtown Manhattan to the Mets’ neighborhood in Queens. Anybody who doesn’t like the No. 7 line doesn’t really like America.
Rocker also spotted the writer, Jeff Pearlman, in the Braves’ clubhouse and said, "This isn't over between us.''
The Braves were in the middle of their great run. They did not need this distraction. And their best regular player, Chipper Jones, stood in front of his locker and addressed the problem.
''If there is a chemistry problem on this club, they've always been able to cut out the cancer,'' Jones said. He knew exactly what he was saying. I was there; I can attest that it happened just that way.
I don’t know that I ever heard an active player use that word about a teammate – not in measured tones, to a knot of reporters, on the record, for national consumption.
Jones probably had been assured the Braves were going to unload Rocker. He is a white guy from rural Florida, and he made the point for Brian Jordan, an African-American former N.F.L. player, now a teammate, and everyone else: this is not condoned on this team, in this town.
It took the Braves until June 22, 2001, to trade Rocker, but Jones had reinforced the Braves’ image as a team worthy of being beamed into homes all over America. He earned all the ovations in recent days, and he earned the respect the Mets showed Friday night as they clogged their dugout, attending his farewell ceremony at Turner Field.
Chipper Jones’ legacy is more than home runs: it’s decency.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.