#80 - (Chipper Jones)

Recent retiree and certain first ballot Hall of Famer Chipper Jones is the Atlanta Braves all time leader in on base percentage (.402) and third in home runs.  In his 19 year career from 1994-2012, all with the Braves, the switch hitting third baseman (except for 2002-2003 when he played left field) hit .303 (over .300 from each side of the plate) with 468 home runs and 1623 RBIs (the most in history for a third baseman and the second most in history by a switch hitter behind Eddie Murray).  Chipper joins Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Stan Musial as the only players with at least 2500 hits, 1500 walks, 500 doubles, 450 HRs, 1500 RBIs, a .300 batting average, a .400 on base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage.  Pretty impressive company.  Chipper is a World Champion (1995 in his first full year against the Cleveland Indians), an MVP (1999), a batting champion (2008), a two time Silver Slugger award winner (1999 and 2000) and an 8 time N.L. All-Star (1996-1998, 2000, 2001, 2008, 2011 and 2012).  He also hit 20 or more home runs for 14 consecutive years and led the Braves to an astounding 11 straight playoff appearances from 1995-2005.  His best year arguably was his MVP year of 1999 where he led the Braves to the N.L. Pennant over the New York Mets and forever incurred the wrath of the Met fans thereafter by saying “Now, all of the Met fans can go home and put on their Yankees’ stuff.”  For the purpose of completeness, Chipper and the Braves were then swept in the 1999 World Series by those very same Yankees, although Chipper did hit the Braves only World Series home run off of El Duque.  Chipper closed out his brilliant career with a hit in his last at bat in the 2012 N.L. Wild Card playoff game (his Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals).  Here is his very humble Opening Day memory.

My first Opening Day was in 1995.  We had just returned from the strike, and were playing the Giants in Atlanta. Greg Maddux was pitching. It was my first start at third base ever, and I was facing the pitcher that I faced the night I blew out my knee the year before—Terry Mulholland.  The first hitter in the first inning popped the ball up down the first base line and, trying to be aggressive, I come flying like a bat out of you know what looking up at the baseball, and the next thing I know, I’m laying flat on my back looking up at the sun with my flip-down glasses down around my nose.  I look over and see Greg Maddux laying on his back in obvious pain, and I thought to myself, ‘What a way to break into the big leagues. You’ve just killed the most valuable player in baseball at that point and managed to hurt and embarrass yourself at the same time.’ Luckily, all Greg got out of that was a nice little charley horse in the calf where I kicked him when I was coming across, but it’s one of my more embarrassing moments.  Things got a little better after that.

They sure did. See you in two. Richie

Chipper Jones (3)

#79 - (Bucky Dent)

Best known for his dramatic pennant winning home run for the New York Yankees against Mike Torrez and the Boston Red Sox in game 163 of the 1978 season, Bucky Dent didn’t stop there, as he led the Yankees to the 1978 World Championship with a .417 average for which he was named World Series MVP.  Bucky was the Yankees’ shortstop from 1977-1982.  He was acquired from the Chicago White Sox, where he had played from 1973-1976.  Bucky earned two World Series rings with the Yankees (1977 and 1978) and was an A.L. All-Star 3 times in his career (1975, 1980 and 1981).  Despite his big home run, he was known more for his steady fielding than his hitting (he only hit 40 career HRs).  Bucky was traded to the Texas Rangers in 1982 for former New York Mets star Lee Mazzilli, and he played for the Rangers in 1982 and 1983 before closing out his career with the Kansas City Royals in 1984.  Bucky managed the Yankees in 1989 and 1990 and coached for multiple major league teams thereafter.  Here are his Opening Day memories.

“Well, my first Opening Day with the White Sox in 1974 was quite a thrill because it was everything I ever worked and dreamed for.  We opened up at home against the Angels and Nolan Ryan. It was a real cold, windy day and I remember Dick Allen crushing a ball that looked like it was going over the roof and the wind knocked it back down on the warning track.  I remember Ken Henderson hitting a ball with the bases loaded to dead center field and Mickey Rivers running back to the fence like it was going to go over and the wind just blew it back in and it landed like half way in center field. That’s how hard the wind was blowing that day.  I remember my first at bat off of Ryan. It was like, here I am, nervous as heck, facing this guy who throws a hundred miles an hour on my first opening day and it’s about 30° with the wind blowing about 40 miles an hour.

My first Opening Day with the Yankees also was really special. I got traded to the team I wanted to go to on the last day of Spring Training in 1977.  I had always dreamed of being a Yankee and they were coming out of the World Series.  I remember we were playing Milwaukee, and I was uptight and thinking about all the great players that have played there, and then when Bob Sheppard announced my name, it was like the ultimate.   I also remember 1978 as being really special, because we had just won the World Series in 1977 and we were coming back as World Champions.  The other one I remember was 1981 because I hit a home run off of Jon Matlack and another off of Fergie Jenkins the next day.

Thanks Bucky for your memories and especially for the homer.

See you in two.  Richie

Bucky Dent

 

 

#78 - (Bret Saberhagen)

In addition to being one of the winningest pitchers in Kansas City Royals history, and a World Champion and Cy Young winner in his second season in the big leagues at the mere age of 21, Bret Saberhagen coached the baseball team at my son’s high school and is the dad of one of my his childhood friends.  Bret began his major league career with the Royals in 1984 at age 20.  In 1985, he led the Royals to their only World Championship (against the St. Louis Cardinals), winning the Cy Young with a 20-6 record and a 2.87 ERA and the I-70 World Series MVP as the result of his two complete games including a Game 7 shutout.  He won his second Cy Young with the Royals in 1989 with a 23-6 record, a 2.16 ERA and a league leading 12 complete games.  He made the A.L. All Star team twice with the Royals (in 1987 and 1990), won a Gold Glove in 1989 and pitched the Royals last no hitter in 1991 (on my birthday) against the Chicago White Sox.  Bret was traded to the New York Mets after the 1991 season.  He made the N.L. All-Star team with the Mets in 1994 in a season in which he had more wins than walks; a feat that had not been accomplished since 1919.  He was supposed to be the ace of the Colorado Rockies in 1995, but struggled (as many pitchers do) in the high Denver altitude.  Bret missed the entire 1996 season due to injury. He returned to the big leagues with the Boston Red Sox in 1997, won Comeback Player of the Year in 1998 and retired for the first time after the 1999 season.  After sitting out the 2000 season, he had a short 3 appearance comeback with the Red Sox in 2001 and then retired permanently with 167 career wins and a very respectable 3.34 ERA.  Bret was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 2005 and thereafter got involved in coaching high school baseball

“I didn’t start a whole lot of Opening Days, but in 1988 against Toronto at home, I gave up three home runs to George Bell.  Actually, he had two off me and he popped one up right in front of the dugout.  I ran over and misjudged it.  It bounced off my glove and on the next pitch he hit his third home run off me.  Another reason why that particular game was memorable for me is because after Opening Day usually is the Final Four championship game and that year it was in Kansas City.  We actually went to watch Danny Manning and the Kansas Jayhawks defeat Oklahoma in what was a great game. So although we did not win, and I didn’t pitch very well, it was a great afternoon to watch the final game of college basketball.  It seemed like on every Opening Day that I started, there was an instrument involved.  In 1990, Sam Horn hit a home run off me on Opening day and another year Albert Belle did”.

Bret’s memory was quite good.  On Opening Day 1990, Sam Horn hit two home runs and knocked in six to lead the Baltimore Orioles over Bret’s Royals 8-7, although not all of that damage was off Bret, and Bret did not get the loss.  Albert Belle’s homer off Bret was the following year, but in that one Bret and his Royals prevailed over the Cleveland Indians 4-2.  He apologized to me for only remembering what he called the bad ones, but I refreshed his memory on the good ones.

See you in two. Richie

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