Among the reasons Chipper Jones became a first-ballot Hall of Famer on Wednesday was what he did against the Mets — especially in Queens.
“I really enjoyed playing on that stage,” Jones said of his days battering the Mets while he starred with Atlanta. “My dad always said when I was a little kid: ‘If you can be successful on that stage, you can be successful anywhere.’ Once you go up there and do something special on that big a stage, you do have the confidence to be able to go elsewhere and do the same thing.”
And there was no place outside of Atlanta that Jones did more damage than Shea Stadium. He hit 19 homers at Shea — six more than he did at any other visiting park — and three more at Citi Field. And there was no team Jones hit more home runs against than the Mets, going deep 49 times in his career.
“I think the New York Mets was the closest thing to a rivalry I had when I was here,’’ Jones said during a conference call following the announcement that he was ticketed for Cooperstown this summer. “Both teams were pretty evenly matched in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
There was no love lost between the coaches; there was no love lost between the players and certainly not the fan bases. I have never had so much fun playing [the] game of baseball as I did against that team, against that organization and in that city.”
His numbers helped make Jones one of the most polarizing figures in New York, but there was no question he was heading to the Hall of Fame on the first try. Jones was named on 97.2 percent of ballots cast, easily surpassing the 75 percent needed for induction.
In July, Jones will become the latest member of the Braves’ team that tormented the Mets for much of the 1990s to be enshrined, but after facing each other so often for nearly two decades — and naming a son after Shea Stadium — Jones managed to win over at least some Mets’ fans.
“I know early in my career, it was probably more of a hate-hate relationship between the two sides, but ultimately before the end of my career, I really enjoyed my time going to New York and playing in front of that fan base,” Jones said. “It took some growing up on my part, learning how to handle it up there in New York, but once I did that and went through the fundamental change I was trying to make, we started getting along. I started wandering out of my hotel room and walking down the street, interacting with fans of both fan bases.”
The first overall pick by Atlanta in 1990, he was an eight-time All-Star, as well as the NL MVP in 1999. The Braves won the World Series in 1995, Jones’ rookie season. He retired with 2,726 hits and joins a Hall of Fame class that includes Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman.
“This is a day that’s gonna change my life forever,” Jones said.