Turns out somebody who'll be working at Shea tonight has a healthy respect for the place. Too bad it's Chipper Jones.
Ray Glier has a terrific article in the Times this morning catching up with our old pal Larry Wayne. As you know, Mr. Jones and we have an enduring and somewhat sordid history together. Chipper sheds some light on the root cause of an unfriendliness that transcends boxscores.
You might remember the tipping point for why Larry became the most public of Shea enemies. It was at the end of a searing series between us and the Braves, a bitter eleven-inning loss that appeared to have knocked us out of the playoff picture for 1999. At the finale's conclusion, legend has it, Jones was being harassed by a field box fan that come World Series time, New York's other team was going to do in Atlanta and how. Chipper's infamous response was, “Now all the Mets can go home and put their Yankees stuff on.”
The nerve! We already didn't like him for his Braveness and his success. But that tore it. John Rocker would be a passing fancy. Hating Chipper Jones would be forever.
But The Chip adds a wrinkle I either missed or he's making up. I can't quite believe I would have missed it because I was pretty well on top of that 1999 limp to glory, but maybe I did. Or maybe Chipper's burnishing the legend to make himself a little less loathsome in a deathbed bid to get Shea on his side before there's no more Shea to take sides. Jones tells Glier that the field box fan who heckled him was wearing “a split jersey, half Yankees, half Mets, and a split hat, half Yankees, half Mets”.
He was? There are such garments? In New York? People wear them? And they are allowed into Shea Stadium?
That in itself is more detestable than anything Chipper has said or done at Shea, and he's committed plenty of war crimes against Met pitching since 1995. One cringes to imagine that such a prime spectating spot would be taken up by a human being dismal enough to sport a New York-New York jersey divided against itself.
Let's assume Chipper's baseball hermaphrodite existed. Let's assume this Big Foot of the box seats really roamed the orange aisles of Shea and there truly was such a creature who uttered those ugly sentiments of surrender to Mr. Jones while we were only two out of the Wild Card with three to play. Even with the heat of battle still rising from his neck, what the fudge was Chipper thinking to lump all New Yorkers together like that? He'd been around long enough to know Mets fans were Mets fans and the other thing was the other thing. He'd been in a World Series over there and had just played for his life over here. Come on!
Today's Larry Jones is contrite, almost, sort of, just a little. “I was like, ‘Come on bro, pick a side,'” he explains to Glier in 2008. “I was a punk kid, I didn’t know better. That’s when I said it.”
Well sir, we are a sensitive people and we took it to heart. In 1999, it was no simple task to be a Mets fan in New York. Thus, if you wanted to fire up the base, you did it. We didn't like lots of Braves then or in the years that followed, but we really hated you. You killed us with your bat, but it was your mouth that made you transcendent. Why do you think nobody ever got worked up when Brian Jordan showed his face — and that guy destroyed our postseason dreams in September 2001.
But y'know what? There's something about Larry. Maybe it's just his longevity; or it's the sentimentality whirling in the air with only 22 home games left; or it's that Chipper Jones really does seem to have a thing for the ballpark for which his son is named beyond his lifetime .310 batting average there. Jones, now able to tell New Yorkers apart (at least by cap design), swears he received good wishes during the All-Star Break from all stripe of Gothamite on his abbreviated quest for .400. The feeling, after fourteen seasons, is suddenly mutual.
Sure, he tells Glier, he likes Shea Stadium because he sees the ball and hits the ball so well, but “having to deal with the Mets year in and year out, all those games that were so important, the history of the love-hate relationship, the passion of their fans, it makes it special to go there.”
Obviously nobody is left on the Mets from those Mets who battled those Braves so fiercely when we were learning Chipper's real first name. Nobody's left, that is, but us, his Greek chorus. The only '99 Braves who remain in that uniform this week (accounting for injuries to Smoltz and whathisname) are Bobby Cox and Chipper Jones. Cox is simply a bore. Jones…I dunno. There comes a time when you almost, sort of, just a little begin to feel something that isn't total, complete and burning animus for a player you've always loved to hate.
I won't feel this way for Pat Burrell when he grows grizzled, believe you me. I'd tell you what I dream of for Yadier Molina down the road except it would incriminate me in a court of law. But Chipper Jones, father of Shea Jones, constant tourist aware enough of his surroundings at his surroundings' end to admit that he wants a piece of his veritable home away from home, that he and his kid will be taking pictures together on his final trip in next month? Him I can respect.
While booing the crap out of him tonight per usual.