March 30th, 2013

Justin Verlander and the Chipper effect

For a player from a generation that gets criticized sometimes for not appreciating the history of the game, Justin Verlander gets it. He was influenced watching big-time pitchers growing up, such as Nolan Ryan, and he grew up watching a Braves team full of stars on TBS.

As great as Nolan Ryan was as a pitcher, though, he did it in different uniforms. Everyone remembers him as a Texas Ranger these days, but he was also a Houston Astro, and a California Angel before that, and a New York Met before that. Chipper Jones was, and will be, an Atlanta Brave for life.

And when I first asked Verlander about his contract situation back in January, Chipper was the name he brought up.

“I’ve made this point before, that the ultimate goal for me is the Hall of Fame, and I would like nothing better than to go into the Hall of Fame with the Old English D on my chest,” Verlander said on the Winter Caravan. “That doesn’t happen too often nowadays, for somebody to play with a team through their whole career. You see Chipper Jones, what he did, that’s something special.”

It wasn’t just that Chipper Jones had a Hall of Fame career. It’s that he did with it one team. So when Verlander was taking questions about his new contract Friday, I reminded him of it. I asked him if the fanfare Chipper received on his way out last season stood out to him. He said it wasn’t that. It was the way Braves fans thought of him.

“I didn’t really think about the fanfare that he got, more the admiration for him and that organization,” Verlander said. “He played his Hall of Fame career for one team and there’s no question he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame in an Atlanta Braves hat. I think that’s something special, and you don’t see that too often in today’s game anymore. I think the fans of that city really appreciate that.”

The Tigers have been blessed to have a handful of great players of their time — some who are in the Hall of Fame, others who should be — who spent their entire career in Detroit. Alan Trammell was Verlander’s first manager, albeit for two spot starts in the summer of 2005. Al Kaline is the face of the franchise to many. Lou Whitaker was an instructor in Spring Training for a few years and was around the ballpark some this spring. Chipper Jones is the equivalent for the generation that grew up watching Braves games on TBS.