Chipper Jones demonstrated his leadership qualities on Tuesday, when he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I think where Jason [Heyward] might have erred was the comment that he made, 'I'm not coming back until it doesn’t hurt anymore.' That has a tendency to rub people the wrong way. What Jason needs to realize is that Jason at 80 percent is a force, and Jason at 80 percent is better than a lot of people in this league.”
Jones has a torn meniscus in his right knee and is not at 100 percent, but he plays anyway. In fact, for a number of years now he's played with injuries and has rarely been at 100 percent. Jones plays because he knows how important he is to Braves' lineup. Even when he’s not hitting, his ability to work counts and his threat at the plate improves Atlanta's chances to score runs and ultimately win games. By doing so, he expects the same from the Braves' younger players. These type of comments from team leaders are usually made behind the scenes in the clubhouse. There are times, however, that it's more effective to make your feelings public and as the team leader, Jones must have felt he needed to set the tone. This was a calculated move by a future Hall of Famer.
The Braves won 14 consecutive division titles, and they did so with rosters of players who always played hurt. I remember as a young general manager when then-Braves GM (now team president) John Schuerholz, one of the greatest GM's of our era, took me aside at one of the Winter Meetings and shared with me his philosophy that games played and games started were an integral component on how he evaluated players. He wanted his starting pitchers to take the ball 32-34 times a year and his position players to play 145-162 games per season. In fact, Schuerholz told me he passed on many free agents and trade opportunities over the years because players didn't have a history of playing hurt and playing every day.
Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux took the ball every fifth day. Their shoulders and elbows might have been killing them on a particular night, but whether it was a cortisone shot, a couple of aspirin or just toughening up, they didn’t miss starts.
Taking the ball every fifth day was partly how the Braves won 14 straight consecutive division titles, because even on their bad nights, pitching at 75 percent meant they were better than most opposing pitchers.
Chipper Jones sent a message to Jason Heyward. And by doing that, he told Heyward that he's better than most players at 80 percent and that the Braves need him in their lineup in order to win. And Jones also told Heyward that he needs to learn to play hurt.
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