Combining awesome power with blazing speed and a cannon arm, Jones invoked comparisons to multitalented center fielders from baseball’s past like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Born in the tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, he leapt from Single-A Macon all the way up to the Atlanta Braves during the 1996 season, and knocked Mantle’s name out of the record books that October. At the tender age of 19 years and five months, Jones blasted round-trippers in his first two at-bats during Game One of the 1996 World Series, besting Mantle (who was two weeks shy of 21 when he went deep in the 1952 World Series) to become the youngest player ever to homer in the Fall Classic. He also became just the second player, after Oakland’s Gene Tenace, to homer in his first two Series at-bats.
Jones hit a disappointing .231 when the Braves gave him a starting job in 1997, but did clout 18 home runs and steal 20 bases. He raised his average into the .270s with increased power numbers the next two years, but came into his own during his All-Star 2000 season, when he set career highs with a .303 batting average, 36 home runs, 104 RBIs and 122 runs scored. Jones also won his third consecutive Gold Glove that season for his brilliant outfield play. In 2001, a prolonged mid-season slump dragged his season average down to .251, but the streaky free-swinger still launched 34 round-trippers and matched his 2000 RBI total.