In 1996, Jones’ sophomore season, baseball expert Peter Gammons declared that Jones was “clearly the foundation of the next generation.” After watching Jones lead the Atlanta Braves to seven consecutive NL East titles, posting four consecutive 100-RBI seasons (only the third third baseman ever to do so), batting less than .300 on only one occasion (1997), and packing a 30-plus home run wallop, an observer would have to conclude that Gammons was right.
With such a high caliber bat, Jones had to find a place in the lineup. In his rookie year he was put at third base, a position he hadn’t played since he was 14. (He had played mostly shortstop in the minors, but Jeff Blauser manned the position for the big-league club.) At the hot corner, Jones’ one major weakness was exposed: hands of stone. In 1997, he committed 28 errors, and in 98 the figure rose to 36. In 2000, Jones’ Achilles heel was revealed on a national stage when errors in Games One and Three of the 2000 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals led directly to runs against the Braves. But showing the kind of humility and team-first attitude that is rare in contemporary baseball, Jones accepted manager Bobby Cox‘ 2001 experiments to put him in left field, where he played errorless ball over eight games.
A powerful influence on the field and in the clubhouse, Jones’ charisma was evident to fans as well, and when he stepped to the plate as a rookie, squeals could often be heard from the upper decks. But that level of attention led to temptations that were difficult for a young ballplayer to resist. Though married when he came up to the majors, the winter of 1999 saw Jones admit to fathering an illegitimate child, leading to his divorce. He married the mother of the child, Sharon Logonov, in a secret ceremony in March 2000. Protesting against parents who claimed he ought to be a role model, Jones proclaimed, “From this day forward, I’m not going to be perfect. And neither is anybody else. Nobody knows what it’s like to be me.”
While Jones continued to be popular in Atlanta, he didn’t stay on top of the heap in all major-league cities. Except for a brief period, when he was eclipsed by uber-villain John Rocker, Jones was the focus of the Braves’ long-standing rivalry with the New York Mets. Year after year, Jones delivered key hits that kept Atlanta firmly in command of the NL East. His average against the hapless Mets was .366, including 20 homers in 268 at-bats. Attempting to irk their long-time nemesis, Mets fans greeted Jones’ at-bats with the chant of “Laaaaaarrr-yyyyyyy.”
Jones’ father was always an important influence on his son’s career. When Chipper was mired in a 4 for 29 slump in May 1998, the elder Larry Jones flew in to help his son review videotape.