COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - If there are five pillars to the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s, the best era in franchise history, there’s little doubt of what would make the group up.
So it was fitting in multiple ways on Sunday afternoon in this tiny village in the New York countryside as Jones joined the aforementioned group of Braves legends as part of the 2018 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame with a multitude of Braves fans witnessing the latest notch in the legacy of the best era in Braves history.
“As a player, traveling and being away from our family and friends is the hardest thing we do. In St. Louis, Colorado or here in New York, when I stepped out of the dugout for batting practice and seeing Braves fans up and down the line, sometimes 10-deep, you made us feel like we never left home,” Jones said. “You believed in me since I was an 18 year old and were there during my swan song in 2012. You cheered me on during the career highs and stuck by me during life’s lows. I will never forget that. You are the reason I never wanted to play anywhere else. I could not be prouder to go in the hall with an Atlanta ‘A’ on my cap.”
For Jones, his induction speech was a stroll down memory lane, reflecting on the settings and people that helped put him on a path toward Cooperstown.
It was a road that began in rural Florida.
“I was from a little town called Pierson, Fla. The self-proclaimed heartburn capital of the world. How do I, of all people end up on this stage, with all my heroes, the best players in baseball history?” Jones said. “For me, it came down to focusing on a goal, never losing sight of that goal and being surrounded by people who believed in me.”
And not lost on Jones was a pivotal moment in his career, during offseason following a tough season of rookie ball. Enter Willie Stargell, then a roving instructor with the Braves organization. Stargell took notice of the small size of bat of which Jones was using.
“He said to me, ‘son, I pick my teeth with bigger pieces of wood than this. He also suggested that I swing the biggest bat I could against 90 mph, start letting the pitcher supply the power,” Jones recalled. “He looked me straight in the eye and told me that he would have me hitting 30 homers in no time. I thought he was crazy, but I’ll be (darned) if he wasn’t right. I swung that heavy bat until the day that I retired.”
Of course, few impacted Jones in Atlanta more than the man that played a key role in drafting Jones, not to mention managing him. Bobby Cox.
“One man never stop believing in me, never. That man, Bobby Cox. Bobby, you believed in me before I truly believed I belonged in the big leagues,” Jones said. “And on opening day in 1995, you put me in three hole in front of Fred McGriff and David Justice. You let those two guys make pitchers give me a lot of fast balls, and it worked.”
Now, Jones joins Cox, Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz in baseball’s most rarified place.
“It was a pleasure to play in front of you, and it’s an honor to join you and Bobby Cox in the Hall of Fame.