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November 2, 2012
What Chipper Jones' Retirement Gifts Were For: A Short Story (Updated)
In 2012, Chipper Jones received an assortment of strange gifts from each opponent he played on his last trip around the league. In 2031, he will finally figure out what to do with them.
"I'm going to save everything, because it means a lot to me that those teams, those towns and those players were moved to honor me in a way they felt was appropriate. It means the world to me that I earned their respect. I'm going to do everything I can to put everything I got from them on display in my house." —Chipper Jones, 9/18/2012
19 years later…
Chipper Jones paced the darkened halls of the Double Dime Ranch, a crumpled newspaper clutched under his arm. Once he’d walked with the swagger of one who knew what it was to be great, but now his steps were hurried, harried. In happier days, the house had burned like a beacon, drawing fans, friends, and former teammates from afar. Now the Double Dime sat nearly deserted, surrounded by 10,000 uncaring acres and illuminated only by the secondhand sunlight from a mostly full moon. It was winter in Texas, clear and cold in the waning days of December, but the chill inside Chipper Jones had nothing to do with the weather. It had to do with the Hall of Fame.
Jones had walked these halls often enough to know to know which way to go without thinking, just as he’d known which pitches to take and which to punish after thousands of trips to the plate. It was a big house, built with the proceeds of an even bigger bat, and Jones could pace for quite a while without repeating his route. But he’d been roaming the ranch for hours, as the shadows grew longer and deepened into dusk, and he was running out of ways to avoid the one remaining room he hadn’t entered on his rounds. It was a room he’d managed to pace past—with an almost imperceptible acceleration as he drew near the door—for nearly five years now. He sensed that he wouldn’t pace past it today. But he couldn’t just stroll straight into it, either, not after all this time. So he walked, and he wondered.
His thoughts took him—as they often did—back to 2012, his last active season. That year, he was bigger than the Braves. Almost bigger than baseball. Wherever he played, he was greeted by a grateful crowd. Every clap, every cheer, every tip of the cap told him he was a can’t-miss candidate. That he’d be in on the first ballot. That he should prepare to take his bows.
It hadn’t worked out that way.
When his first year of eligibility went by without a call from Cooperstown, Jones didn’t despair. The writers worked in mysterious ways, and they had made many great players wait. Sometimes it was a power trip, the reporters’ revenge on players who had treated them poorly. Sometimes the writers were just reading the wrong statistics. But however long they had to wait, the truly great ones—and sometimes even the pretty good ones—got in. Jones would wait, too, and eventually he’d join them.
Then something unsettling happened: he didn’t get in the second time, either. Or the third, or the fourth. Fine, he thought. It took five years for Eddie Mathews. But the fifth ballot wasn’t the charm for Chipper, and the next nine weren’t much better. He’d been up for induction for 14 straight years, and for 14 straight years had failed to garner the necessary 75 percent support. With only one year of eligibility left, he was facing a future of being forgotten. And like many before him who’d been pushed to the brink, he was about to do something desperate.
As always, he regretted flashing back to 2012. The memories were comforting, at first, but they always led to later ones, and the later ones only led to further frustration. But his brooding had accomplished one thing: he’d arrived at the room almost without realizing how close he had come. Before him stood a thick wooden door. The shadows here were thicker than they had been in any other part of the house. Above his head, mounted deer stared uncomprehendingly at each other across the hall.
The door didn’t look any different from the ones in the rest of the ranch, the ones he hadn’t developed an aversion to opening. What made this door different was what lay behind it: the assembled spoils of a 19-year career. Inside were his World Series ring, and his MVP award, and his two Silver Sluggers, and the silver bat they gave him when he won the batting title in 2008. But as many awards as he’d won, his trophy collection couldn’t compare to the real reason for the room’s existence, and for his reluctance to enter it: the parting gifts he’d been given by baseball teams as he completed his last lap around the league.
Not just a few gifts, and not just from the Braves. Shelves and cases and display stands stuffed with gleaming, glistening tokens of each team’s appreciation. They were the offerings of every opponent he’d played on his farewell tour, dispensed in special ceremonies like tributes to a visiting king. No incense, frankincense, or myrrh. Much better: bad paintings, and bases, and bratwurst. He could barely bring himself to gaze upon them again.
Before his first ballot, the gifts had been a great conversation starter.
“Why do you have a surfboard with your name on it?” people would ask. “You don’t surf, and we’re 200 miles from the ocean.”
“It was a gift from the Padres,” he would say.
“But why would they give you a surfboard?”
“People surf in San Diego,” he would explain, as if that settled it. It didn’t matter to him why each team had given him the gift, or gifts, that it had. He knew there was a method to the gift-giving, some plan or purpose that would become clear at the appropriate time.
With one fruitless ballot behind him, the gifts were still a source of pride. After he and his guests had brought down a 10-point buck and made a meal of fresh, buckshot-riddled venison, he’d give them a tour of the gift room. “The voters must not like me as much as everyone else,” he’d say, grinning ruefully, and his guests would gather round and tell him he’d get in next year. “Hell, you can’t have a Hall without Chipper,” he’d agree. “They’ll come around.”
With each passing ballot, the next snub seemed more inevitable. Every January, a day or two before the results were due to be released, a pack of reporters would descend on the Double Dime, landing on the ranch’s 5,000-foot airstrip and filing into the house to watch him while he waited for a call that never came. While they waited, Jones would lead them around the gift room, knowing they couldn’t resist writing about the player who had everything except a call from the Hall. “There’s only one more gift I want,” he’d say with a wistful look, referring to the Hall of Fame plaque that didn’t hang in Cooperstown. He posed for pictures. They ate it up and reprocessed it into cookie-cutter columns. His vote count climbed, but slowly—too slowly.
Before long, the bloggers weighed in, inexplicably almost as upset about the wait as he was. Every winter, they reminded the writers how high his WARP was, occasionally losing their cool. Jones ignored them—he didn’t need the nerds’ help. Then he heard from Bert Blyleven—inducted-on-his-second-to-last-ballot Bert Blyleven—who told him that the bloggers might be his best chance. After that, he befriended them, bonded with them, and refrained from belittling their lives. It hadn't been enough.
His hairline receded, his waistline expanded, and candidates came and went. Still he remained on the ballot, waiting for his time to come. Then he’d seen today’s paper, and his path had become clear. The time to wait was over. The time to take control of his fate had arrived.
The door was locked, and he hadn’t seen the other side of it since he’d heard about the 10th ballot, the one where Ryan Braun and CC Sabathia got in on their first tries while he was passed over yet again. Suddenly the gifts had seemed to be mocking him, and he’d slammed the door and turned the key, vowing not to return until he could come back in triumph, another honor in tow. After that, if anyone asked why he hadn’t been to his trophy room, he deflected the question, joking about not needing a surfboard lately, or not knowing what to do with all the other gifts. But he knew what to do with them now.
He turned the lock, then the knob, and walked in. In the gloom, everything looked the same as he’d left it. He took a few tentative steps and banged his shin against the pool table the Braves had given him before his final home series. Maybe it was time to turn on a light.
He fumbled for the switch and flipped it, and suddenly he could see the rest of the room. Hanging on the hatrack by the door, his trusty Stetson hat—a gift from the Astros. He hadn’t worn it since Craig Biggio had presented it to him at Minute Maid Park and he’d put it on to be polite. In the corner was the Weber gas grill given to him by the Brewers. When he’d put it there, people had tried to tell him it would make more sense outside, where he could use it to cook the year’s supply of Klement’s sausages that came with it. As if he would just eat the sausages. Sure, he enjoyed a good brat as much as the next guy, but these sausages were special. They deserved to be displayed. He’d elected to receive them in a lump sausage sum, rather than space them out in installments, and he’d had a custom freezer commissioned for the occasion. It sat beside the grill, thrumming with power.
Surrounded by the odd assortment of gifts, Jones sensed some of his old self-assurance return. He felt reinvigorated; he’d been away from his trophies too long. Movingly quickly, he leaned over the pool table and, against the green felt, smoothed out crumbled newspaper paper he’d unconsciously carried into the room. Three faces stared up at him, their expressions ranging from smug to merely self-satisfied. These were the men responsible for his exile, the long-time voters and press-box bullies who had consistently left him off their ballots and persuaded some of their colleagues to do the same. Each winter, when they wrote about their ballots to fill their column quota, they would reiterate their objections about Jones. This year, with his final year of eligibility dominating the Hall of Fame discussion, one paper had brought the three of them together for a front-page feature, giving Jones a good look at the forces arrayed against him.
On the left was Mr. Milestone. He was tall and almost extravagantly gaunt, his features sharply defined. For Mr. Milestone, the lines separating those who belonged in Cooperstown from those who didn’t were sharply drawn, and the only defense against chaos. He was ruthless in his devotion to round numbers. If Roberto Clemente had died on a humanitarian mission with one fewer hit, Mr. Milestone would have left him off his ballot. True Hall of Famers, he would have said, don’t die with 2,999 hits.
In the center stood Mr. Small Hall. His head hardly came up to Mr. Milestone’s chin; the two of them barely fit in the same frame. For Mr. Small Hall, the inner circle was the only circle that mattered. If your name wasn’t known in every household, it wasn’t worth much in his. Year after year, his ballots were blank.
On the right stood Mr. Hate Corner, Jones’ final foe. His was the most forgettable face of the three, so nondescript that if asked to describe the photo from memory, most observers would swear it had contained only two figures. If it were up to Mr. Hate Corner, it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a third baseman to enter the kingdom of Cooperstown. When Jones retired, only 11 third basemen had been in the Hall, fewer players than at any other position. Mr. Hate Corner was determined to keep it that way. As far as he was concerned, Mike Schmidt was a maybe. He was still upset about Ron Santo.
All three were ancient, relics of an earlier era. They wouldn’t last much longer, but they had made opposing him their mission, and they would last long enough to see it through. Jones thought longingly of the bow he’d used to take down a big buck on season one of Major League Bowhunter. Baseball writers weren’t really the most dangerous game—they tended to be slow and out of condition, and they attacked with words and single-sentence paragraphs, not with teeth and claws. But these three still posed a threat to him, and he’d be lying if he said the thought of simply removing them from the denominator hadn’t crossed his mind. He was out to win hearts and minds, though, not to destroy them. Stocking his ranch with baseball writers whom he could hunt at his leisure might bring some satisfaction in the short term, but ultimately it would only make him more enemies.
The course was clear. He couldn’t remove the three ringleaders, but he could pay them personal visits. And he wouldn’t leave until he had their votes.
The ballots were due on December 31st, just three days away. He’d have to visit each of his adversaries before then. The problem was that one couldn’t easily arrange an audience with Mr. Milestone, Mr. Small Hall, or Mr. Hate Corner. They hadn’t sat at a sports desk for years. They weren’t on what he called “the twitta,” and his emails went straight to their spam folders. They had no qualms about passing judgment on him in print, but they wouldn’t want to set up a meeting. His only hope was to show up unannounced.
To do that, he’d need to draw upon every gift he’d been given, defrost every sausage. When he looked around the room, he saw each gift, for the first time, as a piece of a puzzle he could finally put together. Every team who’d hosted him in 2012 had made this moment possible. Except the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, and Rays, who’d given him career highlights videos on their scoreboards. Those weren’t going to be any help at all.
Jones walked over to his old locker from the Turner Field clubhouse. The Braves had had it shipped here after his retirement, and he’d had it converted into a wine cooler. He uncorked a bottle of vintage ’06 Chipper Chardonnay, the wine he’d had made for charity and had been saving for a special occasion. He poured himself a glass, took a sip, and savored the hint of apple blossom. If the next few days went the way he hoped they would, he’d soon be savoring something much sweeter.
Day One: Mr. Milestone
Chipper Jones lay on his stomach, his body suspended on his surfboard, his arms and legs dangling in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. He took a bite of Klement’s sausage.
He was wearing his old uniform. It was tighter than it used to be, but it still fit. It was also very wet, but it was worth it. It made him feel 40 again, like he was once again living life day to day.
Back then, along with the pool table and his clubhouse locker, the Braves had given him a trip to Hawaii.
“But what if I want to go somewhere else?” Chipper had asked. “Can’t you just give me a travel voucher?”
“The tickets are non-refundable,” a red-faced Frank Wren had responded. “We really thought you would want to go to Hawaii.”
He hadn’t wanted to go to Hawaii, but he’d held on to the tickets. They didn’t expire, and he’d always had the vague idea that he might want to use them, maybe to celebrate his induction someday. “Ha!”, he thought, so bitterly that by accident he also said it out loud. He looked around to see if anyone had noticed. No one had, because no one else was paddling around the Pacific on a surfboard that said “San Diego Padres.”
He could see the outline of a boat ahead of him, the only one in the secluded bay. If the coordinates he’d been given were correct, he was looking at Mr. Milestone’s current location. He activated the LCD light on his hat. The hat had been a gift from the Marlins, who probably thought he would use it to fish at dawn or dusk. He hadn’t, but it was coming in handy now. Its beam lit up the back of the boat just enough for Jones to read the stylized lettering: The Yachtstrzemski. This was it.
The boat traveled in a predictable pattern. Each winter, when the baseball season ended, Mr. Milestone would board it and spend the winter circumnavigating the globe, sticking to sunny climates. Every day, he would travel a predetermined distance, always in the same sequence: 500 miles, or 300, or 61, or 56. He never deviated from the schedule. It was tradition, and tradition had to be upheld. If you knew where he was on a certain date one year, you knew where he’d be on that same date the next. And if you knew someone who had a copy of his itinerary—a former crew member who described himself as the world’s biggest Braves fan, say—it was easy to intercept him.
Jones paddled toward the boat. He knew Mr. Milestone liked to spend his evenings on deck, smoking cigars and reading selections from Total Baseball. By now, he’d be lost in the black ink, oblivious to everything around him. Jones patted the pockets of the fly-fishing vest he’d put on over his jersey. Like the hat, it was a gift from the Marlins, as were the hook he pulled out of one pocket (from the tackle box he’d left in Texas), the pliers he pulled out of another (from a full fly-tying kit), and the fishing rod and reel he’d secured to the surfboard. The Marlins had been dead set on his spending his retirement making fish miserable.
Squatting on his heels, Jones picked up the rod and tied the hook to the line. He was about to go fishing, but not for the typical target. The surfboard drifted until it was even with The Yachtstrzemski and he could just see the bony outline of Mr. Milestone. On the flight from Texas, he’d finally read the books on fly-fishing that the Marlins had thrown in with the rest of his swag. His mechanics were sound, his aim unerring. He snagged Total Baseball on his first cast and sent it tumbling into the sea.
That got Mr. Milestone’s attention. He leapt up and leaned over the rail, looking for the lost book and his unseen assailant. That’s when Jones appeared behind him.
“Care for a Klement’s sausage?” he drawled. “I have a year’s supply.”
Mr. Milestone froze. “You,” he said, not turning around.
“Me,” Jones agreed.
“What have you come for?”
“To change your mind.”
Mr. Milestone turned.
“You retired with 468 homers,” he spat. “You had 2726 hits. No player has ever retired so close to 500 and 3,000.” His upper lip lifted slightly to expose his incisors. “You made a mockery of the milestones.”
“I was old.”
“You were 40!” Mr. Milestone retorted. His fingers clenched into firsts. “You want to be a Hall of Famer? You don’t quit until they kick you out of the game. You fall down in the outfield. You put yourself in the lineup long after it stops making sense. Like Willie Mays did. Like Pete Rose did. You limp along like a dog that’s due to be put down, but no one has the heart to do it. So you hang on long enough to crawl across the finish line. Then you get my vote.”
Jones chuckled. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m not in the 500 yicketty club. Not in the 3000 hit club, either.”
Mr. Milestone looked triumphant.
“Mine are much more exclusive.”
Milestone scoffed. “You’re wasting my time,” he said. “You won’t be on my ballot. You made a mistake coming here.”
“Let me tell you about the little club I am in,” Jones continued, as if he hadn’t heard. He pulled out a 19-year-old printout of an mlb.com article. The section he cared about was just four paragraphs long. “Chipper joins Ruth, Gehrig in elite club,” the title read.
“Try this on for size. Only three players in history have had 2500 hits, 1500 walks, 1500 runs, 500 doubles, 450 home runs, 1500 RBIs with a .300 career average, .400 on-base percentage, and .500 slugging percentage. I’m one of them.”
Mr. Milestone blanched. He fell back into his seat, his mouth agape. “So…many…milestones,” he wheezed, his face a mix of rapture and disgust.
“I’m glad you agree,” Jones said cheerily. “I’ll count on your support on the 31st. And now I have other voters to visit.”
He turned to go, then paused and looked back. Milestone’s eyes were wild.
“Before I forget…” he reached into his waterproof tote bag, another offering from Miami. “Here, have a painting,” he said, pulling out the portrait of himself in mid-swing he’d been given by the Phillies. “Something to remember me by.”
He left it leaning against Mr. Milestone’s chair and returned to his surfboard.
Day Two: Mr. Small Hall
Mr. Small Hall was the easiest to find. He lived in a nondescript house in a nondescript town not far from the Double Dime. Jones drove there in a black Stealth Edge electric utility vehicle, a gift from Mizuno, his equipment brand of choice. The front of the vehicle proudly displayed Jones' custom retirement logo. When your retirement has its own logo, you know you've had a special career.
Mr. Small Hall didn’t have to hide. Finding his house wasn’t the hard part. The true test was getting inside.
Jones stopped the cart in front with a soft electric whine and grabbed his gear from the back. The only sign that a house stood here was the fence that blocked it from sight. Jones had prepared for this. He picked out a pool cue from the set that had come with the retirement table and marked out an appropriate distance from the fence. He had sharpened and hardened its tip with the Weber grill so it would work as a weapon, but now it would serve to propel him over Mr. Small Hall’s fence. Jones strapped the other gifts to his back, got a running start, planted the pool cue in the dirt and pushed. He landed hard on the other side.
Jones made a move to rise and felt a twinge of pain in his shoulder. It was the sort of injury he would have told Jason Heyward to play through, and he hated to be hypocritical, so he pressed on. He could see Small Hall’s house ahead of him, but between him and the house lay a deep depression in the earth. A narrow platform led across it, not much thicker than two side-by-side baseball bats. He could fit no more than one foot on it at a time, and his heavy pack and throbbing shoulder would make the crossing even more difficult. Getting over the fence had hurt him. Falling into the hole would finish the job.
Waiting wouldn’t help. Jones breathed deep and took one tentative step onto the platform. Then two, then three. He began to believe he could make it. And that’s when the left knee that had required three surgeries during his playing days buckled, upsetting his balance. He barely managed to break his fall with one hand, with which he clung to the platform.
Jones dangled over the ditch. He could feel his grip loosening.
Then he felt another hand come to rest on top of his. He looked up, but the sun was directly above him, obscuring his view. He couldn’t make out its owner’s features. All he could see was a silhouette.
“Oh, shit. My back,” the silhouette said.
That meant Jones’ mysterious savor could be only one man.
Scott Rolen was splayed over the gap, his feet on the edge of the earth and one hand on the platform. With his one free hand, he grabbed Jones’ arm and hauled him back on to the platform. Then he collapsed on solid ground, wincing.
“Thank you,” Jones said, panting. “You saved my life.”
“Yeah, sure. Rolen to the rescue. What do I look like? Your sidekick?” the prostrate Rolen snarled. A pained expression flickered across his face. The pain was only partly physical. “I’m not in this for you. I have my own interests to protect.”
“I’m glad you have them, whatever they are,” Jones answered. He considered stopped there, not wanting to pry, but he felt the need to know more. “By the way, what are they?”
“'You can’t put him in until you put Jones in,’" Rolen mimicked. “That's what they say about me. Do you know how many times I’ve heard that? Well, I’m sick and tired of waiting for them to put your ass in. If you don’t get inducted now, we’ll both be doomed.”
“How long have you been following me?”
“Fourteen years,” Rolen said. “For 14 years, I have followed you and protected you from harm.”
“Well, that’s… weird,” Jones said. “I’m not sure you needed to do that.”
Rolen said nothing.
“Well, you’re here now,” Jones said. “Why not come with me? We’ll get in together.” He extended his hand.
Rolen made no move to take it. “I can’t move,” he said. Jones could tell he wasn’t kidding. “Go on without me.”
Jones stood, balancing carefully. “I’m grateful for your help,” he said.
“If you want to show your gratitude, get into the goddamn Hall,” Rolen said.
Jones continued on more carefully, reaching the other side without a backward look at the fallen third baseman. He paused for a moment to gather what remained of his strength, then found a path and followed it through the yard that led toward the front of the house. But where there should have been a door, there was instead unbroken wall. As he felt for a hidden switch or seam, a screen flickered to life. Somewhere above it, a camera focused on him, transmitting his image to the screen.
“State your name,” said a flat, digitized voice.
“Chipper Jones,” he said. The system emitted an electronic beep of dismissal. He tried again. “Larry Jones.” Same sound. The system wasn’t set up to admit him. He’d have to improvise.
Jones removed the “1” and “0” from the Fenway scoreboard that the Red Sox had given him to honor his number. They had come joined together, but he’d hacked them apart. Now he held them up to the camera, raising and lowering the numbers in a blindingly fast sequence. “Chipper” and “Larry” the machine might not understand, but he would be willing to bet it spoke binary, one of the unlikely skills he’d picked up in almost two decades away from the game. After several minutes of signaling, he convinced the door he was expected. It sounded a soft chime and drew apart to reveal a narrow opening—so narrow, and with a ceiling so low, that again he despaired of getting any further.
Jones had been far from slim at the end of his playing days, and he was heavier now. He sucked in his gut, crouched, and tried to squeeze in sideways, but he got only a few feet before he had to exhale, nearly got stuck, and was forced to scramble back to safety. He decided to scout ahead.
Jones whipped his crossbow off his back and peered into the attached camera he’d gotten as a gift from the Rockies. Through the scope, he could see a light at the other end of the passage. He could reach it, but he’d need some assistance.
One more time, he reached into his pack, deep down into the inner pocket where he kept his portable sausage supply. His hand came back out with a fistful of grease. He slathered it once, twice, three times over his uniform, then squeezed back into the entrance. This time, he slid straight through. Mr. Small Hall was waiting on the other side.
“So you made it into the inner circle,” he said.
“Looks that way,” said Chipper.
“You don’t deserve to be here. You cheated.”
“My conscience is clearer than most of your Small-Hall heroes. Look, let’s skip the argument.” Jones reached into the tote bag and brought out a jersey signed by Stan Musial. It was a gift from the Cardinals. He held it low enough for Small Hall to see it.
“Musial,” Mr. Small Hall breathed.
“That’s the one. We good?”
“He is…inner circle. He signed this…for you?”
“Didn’t even have to ask.”
Small Hall sat down, defeated.
“That’s settled, then,” said Chipper. "I’ll look for my name on your ballot.” He started to walk away, adding, “And I’ll thank you to tone down your defenses on the way out. I’m too old to be pool vaulting.”
He paused and looked back. “Oh, and here, have a photo. Something to jog your memory when it comes time to turn in that ballot. And to remind you about Musual.” He untied the tote bag and removed a picture of himself swinging at Busch Stadium, another gift from St. Louis. Then he walked out through the already widening passage.
Day Three: Mr. Hate Corner
Chipper Jones pulled the brim of his Stetson low over his eyes. Milestone and Small Hall had spread the word, and now Hate Corner knew he was coming. He’d hired two guards—not three, Hate Corner did nothing in threes—to patrol his property, a plot of land in a busy northeast suburb. Jones had to take them out of the picture before he could confront his final foe.
He was counting on the hat to get him close enough to take action. So far, it was working. He was in front of the first guard before the guard knew what was happening. Jones tipped his cap and saw recognition dawn in the henchman’s eyes. The guard made a move, but Jones had seen it coming. He gave the guy a good look at the bat he’d been holding behind his back. It was the bat he’d used to hit the first home run at Nationals Park, a retirement gift from the Nats.
“Might want to think before you act, there, buddy. I hit a few mammos with this one. I wouldn’t mind hitting one more.”
The guard froze.
“That’s better. Let’s make sure you stay that way.” Jones reached into the tote bag and unfurled the Braves flag that used to fly above Wrigley. It was a gift from the Cubs. He wrapped it around the guard, trussed him tight, and left him stashed behind a bush.
The other henchman didn’t present a problem, either. Again, Jones relied on the giant hat from the Astros to get him close, but this time when he got the guard’s attention, he tried the peaceful approach.
“Here, take a look at this,” he said, and thrust the 3-D pop art painting of his career highlights at Shea Stadium in front of his face. That one was a gift from the Mets. It was impossible to look away from the painting until you’d devoured every last detail. Jones knew from experience that he’d bought himself at least half an hour. He let the guard distractedly take hold of the painting himself, and he headed for the house.
With two guards paid to keep an eye on him, Mr. Hate Corner had let his own guard down. He was sitting in the den, watching Three’s Company. As usual, things weren’t working out in Apartment 201. Why would they? Three roommates was just as bad as three bases.
Hate Corner had left the remote by the entrance to the room. Jones picked it up and turned off the TV. Hate Corner saw him, and fear flashed in his eyes, but he kept his composure. “Don’t bother,” he said.
“Don’t bother to do what? Try to convince you that there aren’t enough third baseman in Cooperstown?”
“You catch on quickly,” said Hate Corner with false bravado.
Jones decided to indulge him. “What’s so bad about third baseman, anyway?”
“They play a corner position, but they don’t hit like they do. They’re tweeners. I can’t classify them. They’re a threat to the traditional definitions of offense and defense.”
“Ever considered that it might not be fair to expect third basemen to hit like first basemen and corner outfielders? It’s a harder position.”
“‘Hot corner’ has the word ‘corner’ in it. Don’t try to complicate things.”
“I played left field for a couple seasons. I hit like a first baseman. That ease your mind any?”
Hate Corner snorted. “I know what you are, and I know what base you played.”
“Like this one?” Jones reached into his pack and pulled out the framed third-base bag he’d been given by the Yankees.
Hate Corner recoiled. “Keep that thing away from me,” he demanded.
“Don’t worry, it’s under glass. Won’t bite. This one, though…” This time he pulled out the third-base bag the Reds had given him.
“Stop,” said Hate Corner.
“Or maybe you meant…?” Another base, this one from Pittsburgh.
This time Hate Corner managed only a strangled cry.
“It sounded like you said you wanted to see…” He retrieved a fourth third-base bag, courtesy of the Nationals.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!” Hate Corner screamed.
“Your vote,” said Jones.
Hate Corner hesitated.
“Or maybe you need to see one more…?” He revealed his fifth and final third-base bag, this one from the Braves. Now he was out of commemorative third bases, but he started to pull out the plaque shaped like home plate and made out of Turner Field bricks that the Braves had given him. On one side, it was shaped just like a third-base bag would be.
That was when Hate Corner cracked. “FINE! Fine! Just put it away. Please, just put it away.”
“Glad we could come to an agreement,” Chipper said. “I’ll take these with me, but I can come back. You don’t want that to happen. And here, have a photo,” he said for the second time in two days, as he pulled out a framed gift from the Nationals. “This is me with Adam LaRoche and Mark DeRosa.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Hate Corner asked, exasperated.
“I just like looking at it,” he said. “Good times.”
The reporters were back, in greater numbers than ever. They gathered around him in his trophy room, ready to relay the news.
The phone rang. The reporters went still. Jones flashed them a confident look and picked up.
“Hello? Yes, this is Chipper.”
He smiled and celebrated with a sausage.