Originally created 08/18/00

Jones signs record extension



ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones wore the wide smile of a lottery winner, which, in effect, he was Thursday.

Jones, the Atlanta Braves third baseman and reigning National League MVP, agreed to a six-year, $90 million contract extension, a deal that includes an $8 million signing bonus and two option years at $15 million each.

And, to think that Ted Turner bought the Braves in 1975 for $10 million.

"This kind of money is really unheard of," said Jones, who spoke at an evening press conference at Turner Field. "It's almost embarrassing to talk about because it's not where I came from. I came from middle class; we had to work hard for what we got, and to have this given to me is a little overwhelming. It's obviously more money than I can spend in a lifetime."

The contract, the richest and longest in club history, goes a long way toward keeping Jones in a Braves uniform for the duration of his career. The option years automatically will vest if he has 450 plate appearances or makes the All-Star team in the previous year, starting with the 2006 season.

"This is the ultimate," said Jones, whose next hit will be the 1,000th of his career. "I would love nothing more than to start my career here and finish it here."

News of Jones' deal, the fourth-richest in baseball history, trailing only Ken Griffey Jr. (nine years, $116.5 million), Kevin Brown (seven years, $105 million) and Mike Piazza (seven years ($91 million), was cheered inside the Braves clubhouse.

"Watch out for Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and Andruw (Jones), when he comes up," right fielder Brian Jordan said. "The price tag just went sky high, ladies and gentlemen. It's just getting crazy, but I don't think it does anything in the clubhouse. I don't think anybody is jealous."

There was never any doubt, the 28-year-old Jones acknowledged, that he would reach agreement with the team and not test the free agent waters after the season. Much like the contract extension given to Greg Maddux three years ago (five years, $57.5 million), general manager John Schuerholz waited until August and then closed the deal, taking one of the prime free agents-to-be off the market.

"It's all about where you're the happiest," Jones said. "I'm happiest here. It would be awfully scary to field offers from other teams and sign a long-term deal, and two months into it realize this isn't where I want to be. I don't think for one minute I ever actually pictured myself in another uniform."

In five years, Jones, who is hitting .305 with 25 home runs and 83 RBI this season, has established himself as one of the game's superstars. A four-time All-Star, he is headed for a fifth straight season of 100 RBI and 100 runs, the first Brave to reach those numbers since Hank Aaron from 1959-63.

"We have a young man here who has established himself as one of the real cornerstone players of this franchise over all-time," Schuerholz said. "A lot of our decision goes to the fact that he has contributed over a long period of time and has played through a lot of injuries. We think he'll probably get even better and stronger."

Jones acknowledged one of his remaining goals is completing a Hall of Fame career and having his uniform retired and hung alongside those of Braves legends Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy, Eddie Mathews and Aaron at Turner Field.

"Every time I take the field and run out under their retired numbers, I think about it," he said. "But those guys did it for unbelievably long periods of time, and I still have a long way to go.

"It may still be one of the things that drives you. I would love nothing more than 20 years from now come back to this place and see my number right up there next to them. That would be a tremendous cap to a great career."

Jones, who endured intense public scrutiny after his admission of fathering an illegitimate child and ensuing divorce, said he considered making a fresh start with another team. But, the support of fans, starting with an ovation on opening day last season, changed his mind.

"The sense that I had been forgiven for the things that I had done, that played a big factor in really trying to sit down and work something out," he said. "The fans have stuck by me through thick and thin, and that's something I'll never forget. So ... the fans of Atlanta are as big a part of me staying here as anything else."

So, what does a newly minted $90 million man do with his money? Why, buy a ranch, of course. Jones, a Florida native, is in the process of purchasing a huge spread in the southwest corner of Texas, an hour north of the Mexican border.

"My father and I, ever since I was 10 years old, always wanted to run a ranch together, and we now are in the midst of doing that," he said.

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.