In 1990, the Atlanta Braves selected Larry “Chipper” Jones as the No. 1 overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft. And on July 29 of this year, Jones became just the second overall No. 1 pick ever to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
During his 19 years in the Majors – all with Atlanta – Jones established himself as arguably the greatest switch hitter in the history of the game. With a career .303 average, he hit over .300 from both sides of the plate, and his 468 home runs rank third all-time among switch hitters. His 1,623 runs batted in and 1,619 runs scored rank first all-time among third basemen. An eight-time All-Star, Jones slugged 45 home runs to win the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1999 and hit .364 in 2008 to capture the National League batting title. He also helped propel the Braves to a World Series championship in 1995.
Although Jones will always be best known as a baseball player, those in the hunting community also know him as an avid outdoorsman and co-host of Major League Bowhunter, an award-winning television program now in its eighth season on Sportsman Channel. In the days leading up to his Hall of Fame induction, Petersen’s BOWHUNTING Editor Christian Berg had an opportunity to sit down with Jones as he reflected on his baseball past and bowhunting future. Here’s what he had to say:
BOWHUNTING: Everybody knows you as a baseball player, but the hunting side, is that something you grew up with?
Chipper: I did. I grew up in Central Florida, about 20 miles inland from Daytona, and my dad belonged to a hunting club. I was about 7 the first time I went. He was a big hunter, fisherman, golfer, you know? Those are still all the hobbies that I treasure today.
BOWHUNTING: You started playing ball, I’m sure, around the same age. When did it start getting super serious?
Chipper: Baseball is like religion in my family. I mean, it’s always been serious. You know, my dad was a high school baseball coach. He played college ball. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs very low, didn’t get enough money to sign and went to work [instead]. I told my mom when I was 4, watching the Saturday game of the week, that I wanted to play Major League baseball when I grew up.
BOWHUNTING: So, you were 4 years old when you told your mom that?
Chipper: Yeah. And here I sit at 45, [in] the Hall of Fame, you know, and it’s awesome. I mean I spent 23 years in pro ball, 19 years in the big leagues, and from the time I was 4 that’s all I wanted to do. I have a tremendous amount of pride over staying focused and staying tunnel visioned on what my dreams were for that long a period of time.
BOWHUNTING: So, how did you get into bowhunting?
Chipper: I never touched a bow until I was 30 years old. And then, once I kinda got the fever, it became a passion.
BOWHUNTING: OK, so you were 10 years in the Major Leagues before you ever picked up a bow?
Chipper: Yes. I think it was peer pressure, for the most part. Most of the guys I hung out with and talked hunting with were bowhunters. [Former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher] Matt Duff, he and I became very close friends, and he was like, “It’s gonna change your life when you pick up a bow. It’s gonna change the way you look at things and change the way you hunt.” And I’m like, whatever dude. So, I started out shooting some targets, and I wasn’t very good. That made me mad. I’m one of those guys who feels like if you are not efficient shooting something, you don’t go hunting until you are. So, I practiced and practiced and practiced until I felt confident I could make a 20-25-yard shot where I wanted to. And heck, I still missed [deer]! Man, it’s more nerve-wracking than the seventh game of the World Series, you know?
BOWHUNTING: So, what do you enjoy most about bowhunting?
Chipper: It’s a great chess match between yourself and the deer. It’s almost like in baseball, when you’re in the box and you’re staring down a pitcher. He’s got a game plan to get you out. You got a game plan to be successful against him. Which game plan’s gonna work? Who’s gonna make the adjustment the fastest?
BOWHUNTING: So, did you have any idea, when you initially picked up a bow, that something like Major League Bowhunter could be like a second act for Chipper Jones after baseball?
Chipper: No. No clue. I had always hunted by myself and had never, ever thought about filming a hunt. Ever. I had this deer I was going to take off my ranch in Texas, it was my first, mature Boone and Crockett buck, and Duff said, “Let me come over, and I’ll film it for you. I mean, that’s something you wanna keep for posterity.” And I was like, OK, and so that’s how we started filming each other. After every season, Duff would take all the footage home and make these videos. He would set it to music and it would have our highlights from the year and our kills and whatnot and all of our little funny pranks that we played with each other around the camp. Well, I had all these teammates who hunt and I’m showing them these videos and they’re like, “Dude, this is really good!” And that is how [it] got started.
BOWHUNTING: How would you describe Major League Bowhunter?
Chipper: It’s educational. We want to relay to people why we’re in this part of the country at this time of the year. Not only that, why we’re in this tree, on this farm, with this wind. Are we right on the edge of bedding? Are we right on the edge of food? Are we somewhere in the middle? And why all those things happen. We’re talking about access points from the truck to the tree depending on terrain and wind and all that kind of stuff.
So. It’s a lot more of an educational-based show, which I enjoy, because I’m still learning as a bowhunter, and I know I would’ve loved to have seen a show when I was just starting out that would’ve taught me all those things. That’s what we try to get across to the relatively new hunter.
BOWHUNTING: As a professional athlete, you’re in such a hyper-competitive, high-stress environment. Is bowhunting a release for you, or is it something where you are still just as competitive as you are in baseball?
Chipper: No, not at all. I think this is why I love hunting so much. It is therapeutic for me. It is where I can get away from the telephones. I can get away from the TVs. Some of my biggest decisions in life were made 25 feet up a tree, and the actual harvesting of an animal, 95 percent of the time, is secondary. I enjoy getting out in nature. I love seeing deer, but I love seeing pigs and turkeys and hawks and bobcats and coyotes and seeing how everything kinda interacts together. I think that’s really cool.
BOWHUNTING: But you’re not too stressed out about hunting when it comes to having to kill the big one?
Chipper: No. And I’ve learned some valuable lessons through some of the people that I’ve been in business with, people that I’ve had contact with, and I refuse to drive myself nuts over a deer or lose a relationship over a deer. I’ve seen what that has done to some people along the way, and I don’t wanna be like that.
BOWHUNTING: You played during baseball’s so-called “steroid era,” and you were one of the few great players of your generation who was never wrapped up in that. I know you’ve commented at different times about the temptation that existed, and you knew kind of what was going on. There’s a parallel in hunting, right? Because we could take shortcuts in hunting, whether it’s bending a law or doing something we ought not to do to get that big buck killed, you know? Talk to me about your philosophy on staying clean in the game and how maybe that carries over to the way that you want to conduct yourself as a sportsman.
Chipper: Well, I think as a professional you owe it to the people you work for, you owe it to the fans, you owe it to your family to do everything as honestly as possible. I mean I know that had I taken steroids all those days in the backyard with my parents would have meant nothing. I wouldn’t have been able to look my dad in the eye having known that I took a shortcut, and I was supremely confident in the fact that – I don’t care if you’re the Incredible Hulk standing out there on the mound – if you throw it over that 17-inch plate, I’m gonna whack it. No amount of steroids you can take are gonna make you throw it hard enough to get it by me, you know? And is that cocky? Probably, but it’s probably the mentality that got me to the level that I got in my career. Now, in hunting, because you’re on TV two, three times a week, because you’re popular, people are going to want to find a chink in the armor. They’re going to want to knock you back down a peg. They’re going to want to say, “You know, he’s not doing it right.” You have to pay extra special attention to dotting all the I’s, crossing all the T’s, making sure that you’re doing everything by the book, because if you don’t, as we have seen over the last few years in the industry, you mess up one time, hit the highway. But the desire is not there for me to take a shortcut. Just like out of respect for my dad, I think it’s the same to have respect for the animals that you’re hunting.
BOWHUNTING: When you’re a ball player, it’s easy to know how to measure your performance, because probably more than any other sport, baseball is pretty statistically driven. And we can just look at the numbers, and if you’re a .280 hitter you’re a .280 hitter. We don’t have anything like that in hunting. I mean, yeah, there are record books for animals, but a bad hunter can kill a record-book animal, you know? How do you judge yourself, you know, as a hunter?
Chipper: I think that’s something to be determined by each individual. I mean, I don’t get out of the truck and walk into the woods thinking I’m the best hunter on the planet.
BOWHUNTING: You used to step into the batter box thinking that, right?
Chipper: I did, but hunting is completely different. Walking into the woods, there’s no competition. I mean, it’s not whether I kill a 160 or a 170 or a 210. I’m gonna be happy either way. No hunt transpires the same way. Everything is unique, and that uniqueness is what keeps me going back.
BOWHUNTING: So, you could do anything you want. You’re going to keep on doing Major League Bowhunter? This is your retirement plan?
Chipper: I think so. I’d love to get my kids into it. They’re very respectful and very good deer hunters, and I could see maybe getting them in the business before too long.