Hitting: 130 points
Fielding: 225 points
League leaders: 10 points (led league in homers and RBIs in 2005)
Joy of watching him play centerfield: 10 points
Makes otherwise boring name cool by spelling Andruw with a U: 5 points
Hall of Fame Race to 400 points: 380
* * *
At the heard of the miraculous tale of Andruw Jones is a father-son story. You probably know most of this -- Jones grew up on the island of Curaçao. He was a prodigy. By age 13, he was already hitting impossibly long home runs and displaying a cannon arm. He was the talk of the island.
At 15, a Curaçao businessman named Giovanni Viceisza watched Jones play; Viceisza is one of those fascinating baseball characters that bring color and life to the game. He was -- and there's so much wrapped up in this title -- an Atlanta Braves' part-time scout. What is a part-time scout? Well, a part-time scout is someone who has another job, something that has nothing to do with the game, but so loves baseball that he or she will just go to amateur games for the joy of it all. Part-time scouts get paid almost nothing. Their reward is being part of a team and the joy of the chase.
I know a part-time scout who basically does it for the team-branded clothing he gets.
Viceisza was such a character in Curaçao. He just wanted to be around the baseball action. And he had been hearing the rumors and whispers about Andruw Jones for years. "When one person tells you something," he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "you might let it go. When five people say the same thing, you check it out."
Finally, Viceisza saw Jones play. He was overwhelmed. The kid could do everything. Mostly, people say that what happened next was Viceisza called up legendary scout Paul Snyder and got him to come to the island, but part-time scouts don't have that kind of juice. In fact, Viceisza called Bill Clark, who was then Atlanta's international scouting director. Viceisza raved at the top of his lungs, as scouts will do when they feel sure that they've come across the real thing.
Clark believed. He then called Chuck LaMar, who was Atlanta's scouting director, and he must have sounded convincing, because after that, LaMar called Paul Snyder and said, "Check this kid out."
Snyder set up three tryouts in Curaçao -- more on this in a minute -- and was blown away. In the only game Snyder needed to see, he watched Jones lash a single and then make a big turn as if he were going to try to take second. The outfielder made a good throw, changing Jones' mind, and Snyder saw something he would never forget.
"Instead of slowing to a stop," Snyder said, "Andruw slid standing up. I'd only seen that once before. And that was Roberto Clemente."
Snyder met with the Jones family that night. They drank cervezas and came to a tentative $46,000 agreement (Jones was not yet 16 and so could not officially sign). Snyder was a little worried that once word got out, Jones' family would pull out of the deal. But there was no chance of that, because Henry Jones, Andruw's father, had seen the future.
"It was the Braves," he said. "There was no other team for us."
Again, more on all that in a minute.
At 16, Jones joined the Braves organization. At 17, he was Baseball America's best prospect. At 19, he hit two home runs in a World Series game. At 21, he won the first of 10 Gold Gloves. At 22, he finished second in the National League in b-WAR. At 23, he hit .303 with 36 homers, 21 stolen bases, 104 RBIs and 122 runs scored. At 28, he hit 51 homers.
At 31, he was played out.
[caption id="attachment_23943" align="aligncenter" width="532"] The value of defense is a big part of Jones' Hall of Fame case.[/caption]
It was a staggering and impossible career, a lightning bolt across the sky.
We can talk about Jones' Hall of Fame case if you want. That probably comes down to three things:
Thing 1: How much credit do you give him for defense? I've awarded 225 points in my Race to 400, which I think is about as much as I would ever give a centerfielder. But you might give him more. FanGraphs has him 276.4 runs above average, and if you give him 276 points, he easily clears the 400-point line.
On the other side, though, Bill James, among others, thinks that Jones' defense is probably overrated, not because he was anything less than great, but because he has been the beneficiary of new defensive statistics. Was Jones really a better centerfielder than some of those amazing fielders before these new metrics, players like Devon White or Paul Blair or Garry Maddox or (gasp) Willie Mays? The defensive numbers say yes. Bill is skeptical.
Thing 2: How much do you care that he was finished at 31? By my new invention, Jones had eight Hall Qual seasons, which puts him in the stratosphere with Carew, Bench, Boggs and Ripken. Eight great seasons is a strong argument for the Hall of Fame. But in Andruw's case, those eight years pretty much make up his whole career. After age 29, he hit .214/.314/.420 and played for five teams, almost entirely as a part-timer. It's a fundamental question: How much value must a Hall of Famer add in his decline years? Is it OK if he basically adds NO value?
Thing 3: How much credit do you give a guy who hit most of his home runs during the Selig Era? Jones has 434 homers despite having only 11 seasons in which he played more than 107 games, which is impressive. Twenty years earlier, that alone would have made him Hall worthy.
But from 1994 to 2014 (which encompasses Jones' entire career) he actually ranks SEVENTEENTH in home runs, which is insane.
Homers from 1994 through 2014:
Big Papi, 466
Others who hit at least 400 homers in just that 20-year period: Big Hurt, Soriano. Just missing, Beltre, Jim Edmonds, Piazza and Miggy. I mean, that's a lot of people mashing 400 homers, some all-time greats, some not so much, and so you have to ask: How much credit do you give Andruw Jones for those homers? Because they pretty much make up his entire offensive Hall of Fame case.
You can play along at home and decide if Andruw Jones is a Hall of Famer.
I'd rather finish this off by telling a story from his Braves tryout. So, I mentioned that Jones was a prodigy; there was a reason for this. His father, Henry Jones, was a great baseball player. How great? We don't know. There was no chance in the 1960s and '70s that anyone would notice a great baseball player on the island of Curaçao, so Henry play out his baseball career for a tissue paper factory team. But some of those who saw him play say he was a major league talent.
Henry always wanted his son to be a ballplayer. He would argue with his wife about how early to start Andruw's baseball journey. As the story goes, Henry won the argument, and starting throwing a regulation hardball to his son at age 2. By 6, Andruw was bat boy for his father's team, and was already impressing everyone with his arm and speed. You know the rest.
Andruw Jones was a baseball phenom in part because his father wished it first.
Well, that's a familiar story in the game -- Mutt Mantle, Bill Feller, Harry Rose and so on. The father dreams. The son makes it reality. Only this one has a fun little twist. When Paul Snyder held the tryout for Andruw, he set up a morning 60-yard dash against a Braves prospect named Sherton Saturnino (who made it to high Class A but just couldn't hit enough).
Andruw showed up ... and right behind him was his father, Henry, then 45 years old. He was wearing baseball pants.
So Paul let them both run. And they did run, father and son, and what Paul Snyder remembered was just how fast Andruw ran that day.
What Andruw remembered was that he just barely beat his old man.