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The All-Clean Team

Chipper, A-Rod head list of players worth believing in

Posted: Thursday January 17, 2008 1:19PM; Updated: Friday January 18, 2008 10:12AM
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Chipper Jones
Having never been suspected of steroid use could help Chipper get off the Hall of Fame bubble and into Cooperstown.
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The hardest part of this whole Steroids Period in baseball -- sounds much less ominous than Steroids Era, doesn't it? -- is figuring out who and what to believe. I'm not talking Roger Clemens vs. Brian McNamee here, though that's the sub-prime example of the day. I'm talking, on any given day, about the difficulty in trying to determine who has been messing around with the stuff and who hasn't. Or, in any glance through the record book, what is legitimate and what is not.

It is, as Bud Selig likes to say every time he is asked, a question of integrity in the game. Which brings me to Chipper Jones.

Now, it takes a great leap of faith in baseball these days to truly believe in someone. There are those, I'm certain, who still believe that Barry Bonds is as clean as the driven Clear, despite a well-researched book and mountains of damning evidence to the contrary. Clemens, regardless of all those red flags that have popped up in the past month or so, continues to be an untarnished hero to a lot of fans. Even some outside of New York and Houston.

I'd bet you that even Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire still have their loyal followers who contend that, a) It was a tainted B-12 shot from Miguel Tejada that caused that positive test, and b) Just because a guy doesn't want to talk about his past doesn't mean he actually has something to hide.

Jones, the longtime third baseman of the Braves, is someone that you can believe in without reservation or apology. Or, at least, you can believe in what he's doing as much as you can believe in anyone in baseball these days. It's a dangerous position to be in, of course, as all the Jose Canseco fans out there can tell you.

But Jones, in 13-plus big league seasons, gives every appearance of being a legitimate, all-natural, steroid-free, HGH-free, amphetamine-free bona fide baseball star. In a game where sincerity gets clouded by synthetics, Chipper still looks and sounds like the real deal.

And Jones is better than too many people realize. He's 10th among active players in OPS, at .949. Last season, at 35, he hit .337 with 29 home runs and 102 RBIs, slugged over .600, scored more than 100 runs ... and he missed almost a month with injuries. It was one of his best seasons since he won the National League MVP award in '99. Among switch-hitters, he is currently behind two Hall of Famers on the all-time home run list, with 386, 118 behind Eddie Murray and 150 away from the all-time leader, Mickey Mantle.

Yet Jones gets lost in the shuffle of this era -- or Period, if you'd rather -- of the jacked-up and juiced-up, of those who make headlines for all the wrong reasons. His reputation isn't spotless, by any means. He has had some missteps in his personal life. Last year, he clashed with teammate John Smoltz over playing with injuries.

But Jones has managed to steer clear of any accusations about using performance-enhancers, which is pretty amazing for someone with his resume who has spent this much time in the spotlight.

"When your body of work is done and you are to be judged, in a baseball sense, I think people will recollect those kinds of things before they start judging the numbers," Jones told me. "You know, 'Did I ever hear their names coming up? Scandals, cheating. Whatever.' And if they say no, then they'll take a look at the numbers and go from there.

"In a certain sense, it could help us in the long run, eight to 10 years down the road. People will have to judge things and say, 'You know, I never heard Chipper's name coming up.'"

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