This morning I awoke to devastating news; my childhood hero Chipper Jones announced that this would be his final season in the Major Leagues. It is getting to the point where my generation’s most iconic players are reaching the late stages of their careers, slowly drifting into the front offices of the teams they became famous on. Chipper is one of the few remaining star players from the Steroid Era whose reputation has been left unscarred, with an over .300 career batting average, a 1999 NL MVP award, one of the sweetest switch hitting strokes of all-time, and no steroid allegations.
There are a few other players from my childhood who defined a generation and are likely to follow Chipper’s lead into retirement within the next few years and there’s a generation of superstars waiting in the wings to take their place.
Derek Jeter: Jeter has had a highlight reel filled career, from his backhand flip to get Jeremy Giambi at the plate to falling over the tarp to make a catch, but he will always be remembered more for his winning attitude and leadership than anything he did on the field. An anchor for the New York Yankees, he developed into the captain of one of the strongest dynasties in MLB history. As a fresh faced kid from Michigan with sky-high expectations, he figured out how to handle the New York media perhaps better than any athlete in history.
Torii Hunter: Speaking of players who play the game with the same passion and happiness that they did as children, Torii Hunter is one of the most likable players in baseball. As the Center Fielder for the Minnesota Twins, Hunter gained a nationwide fan base with his reckless abandon running into walls and ninja-like deftness in climbing them. Hunter is not just a Gold Glover, he has hit over 20 Home Runs, 10 times. Perhaps most indicative of his love for the game, Hunter robbed Barry Bonds of a Home Run in the All-Star Game and was all smiles as Bonds playfully attacked him and carried him on his shoulder.
Todd Helton: While he has been more of a bit player for the Rockies lately, deferring responsibility to both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, Helton was one of the most feared and respected hitters in baseball for years. As precise as a baseball player could be built, Helton made a living roping extra base hits, year in year out. He gets lost in the fray with the Steroid Superstars, but he built a Hall of Fame career while toiling in relative obscurity playing for the Colorado Rockies.
Mariano Rivera: I felt it only appropriate to end this article with the greatest Closer of all time. Rivera has a stronger stranglehold on being his position’s GOAT than anybody in baseball. Who knew you could become the greatest ever by throwing one pitch over and over? When Enter Sandman blasts on the PA system you know bats are going to break and the game is all but over. What makes Mo the greatest though is his postseason dominance. Besides one minor hiccup against Luis Gonzalez, Mariano has been a cold-blooded killer in the playoffs. His postseason ERA is .7. Read that again, now with the information that he has appeared in the playoffs more than any other pitcher, ever.