Tuesday night, Larry "Chipper" Jones turns 40.
Sadly, there's no assurance that our birthday boy will play; Monday night, he was rooted to the Braves' bench by "knee discomfort" (and those of us who've suffered from "knee discomfort" know just how discomfortable that can be).
"I just have days where [my left knee is] just not working," said Jones, who was not in the lineup for the opener against the Dodgers. "I've been having some consistent pain in the joint line. I've been getting some treatment on it for a little bit. Yesterday was about as bad as it's been since I had surgery. As you could tell, I was not moving down the line very good."
Since making an early return from a March 26 surgical procedure that repaired torn meniscus in his left knee, Jones has not played more than three games in a row. His recent discomfort has been located near the bottom portion of his knee, around the joint line.
Jones hopes to be in the lineup as he celebrates his 40th birthday on Tuesday. But considering the pain he felt as he attempted to get down the first-base line during Sunday's pinch-hit appearance, the veteran third baseman was not committing to the experience.
If Chipper doesn't play, he'll enter this 41st year having played in exactly half the Braves' games this season, his 19th.
Only four 40-year-old (or older) third basemen have played enough to qualify for a batting title. Ranked in order of plate appearances:
Appling was 41; the others 40. But I'm not sure Appling should count, as the lifelong shortstop spent nearly half the '48 season at his usual position (and returned there for one last go-around at 42; he and Honus Wagner are the oldest regular shortstops in major-league history).
Deacon White, Lave Cross, and Graig Nettles actually played quite well in their Age 40 seasons, while Ripken did not (and retired immediately afterward, while Cross and Nettles kept going).
All of which is neither here nor there, perhaps. Except by way of suggesting that third base is a tough position, and probably not for the aged and infirm. Second base is the same way, though (oddly or not) shortstop has been home to significantly more 40-somethings.*
* Speculating ... Shortstops generally are lithe sorts. So lithe, perhaps, that even as they lose litheness to the years, they've still got enough to make enough plays to remain in the infield. But second basemen and third basemen, bigger than shortstops, just don't have as much room to grow. Or slow. Also, third basemen have somewhere else to go: first base and Designated Hitter. But few shortstops can hit enough to play another position, so they stay there until they can't play any more at all.
If Chipper doesn't reach 502 plate appearances this season, he'll join part-timers like Wade Boggs (who was good), Jimmy Austin (good), Davey Lopes (good) and Gary Gaetti (really not good). On balance, 40-year-old third basemen have fared pretty well, which perhaps isn't surprising because if most of them hadn't shown something at 39, they probably wouldn't have gotten to play so much at 40.
And Chipper showed plenty at 39; in 126 games, he batted .275/.344/.470 and ranked among the National League's five or six best third basemen. If his knee heals up well, I expect him to show plenty at 40, too. I just don't think he'll get his 502 plate appearances, and join that small club of old third basemen who could still play every day.