ATLANTA - Chipper Jones may have played his last game in the major leagues after tearing up his left knee while fielding a ground ball.
The Atlanta Braves said yesterday that the 38-year-old third baseman tore his anterior cruciate ligament and will need surgery. The estimated recovery time is 6 months - if Jones decides to return in 2011. He had already said he would consider retirement after a season that's now ended sooner than expected.
Jones was hurt in Tuesday night's game at Houston. He fielded a routine grounder by Hunter Pence, jumped in the air while making the throw to first, then collapsed to the ground for several minutes.
After an MRI exam, Jones met yesterday with the team doctor, Marvin Royster, who delivered the bad news - and a major setback for the NL East leaders.
"Obviously, he's very, very disappointed. I would almost describe it as numb," his agent, BB Abbott, told the Associated Press. "He knows this will be a big blow to the team. Obviously, he has been going very well recently and felt like he was really contributing to the team's success. This is real disappointing for him."
Jones feared something was seriously wrong after he walked off the field gingerly under his own power.
"It's hurt," he said in Houston. "I heard a distinct pop."
Jones had bounced back from a slow start and was hitting .265 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs for a team that had a 2 1/2-game lead in the NL East on two-time defending league champion Philadelphia. The Braves will have to carry on with Omar Infante and Brooks Conrad sharing third base, though neither has Jones' power.
Coming off a poor 2009 season, Jones got off to a miserable start this year and said in June that he was considering retirement. A few days later, he backed off and said he would wait until after the season to make a decision. He had been playing much better since then, raising his average some 30 points and showing more power in the middle of the lineup.
Now, Jones has another issue to think about - coming back from the second major knee injury of his career. He missed all of 1994, expected to be his rookie season, after sustaining the same injury to the same knee. Jones returned to become one of the greatest players in Atlanta history, a six-time All-Star who won the NL MVP award in 1999 and the NL batting title in 2008.
Recovering from a major injury late in his career would be much tougher, perhaps the biggest factor of all when Jones considers whether he wants to keep playing. He would also have to work out a settlement with the Braves, who owe him about $28 million in guaranteed money for the next two seasons.
"I'm sure as the next couple of days go by, those are things we'll discuss and he'll discuss with his family," Abbott said. "It's not something he'll decide immediately. He's going to need to hear everything about the injury and rehabilitative process. He'll probably make his decision from there. I can assure you it's not something that's going to be a knee-jerk decision."
He won't be around to help the Braves try to hold off the Phillies for their first playoff appearance since 2005 in the final season for longtime manager Bobby Cox, who's definitely retiring at the end of the year.