Chipper Closing in on Dale Murphy's 371

Chipper Closing in on Dale Murphy's 371

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ATLANTA (AP) -- Dale Murphy was in his last season with the Atlanta Braves in 1990 when a skinny high school shortstop walked into the clubhouse. Murphy had no idea the kid, Chipper Jones, would be the player to break his record for most home runs with Atlanta. Then Murphy watched Jones hit.

"It was obvious he was a great talent," Murphy said.

Now 35, Jones leads the NL with 10 homers and has 367 for his career, only four behind Murphy's Atlanta record.

"I could see this coming a few years ago," Murphy said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his home in Alpine, Utah. "But when he was a high school kid walking through our clubhouse, I didn't think that. It seems like yesterday."

Murphy's Atlanta total could be passed by both Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones (347) this season.

"I was thankful to hold it for a while," Murphy said. "I knew quite a few years ago it wouldn't stand with Chipper and Andruw coming along."

The surprise is how quickly Chipper Jones has closed in on Murphy's total. Jones' eight homers in April tied his first-month high, set in 1998.

"I feel very lucky to have the numbers I have," Jones said. "I've gotten some results so, hopefully, when I feel like I am locked in, I'll be putting up some really good numbers."

Jones isn't complaining because he's been healthy. Jones averaged 155 games per season from 1995-2003, winning the 1999 NL MVP award and posting eight straight 100-RBI seasons.

But injuries, including chronic feet problems, have limited him to an average of 119 games during the last three seasons. Jones played in only 110 games last year but still hit .324 with 26 homers and 86 RBIs.

"We said in spring training the biggest thing for us offensively is to keep Chipper Jones healthy," hitting coach Terry Pendleton said. "A healthy Chipper Jones, we all know, can do some positive things for us, real positive things."

Jones says he'll always have to worry about his feet.

"I don't know how much longer it's going to last," he said of his good health. "Hopefully, it lasts 100 and some-odd games more. Your health is something that you try to control, but try as you may it doesn't always work. It can pop up at any time."

Murphy played for Atlanta from 1976 until his trade to Philadelphia in 1990. He hit 398 homers overall, including 27 with the Phillies, and won back-to-back NL MVP awards in 1982 and '83.

Hank Aaron hit 335 of his record 755 homers while with Atlanta. He began his career with the Milwaukee Braves and holds the franchise mark of 733 homers; his final 22 came with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Jones' most significant milestones are for his accomplishments as a switch-hitter. With a .305 career batting average, he is the only switch-hitter in history to hit .300 or better with at least 300 homers. His batting average ranks second among switch-hitters to Frankie Frisch's .316.

Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones have homered in the same game 58 times, the highest total of any active duo and 17 behind the record set by Aaron and Eddie Mathews. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit homers in the same game 73 times; Willie Mays and Willie McCovey are third on the list at 68.

Chipper says he and Andruw haven't discussed their individual homer totals, but he said for the first time this year he mentioned the possibility the two could set a record together. Andruw can become a free agent after the season.

"The only reason I said anything to him was to maybe plant that seed to get him to stay here," Chipper said. "We've got a chance to do some pretty cool things as a tandem."

If Andruw Jones, who is 30, does re-sign with the Braves, he'll probably pass Chipper soon for the Braves home-run record.

"He's got five years on me," Chipper said. "It's not like I'm going to be the home-run leader for very long."

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