Chipper Jones seems to be enjoying his new-found retirement. Jones threw out the first pitch at Turner Field for Opening Day, celebrating the legacy he left behind in Atlanta. He is doing more radio now that he's no longer a player, co-hosting shows for NBC Sports in what seems to be the start of a second career. And then there's the whole Twitter thing, interacting with his loyal legion of nearly 270,000 followers.
Jones, who joined the social networking site late last July, has no shortage of opinions on Twitter, offering thoughts on baseball, college basketball, hunting, Jeopardy and the regular nonsense a retired baseball player would normally talk about to a quarter of a million fans who are still interested in his day-to-day life.
The thing is, when you're a polarizing figure like Jones—the face of the Braves franchise for 15 years and a target for opposing fans for just as long—one might think you would have developed rather thick skin when people take shots at you. Especially on Twitter, one might assume Jones, retired or not, would be smart enough to avoid turning an over-the-top shot at his personal life into a Twitter war.
Jones was not that smart.
Pete Gaines is an Internet roustabout, formerly writing for sites like Deadspin and Sports by Brooks before hanging up his blogging keys and spending much of his Internet time offering his opinions (read: cracking wise) on Twitter. (Full disclosure: Gaines and I are Internet friends.)
Gaines is also an unabashed Kansas Jayhawks fan, so when Jones tweeted during the NCAA Sweet 16 that Kansas guard Elijah Johnson should not have punched Michigan center Mitch McGary in the privates, Gaines took the opportunity to go at Jones' past.
This angered Chipper, who fired back several missives personally to Gaines and continually prodded his legion of followers to do the same. Per Gaines, the abuse—somewhat deserved after Gaines fired the first shot—went on for a while.
The thing is, there was no need for Jones to keep doing what he did. Sure, Gaines was wrong for accusing Jones of taking steroids when he had never tested positive in his career (Gaines has admitted that several times), but Jones went far beyond the scope of what an athlete or celebrity should do to someone who takes a shot at him.
Jones got personal, too.
Jones repeatedly mocked Gaines for his weight, attractiveness and lack of intelligence (note: Pete is a really smart guy, so the last one was based solely, it seems, on his Twitter bio stating he is a former writer at Deadspin):
Jones has to know better than to slum it with Internet trolls. He has to know that it servers no one for him to swing down, making an insignificant remark into a national story of bullying. He has to know better than that.
Jones doesn't. He joked during his online exchange that had he known Gaines was a Deadspin writer he wouldn’t have bothered with the fight, yet he still continued to take shots at Gaines and egg on his followers to do the same.
Rather than just ignoring Gaines and the growing group serving to defend him, Jones thought it best to go on the attack, crossing the line from wrongfully accused athlete to, yes, cyber-bully.
That tweet is Jones commenting that Gaines shouldn't have made a joke about Jones cheating on his wife and fathering a child out of wedlock in the 1990s because Jones doesn't like the photo of Gaines' "girl in the avi with you."
That "girl" is Yahoo! sportswriter Maggie Hendricks, one of the most respected Internet writers working today. Gaines and Hendricks are engaged, which Jones wouldn't know from the photo on Twitter, but that fact is not pertinent to the overall point of what Jones did.
In a barrage of tweets making fun of Gaines for being fat and ugly and dumb, Jones took a completely backhanded shot at Hendricks, a tweet that was retweeted nearly 1,000 times and favorited more than 580 times.
(Seriously, who the hell is favoriting a tweet like that? What kind of people do that? Oh, right, the type that would worship a former player like Jones and fight his online battles for him in the first place.)
If taking shots at Hendricks crossed the line for someone like me, imagine what that did for Gaines. (It should be noted that Gaines did open up the "significant other" conversation by joking about adultery, but that pithy and out-of-bounds comment is nothing close to taking actual direct shots at someone the way Jones and his followers did.)
Gaines decided to chronicle his thoughts on the situation at The Classical, suggesting he was cyber-bullied by Jones:
I've heard stories of bullying, hypocrisy and all the other things that might be expected of a grown-ass multimillionaire man-child who calls himself "Chipper." Anyway, I was a dick to Chipper Jones on Twitter. That was uncool of me.
But I guess what I'm saying, after Chipper Jones went on an hours-long invective jag against me—my literacy and my jealousy, my height, my (lack of) hair, my weight, the appearance of my fiancée (a professional sportswriter, no less) and my sexuality—is this: Chipper Jones himself has done more, personally and recently, to confirm these second- and third-hand stories about him than I would ever have thought possible.
Jones is not the first athlete put on a face in public that may not be the same as the one behind the scenes. In every sport there are phonies, fakes and people who play the game of good guy just for the fans.
The question is, has Jones given up that façade now that he's no longer playing, or had the situation never presented itself much before? To be fair, maybe Jones has been a jerk on Twitter for months and this is just the first time most of us have had the chance to witness it? Maybe there never was a façade.
Gaines has admitted the original tweet was out of line and really took no issue with Jones going after him. The rest, however, was a bit much, including the direct shots at Hendricks and, ironically, jokes about Gaines' sexuality and manhood:
Jones might also have reconsidered the suggestion that my fiancée—a former Division I wrestling team manager who writes about mixed martial arts for a living, and who found herself involved only because she appears in my AVI—"outweigh(s)" me and my beer gut; she doesn't, although of course that doesn't matter, really.
Further congratulating his hundreds of thousands of hero-worshipping followers for busting on my personal appearance and that of my fiancée—rather than my words—also seems a decidedly un-Christian look for Tim Tebow's business partner. When Jones congratulated his followers for going after my fiancée and me, was he particularly proud of the "your gay" insult that kept recurring? Anyway, these are rhetorical questions, and don't really matter much; a Tweetdeck filter for "fat, bald" solved this on my end, anyway.
It's worth noting that Gaines was asking the question if Jones was proud of the shots at his heterosexuality, not making a statement of fact. Still, the evidence presented is fact enough that Jones needed to be smarter than he was.
Regardless of the initial digital assault, Jones probably should have let it go after Gaines wrote the article instead of, say, making it a whole lot worse by bringing it up on Twitter again.
Chipper, it wasn't Deadspin. It was a guy who used to write for Deadspin. His bio clearly says former, which is the same as you being a former baseball player. Nobody is calling the Braves organization demanding they put out a statement apologizing for your behavior. If you're going to start playing in this side of the pool, you need to realize that people work in a lot of places, and those places aren't responsible for former writers' actions and words.
Unless Jones is right, and that's how the media actually works. Perhaps NBC Sports radio is now responsible for all his tweets now that he has done work for them. Should we all send angry tweets ripping this guy now? Is that how the business works?
Moreover, Jones needs to remember the lesson that it doesn't serve him any good to spend his retirement days feuding with people who have half as many followers on Twitter than he gained in a day after rumors swirled he was going to the Yankees.
One guy with a few thousand followers made a stupid comment that should have been ignored and Jones made this into a national story. Because he was a bully.
At the risk of being called a fool and being accused of talking smack behind my little keyboard (my keyboard is normal size, if anyone cares to know), I offer Jones the last bit of advice I can: You are right. You can't please everyone and you should stop trying, especially if you think attacking the family of a guy who made a stupid, off-color comment on Twitter qualifies as "pleasing everyone."
I know it may be hard for a guy who was one of the best to ever play his sport, who spent his entire adult life in one town being unilaterally praised for being such a good guy to realize this, but there is an entire world out here where what you did is not OK.
Gaines was a jerk for starting it. He admits that. You should do the same and apologize for taking it too far. That would be smarter than to just "stop tryin."