Surprise: Chipper Jones puts off retirement talk

ATLANTA — After seeming on the verge of announcing his retirement, Chipper Jones changed course Thursday and said he won’t make a decision until after the season.

The Braves third baseman called the media to his locker before the final game of an interleague series against Tampa Bay, looking to put a halt to the speculation about his future.

“Any more talk of the r-word will be reserved until the end of the season,” Jones said. “Somehow the cork got taken out. Well, I’m putting it back in right now.’

For two days, Jones had appeared ready to call it a career. He told The Associated Press he merely needed to work out some “red-tape issues” — including the $28 million he is owed for the final two years of his contract — and indicated he would make an announcement before the end of the homestand on Sunday.

Now, the 38-year-old Jones is taking a different path.

“Honestly, I have not made a decision either way. Let’s face it, we all know, sort of, which way I’m leaning,” he said, presumably indicating he’s still seriously considering retirement after struggling for the second year in a row and battling numerous injuries.

“But I think it’s best that we put this all behind us.”

When the season is over, Jones said he’ll meet with family, friends and other members of his support group to gather their input before he decides whether to return in 2011.

Jones said he’s been meeting periodically with team president John Schuerholz and general manager Frank Wren over the last six months to discuss his future. There was another such meeting on Tuesday that also included manager Bobby Cox.

“As best as I can gather right now, he’s thinking about retiring after this year,” Cox said following the meeting. “But I can’t give a definitive answer.”

Jones told the AP, “It’s obvious that it’s something I’ve been thinking about. I need to go through the proper channels. Once those have all been taken care of, everybody’s questions will be answered.”

But he apparently decided the speculation about his future could wind up hurting a team that is eager to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The Braves went into Thursday’s contest leading the NL East by a half-game over the New York Mets.

“I think it’s best that we concentrate what we need to concentrate on, and that is the fact that this team is in first place, that we are trying to get into the playoffs,” Jones said. “This is not a good time to have a distraction.”

Jones was the NL MVP in 1999 and won his first batting title only two years ago. But his numbers tailed off dramatically in 2009, and he was hitting just .234 with four homers and 23 RBIs this season.

He wasn’t in the starting lineup Thursday, but Cox said it was just one of the occasional off days that Jones will need to protect his body for the long haul.

“I’m going to be quite frank with Bobby, but I expect to be in there 90 percent of the time,” Jones said.

Cox, the Braves’ manager since 1990, already has announced this will be his final season, and for a couple of days it appeared two longtime stalwarts of the franchise would call it a career together. Jones has played his entire career in Atlanta, taking over as the starting third baseman in 1995.

“Let’s let Bobby have his just due. Let him get the attention he deserves,” Jones said. “I’m on a first-place ballclub. Playing third and hitting third for a first-place ballclub, which is exactly where I like to be. I’m going to spend the rest of the summer concentrating on that and trying to send Bobby off in the best way possible.

“I’m here. I’m playing the rest of the year. Any decision I make on my future will be made in the offseason.”

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Associated Press freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd contributed to this report.

Paul Newberry/The Associated Press