I thought something was understood in baseball. I thought if you're destined to have a plaque in Cooperstown someday, and if you've announced you're playing your last season in the Major Leagues, you'll get picked for the All-Star Game.

You know, period.

No questions asked.

Just as long as you can breathe and have enough strength to tip your cap during the standing ovations you'll receive when introduced.


Guess not, because while Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones is in the All-Star Game now, it took a while. It took somebody else's injury. As a result, he was so close either to watching the events of this coming Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City from his favorite chair or to hunting throughout the All-Star break at his ranch in Texas.

Let's settle this forever. Let's set up a committee, and it could be as large or as small as you want it to be. It could consist of a combination of baseball executives, managers, coaches, players, fans and media, and it could spend the start of each year identifying players who are overwhelmingly considered future Hall of Famers.

After that, the committee could determine which of its designated future Hall of Famers are finishing the last year or years of their careers. Then the committee could declare those guys as automatic entries (AE players) for the upcoming All-Star Game.

Within the next five years, you could imagine a short list of AE players such as the Yankees' quartet of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera (provided he returns from his ACL injury), Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte.

You wouldn't have more than a couple of AE players per season.

Many years, you wouldn't have any.

If it means Major League Baseball would have to expand the All-Star rosters on occasion to accommodate these players, so be it. Just because they're chosen, they don't have to play -- especially since All-Star managers are under pressure these days to manage to win, with home-field advantage on the line when it comes to the World Series.

Anyway, Jones would have been this year's only AE player, and it would have saved everybody from needless drama. Courtesy of Matt Kemp's nagging hamstring, he became a last-second entry to the National League's roster. Otherwise, his only chance to make the All-Star Game would have been through the Final Vote, which ended Thursday after days of fan voting.

St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese eventually won in the NL over Braves outfielder Michael Bourn, Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.

So what if Jones still were in the mix this week? Would he have survived the Final Vote process?

Who knows? You'd like to think Jones would have been rewarded for joining Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray as the greatest switch-hitters ever among sluggers. Neither Mantle nor Murray finished their careers with a batting average of .300.

Jones will.

That's why, despite Harper's rookie status, he showed much wisdom when he told reporters when Jones was in the Final Vote mix, "I think a Hall of Famer should be able to go to the All-Star Game his last year. If I was going to make a vote, I'd go vote for Chip."

Makes sense to me, of course.

We're talking about Larry Wayne Jones Jr., who won a batting title at 36, owns an NL MVP trophy, has a World Series ring, made seven previous trips to the All-Star Game and grabbed two Silver Slugger awards.

The epitome of what Harper, others and I among the enlightened are talking about in this regard happened 39 years ago, when Kansas City last played host to the All-Star Game. Between the two rosters back then in 1973, there were 17 future Hall of Famers, including some guy for the NL who would finish the season hitting .211 with six home runs and no other statistics worth mentioning.

Willie Mays.

Nobody complained, because nearly everybody that night inside Kauffman Stadium was too busy celebrating what the Say Hey Kid once did with ease during his career: Everything.

Mays eventually came to the plate as a pinch-hitter to join Stan Musial for a record 24th appearance in an All-Star Game, and the packed house rose to its feet while smiling and roaring.

Jones is hitting better than .211. To be exact, following Thursday night's game at Turner Field against the Chicago Cubs, he's hitting .317, with six home runs and 33 RBIs in only 189 plate appearances. More impressive, he has remained as clutch this season as he has throughout his nearly two decades in the Major Leagues, all with the Braves.

Former Braves star Dale Murphy said of Jones to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "The only time he doesn't hit is if he's on the [disabled list]. If he's here, he's hitting. He's one of those guys, like Pete Rose, that just don't ever have a prolonged slump."

Cubs pitchers would agree, especially after Jones used several of them on Tuesday to go 5-for-5 for the third time in his career. He also had a splendid defensive play, and he stole a base.

And Jones is 40.

Added Murphy to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "That was incredible. I thought, well, there's something I never did at 40. But then I thought, well, I never did that at 30, either."

What Murphy was saying as the owner of two NL MVP Awards, he knows a future Hall of Famer when he sees one.

Jones definitely is one.

Jones is the latest one who should be in Cooperstown and in the All-Star Game, regardless of everything else.