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The Atlanta Braves were strongly considering selecting Todd Van Poppel, a high school pitcher out of Arlington, Texas, with the No. 1 overall pick in the June 1990 draft until Braves scouting director Paul Snyder essentially said he would resign if the club didn't take the high school shortstop from The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. The Braves did, but it still makes us wonder: What if the Braves had selected Van Poppel instead of Chipper Jones?
The next 20 years in the National League might have changed dramatically if they had. Van Poppel got to the big leagues in 1991 with the Oakland A's, but his last year was 2004 after pitching for six teams, including the Texas Rangers twice, and recording a 40-52 record with a 5.58 ERA in 359 games. Jones became, by most statistical measures, one of the five best third basemen in major league history, with the highest OPS of anyone ever to play the position.
Jones and Joe DiMaggio are the only players in history to bat .300 with 100 RBIs for a first-place team in seven different seasons. The Braves won an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles, which simply would not have happened without Jones. In 1995, at age 23, Jones was installed as the everyday third baseman and No. 3 hitter for the Braves. They won the World Series that season, he finished second to Hideo Nomo for the Rookie of the Year, and the Braves went on to win a division title in each of the next 11 seasons. And the whole time, the one constant was Jones hitting in the middle of the order.
The Braves had great pitching, but without Jones, maybe the New York Mets would have won the division a few times, in 1999 and 2000, or maybe the Philadelphia Phillies would have won division titles in 2001 and 2005. Maybe Braves manager Bobby Cox, who rightfully sailed into the Hall of Fame this year on the first ballot, would have had a much harder time making it without Jones as the focal point of the Braves' offense for 18 years. And maybe if the Braves hadn't been perennial winners, Greg Maddux wouldn't have signed, and thrived, there as he did, meaning the historic, Hall of Fame threesome of Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz wouldn't have been as dominant and famous without Jones.
The pre-draft meeting the Braves had with Jones took 30 minutes. Jones did not have an agent. The Braves made an offer. Jones' father, Larry, who acted as his agent, took his son upstairs and told him that he could get a lot more money than what the Braves had offered.
"I know," Chipper Jones said. "But I want to be the No. 1 pick in the country. And I want to play now." And then he told his father, "I'm going to make so much money playing this game, I don't need to get it all in my first professional contract."
So he signed. And it changed the NL East, if not the entire NL, for nearly 20 years.