The lowly Atlanta Braves had the first overall pick in the 1990 Major League Baseball amateur draft. Then-general manager Bobby Cox had his eye on “can’t-miss” pitcher Todd Van Poppel who had scouts drooling over his mighty arm.
But the pompous young right hander sent word that he would never sign a contract with the Atlanta team. So Cox and the Braves shifted their attention to a Florida teenaged infielder named Larry Wayne Jones.
The rest, as they say, is history. Very good history for both Cox — who moved from the front office to the dugout as field manager — and for the Jones kid everyone called “Chipper.”
As many Braves fan recall with great delight, Van Poppel retired from baseball just before the 2005 season after bouncing around with seven teams. His career pitching record was a poor 40 wins and 52 losses with an ERA of 5.58. He never won more than seven games in a season.
Jones, on the other hand, became the face of the Braves team that won more consecutive division titles (14) than any sports franchise in history. A fixture in All-Star games and post-season play, Jones received a World Series Championship ring as a rookie in ’95.
He’s won a batting title and is the only switch hitter in MLB history to have a career batting average above .300 along with 400 or more home runs.
Cox, who retires at the end of this season, and folks all over Braves Country are delighted at being spurned two decades ago by a cocky young pitcher who couldn’t find joy in simply having the opportunity to play professional baseball or helping a team to improve.
And while the aging Chipper nurses a bum knee and considers his future — which is sure to include a trip to Cooperstown, N.Y. — there sits a reminder that what we first see as a miss in life might turn out to be a hit. Or maybe 2,490 of them — and counting.
[Photo I took at the July 15 game, about a month before a torn ACL in his left knee put Braves veteran Chipper Jones on the DL.]
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.