What If the Atlanta Braves Never Drafted Chipper Jones?
It is a question that is asked repeatedly in baseball. We ponder what the life of our sport would be like if monumental events never happened. What if Tommy Lasorda didn't have the guts to pinch-hit an injured Kirk Gibson with the game on the line? What if Steve Bartman didn't reach out to try and snag that foul ball away from Moises Alou? And what would baseball look like today if Jose Canseco never touched a PED?
It is a question that can drive a man insane. We look back on life's critical junctions and wonder if things would be any better or worse if a different road had been chosen.
So, what is the single greatest thing that has happened to Atlanta Braves baseball in the last 30 years? Chipper Jones. The selection of Chipper Jones with the first overall selection in the 1990 draft was a gutsy one, but it was one that then general manager Bobby Cox felt was best for the future. And he was right. But what if that had never happened? What if Bobby took a scout's advice and drafted somebody else?
I ask for some wiggle room on behalf of creativity, but this is what reality today could possibly have looked like if the Atlanta Braves never drafted future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones.
The Braves Select Todd Van Poppel with the First Pick in the 1990 Draft
Not alarmed by the threats that he would not sign if drafted by Atlanta, the Braves select the No. 1 player on their draft board. Outraged that the Braves would select him even though he blatantly tells them he won't sign, Van Poppel initially refuses to even negotiate with the team.
Following the draft, Ted Turner, Bobby Cox and Hank Aaron fly out to visit him in his native home in Texas. After a day of talking with the Atlanta executives and hearing them plead their case, Van Poppel decides he is willing to at least begin negotiating a contract with the Braves.
The Braves reach an agreement with Van Poppel one day before he was scheduled to begin classes at the University of Texas. Unlike the Athletics, the Braves are able to persuade him into signing a minor-league contract. This allows Van Poppel more time to develop in the minor leagues and keeps him injury free. Van Poppel becomes one of the most highly touted pitching prospects in years, and as many people watch the Braves early 90's success, they view Van Poppel as the next tsunami to take the National League West by storm.
After facing tough losses in the World Series the past two seasons, the Braves head into the 1992 offseason hoping to make a big splash in free agency. With three top-of-the-rotation starters already on the major league roster and another potential ace chomping at the bit in Double-A, the Braves opt not to sign free agent starter Greg Maddux. But instead...
The Braves Sign Barry Bonds to a 7-Year $60 Million Dollar Contract
John Scheurholz stuns the baseball world by winning the bidding war for baseball's best player. Instead of signing with his beloved San Francisco Giants, Bonds takes more money to sign with the Braves. After watching his team lose to the Braves the previous two seasons in the NLCS, Bonds decides to join 'em.
Ted Turner goes out on a limb, handing out the heaviest contract in major league history to a man who has a reputation as a clubhouse cancer. Despite the heavy criticism for the gutsy contract, the Braves celebrate their landing one of baseball's best ever. In spring training, Deion Sanders is traded to the New York Yankees after reportedly getting into an altercation with Bonds. In exchange for Sanders, the Braves acquire Bernie Williams, who becomes a key leader in the Braves clubhouse for the next decade.
Bonds makes an immediate impact in 1993, belting 20 home runs and knocking home 78 runs in the season's first half. Bonds wins his third MVP award in his first season in Atlanta, and the Braves finish the season with 102 wins and their third consecutive NL West title. With no Barry Bonds in their lineup, the Giants finish with only 92 wins.
The Braves meet the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1993 NLCS, but lose in five games. The Phillies then go on to meet the Yankees in the World Series. Because of three complete games by Greg Maddux, the Yankees defeat the Phillies in seven games to take the 1993 World Series.
The San Francisco Giants, however, fall off the map in 1994 due primarily to a lack of offense. Or more specifically, a lack of Bonds. With a 45-70 at the time of the infamous strike, they earn the first overall pick in next year's draft. And in the following June...
The Giants Select Todd Helton with the First Pick in the 1995 Draft
In need of a major-league ready bat, the Giants opt for Tennessee two-sport star Todd Helton with the first pick. Helton is rushed to the major leagues and makes his debut in July of 1996, less than a year after signing with the Giants.
Helton's knee problems begin to resurface near the end of his first full professional season, and he is forced to sit out the entire 1997 campaign. Helton returns to action in 1998 but is unable to stay healthy, playing in only 76 games sporadically throughout the season. A similar inconsistency haunts Helton in the summer of 1999, and in the following offseason he is traded to the Oakland Athletics where he can become a DH. After failing to find offensive success after six seasons in the majors, Todd Helton retires with a career .254 batting average and only 300 career hits.
In the spring of 2003, Helton is hired as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach at the University of Tennessee. He holds that position for five seasons, until 2008 when he is named Tennessee's offensive coordinator. Under the tutelage of Helton, Jonathan Crompton becomes a Heisman trophy winner and is drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft.
After Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer is fired following the conclusion of the regular season, the college football world is shocked to hear the news that...
The University of Tennessee Hires Todd Helton as Its 21st Head Football Coach
Forget Lane Kiffen... Tennessee's first choice is the former quarterback. In 2009, Helton's first season as Head Coach, the Volunteers get little on-field results and finish with a 6-7 record. Helton takes heavy criticism for the losing season. The media cites several play-calling gaffes in major rivalry games as proof of Helton's inexperience on the sidelines, and many feel the University should look in another direction for 2010.
In apparent harmony with the critics, the next season begins with a 1-2 start for the Vols, as true freshman Tyler Bray struggles after being given the starting role. After the slow start, Bray heats up and rallies the Vols to a nine-game winning streak. Tennessee rides their freshman quarterback straight into the Georgia Dome, where they meet mighty Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers for the SEC title. The Volunteers put up a valiant fight, but ultimately fall to the Tigers 49-31. The season ends in a victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl.
With Tyler Bray as a Heisman favorite heading into 2011, the University of Tennessee begins their schedule ranked ninth in the nation. Storming through the season with an undefeated record, Tennessee defeats LSU in the SEC Championship Game and is set to play Oklahoma State in the 2012 BCS National Championship.
Can one finite decision really make a lasting impact on reality as we know it? Does the future really hinge on our every step—our every breath?
Obviously, things would not have happened exactly like this. They probably would be much less drastic. But oh—it is so fun to speculate.
What would things be like if Chipper's legend was built someplace other than Atlanta? What would Todd Van Poppel have become if he were not rushed to the majors so quickly as a teenager? What would Barry Bonds' status be in mainstream culture if he was not nurtured and cared for like a mama's boy in San Francisco? And what if Todd Helton never became a Rockie? All of these questions lead to different answers and different opinions. I hope you will share some of yours with me.