COMMENTARY | On June 28, Chipper Jones was inducted into the Atlanta Braves' Hall of Fame and had his No. 10 retired alongside legends, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro, Hank Aaron and Dale Murphy. Yet, some casual fans may be confused as to why Chipper took a moment out of the festivities to make sure he thanked the journeyman pitcher Todd Van Poppel. Let's just say that Atlanta owes a lot to this obscure right-hander.
Why is it that a relatively unknown pitcher, who never played for the Atlanta Braves, and who carries a lifetime record of 40-52 and a career ERA of 5.58, will never have to pay for a drink in the state of Georgia for as long as he lives? Simple: Because fate can be a fickle mistress.
The Braves had the first pick in the 1990 MLB Draft and had their sights set squarely on power-pitching prospect Todd Van Poppel. The eventual first-round selection of the Oakland Athletics told Atlanta that he would not sign with them if the Braves selected him No. 1 overall. The Braves were then forced to change gears and select a young switch-hitting shortstop out of Florida named Larry Wayne Jones Jr., and the rest, as they say, is history. Chipper went on to become a Braves' legend, and Van Poppel cemented his name as an unintentional Atlanta folk hero.
Had Van Poppel elected to sign with the Braves, it would have been the Detroit Tigers having Jones fall into their laps at No. 2. I, for one, am glad the baseball world never got to see the potential power-packed trio of Tony Clark, Cecil Fielder and Chipper hitting at old Tiger Stadium. And for that, every Braves fan owes Van Poppel a debt of gratitude.
How might MLB's history books have been rewritten? Exactly how many of the Braves' 14 consecutive division titles would not be hanging at Turner Field if things would have happened differently? Would the Braves have even won the 1995 World Series?
Jones hit .363 with three home runs and eight RBIs during the 1995 postseason. Without Chipper, the 1995 team would have likely had to rely on the .222 hitting Rafael Belliard to man the hot corner. Not to mention that -- even as a rookie -- Chipper hit No. 3 in the Atlanta lineup.
But Atlanta did take Chipper and they did win the World Series, and now his number will forever hang high above Turner Field. And, in the modern era of professional sports where players come and go to new teams and franchise at will, it may be a very long time before the Braves see another number resting alongside Chipper's.
But hey, for all he has done for the city of Atlanta, perhaps the Braves should consider retiring Van Poppel's No. 59. After all, he did do more for the Atlanta Braves than any other team he played for during his 11-year MLB career.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
- Sports & Recreation
- Chipper Jones
- Atlanta Braves
- Todd Van Poppel