There's no one quite like Chipper Jones to remind us that baseball is a collection of millions of little decisions that add up to on-field events. In 1990, the consensus #2 prospect in the Rule 4 draft was Jones, a high-school shortstop from Florida. The consensus #1 prospect was a Texas right-hander named Todd Van Poppel, who was supposed to be Nolan Ryan after taking Roger Clemens pills.
''We were convinced he was going to school and that no amount of money would persuade him otherwise,'' (Bobby) Cox said. ''I was surprised he signed. We never would have given that much money to him.''
The Braves had to go to their backup plan, which was Chipper Jones. This isn't a unique story: The Astros got Craig Biggio because the Tigers liked Bill Henderson and Steve Pegues more; the Reds were so enamored of Chad Mottola that they passed on Derek Jeter in the top of the first round.
But while it's not that unusual that a consensus #1 pick doesn't go first overall because of money, it is unusual for the player chosen in his stead to have a Hall of Fame career and play almost 20 seasons with the same franchise. If Van Poppel were more of a generic lunkhead instead of a bright kid eager to go to college, or if the Braves threw caution (and money) to the wind, how many playoff appearances would the Braves have had between 1993 and 2002?
They had 13 in the Chipper Jones era, with a chance to increase that total this year. It's possible that Jones is the greatest contingency plan in the history of the amateur draft.
(Of course, if the Braves had signed Van Poppel, he'd probably still be in their rotation, trying for his 300th career win.)