Chipper a wise choice for Braves in 1990 Draft

Club chose mainstay instead of more heralded Van Poppel with top overall pick

July 28th, 2018

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Many baseball fans may know Chipper Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. are the only Hall of Famers who were taken with the first pick in the MLB Draft. But few may realize the Braves didn't even have a scouting report on Jones a few months before taking a chance on the man who now stands as one of the most influential and revered players in franchise history.

"I think we did the right thing," Braves scouting legend Paul Snyder said. "It's certainly easy to say that as we sit here right now at the Hall of Fame."

When Jones is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame during this afternoon's ceremonies (coverage begins on and MLB Network starting at 11 a.m. ET), he'll take time to thank his parents, Snyder, Bobby Cox and the many others who guided him toward immortality in the game.

But serving as further proof of the anonymity of the scouting world, he will not mention Hep Cronin, the longtime scout who might be best recognized as the father of University of Cincinnati's men's basketball coach Mick Cronin.

As the Braves prepared for the 1990 Draft, with Cox serving as the general manager and Snyder as the scouting director, Todd Van Poppel appeared to be the best available prospect. Jones was not even on Atlanta's radar until February, when Cronin opted to drive to Jacksonville, Fla., simply because a fellow scout he regarded as wise said he planned to spend the next day watching a young shortstop from The Bolles School.

Cronin's initial report led to a visit from Snyder, who then prompted Cox and many of the organization's top evaluators to come see this switch-hitting shortstop who had previously eluded their attention.

"The Braves were close to the vest," Jones said. "I never had a meeting with the Atlanta Braves. I heard rumblings they were at some games, but I never met Paul Snyder. I never met Bobby Cox. I never saw Jimy Williams. I know he came and saw me play. They even said Hank Aaron came to watch me play. It wasn't until two nights before the Draft that I got the famous phone call."

Long before the famous call was the savvy scouting evaluation Snyder made while sitting in a car parked near a field at the Tigers' Spring Training complex in Lakeland, Fla.

The Braves heard the Tigers had invited Jones for a workout and wanted to take advantage of the chance to see or, in this case, hear, what he could do with a wood bat. So, an undetected Snyder put himself within ear shot and was introduced to the melodious sounds produced by the swing of the kid who would become one of the best switch-hitters in baseball history.

"They say if you can't see, you can scout if you can hear," Snyder said. "We sat in the car and listened for the wood bat to ring. There were a lot of things that had to happen quickly that year -- because we didn't have a lot of advanced scouting reports on him from his early years."

After Jones impressed enough to quickly establish himself as a potential top overall pick, he enhanced the difficulty of the Braves' decision when he broke his right hand after he punched a teammate who was jealous of the extra attention Jones was receiving.

But thoughts of selecting Van Poppel continued to evaporate, when he and his parents made it clear they didn't want to talk to the Braves. They stood Snyder up twice and did not show up for a scheduled meeting with Cox two days before the Draft.

When Cox reacted by immediately telling Snyder to focus on Jones, a call was placed to Larry Wayne Jones Sr., who had to make approximately five different calls before reaching his son to tell him he needed to immediately leave his senior prom to return home for a conversation with the Braves.

"There was one [furious] lady," Jones said. "But I dropped everything and left. Up until that point, that was going to be the most important thing that happened to me."

Jones made his Major League debut in 1993, returned from the first of two torn left anterior cruciate ligaments to begin his reign as Atlanta's third baseman in '95 and then proudly retired as a Brave at the conclusion of the 2012 season. His final two seasons were the only ones he spent without his big league manager being Cox, a fellow Hall of Famer who will be seated behind Jones during Sunday's induction speech.

"I hope I don't see him shed a tear, because I will lose it if Bobby does," Jones said. "He's the man. He's the guy who drafted me. I spent 23 years in this organization trying to make him proud and trying to make him look good. He went out on a limb and drafted me with the first pick over Todd Van Poppel. It might not have been the popular pick at the time. But I spent the past two decades trying to make him look good."