When Gloria Mackenzie, the 84-year-old Florida woman who claimed a $590 million Powerball jackpot last week, made her identity known she revealed that another lottery ticket buyer had allowed her to go ahead of them in line to buy the winning ticket.
She gets $590 million and someone else in Zephyrhills, Fla., gets a lifetime of wondering “What if?”
You hope she would give the polite patron at the Publix grocery store a few thousand dollars, at least, for their kindness.
Sports, like purchasing lottery tickets, has a lot of “What ifs?” Probably none are bigger than those that arise from the choices that are made when teams draft players.
Maybe in honor of last week’s amateur baseball draft, former Cincinnati Reds general manager Jim Bowden talked on espn.com about how if the Reds had made one decision differently in 1992 they, not the New York Yankees, could have had Derek Jeter.
Bowden, or as Marty Brennaman calls him, “Old Leather Pants,” said that would have “changed history.” Well, at least baseball history.
The Reds stepped out of the line for Jeter and gave the Yankees the chance to draft a future Hall of Famer. You could make a case that this was worth as much to the Yankees as Mrs. Mackenzie’s lottery ticket was to her.
In hindsight, it ranks among the biggest “What ifs” in the history of the baseball draft.
The Reds had the No. 5 spot in the draft that year and the Yankees were drafting No. 6.
Gene Bennett, one of the most accomplished scouts in the history of the Reds franchise, told them they had to take Jeter, a high school shortstop from Kalamazoo, Mich.
But Julian Mock, recently hired as director of scouting by owner Marge Schott, had a different idea. And he had the final word on who would be drafted.
Mock wanted to pick Chad Mottola, an outfielder from Central Florida University.
Jeter, apparently, had performed poorly the one time Mock watched him play. Bennett had seen him several times and begged Mock to make another trip to Kalamazoo. But he said no, that Mottola was the player the Reds needed.
According to Bowden, Mock said Mottola was a four-tool player who had power, could run, throw and field. He just had to learn how to hit.
That lesson was never learned. Mottola had a .200 average in 125 major league at-bats spread out over 11 years.
He spent 16 years in the minor leagues before retiring in 2007. Ironically, the guy who never developed the ability to hit big league pitching is now the Toronto Blue Jays’ hitting coach.
Jeter has 3,304 career hits in 18 major league seasons, a .313 career average, was Rookie of the Year and has been an All-Star 13 times.
Bennett told the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1999 that he told Bowden on draft day in 1992 “I think the Reds made the worst mistake they ever made in the history of the baseball draft.”
The Reds might have played Jeter in center field with Larkin at shortstop if they had signed both of them.
Bennett once told a reporter he only thought about what could have been with Jeter “every day.”
Two years after that history-altering Jeter decision, the Reds passed on another All-Star shortstop when they chose pitcher C.J. Nitkowski at No. 9, which allowed the Boston Red Sox to select Nomar Garciaparra at No. 12.
Mistakes are made every year in every draft in every sport. But you still might want to think twice about stepping out of line if the prize is $590 million or Derek Jeter.