The history of the two teams in the National League Championship Series, the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs — in fact, the history of these two cities — may have been decided at the kitchen table of a Hungarian mother in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.
Rose Namath may have determined the future of baseball in Chicago and both baseball and football in New York when she stood firm about her son, future Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Willie Namath, going to college.
If it had been up to a young, brash 18-year-old Namath, who was already developing the persona that would become “Broadway Joe,” he might have opted to take the $50,000 the Cubs offered him to sign a baseball contract in 1961.
But Rose Namath wanted her son to go to college, and she prevailed.
“Until my senior year, baseball and basketball were my best sports, and even when I was a senior, I still wanted to play baseball professionally,” Namath told Playboy in 1969. “But the family wanted me to go to college and I guess I agreed with them or else I would have accepted some of the offers I got.”
He had offers — multiple ones. “Four teams were interested in me,” Namath said. “The St. Louis Cardinals wanted to sign me for $15,000 when I was a junior in high school. When my dad asked me what I planned to do with the money, I told him I’d seen a great looking convertible. He didn’t exactly think it would be such a great idea if that’s all I wanted.
“Anyway, the Orioles and Kansas City A’s wanted me, too, but the big offer I got was in my senior year, when the Chicago Cubs offered me $50,000.”
Consider this alternative universe: Namath signs with the Cubs and goes through their minor league system. By 1969, at the age of 26, he could have been entering his prime and been part of the Cubs’ major league roster — a team with four future Hall of Famers on it, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins.
Namath could have very well been part of that team that won 92 games in 1969 but finished eight games behind the Mets in that historic National League East Division race — and perhaps could have changed the balance of power in that division.
If Namath played for the Cubs, maybe the Curse of the Billy Goat might be a distant memory. It might have been the Cubs against the Baltimore Orioles in that 1969 World Series, and Namath would play a role in defeating a Baltimore team — just not the Colts.
Yes, if Namath had his way and took the money from the Cubs, there is no “Broadway Joe” leading the New York Jets to their memorable upset win in Super Bowl III over the Colts.
There’s no “Miracle Mets” World Series championship, no Jets Super Bowl upset.
New York, you owe a lot to Rose Namath, who wanted her son to go to college.
“Rose wanted her son to go to college,” Al Hassan, the Maryland football manager who hosted Namath on a visit and who would wind up being a long-time friend (yes, Terrapins fans, history could have been a lot different — but, as we know, he chose Alabama) said in Mark Kriegel’s biography, “Namath.”
“It was very important to her,” Hassan said.
How good of a baseball prospect was Namath? Dom Casey, coach of the Beaver Falls American Legion team, told Kriegel that Namath loved baseball, and told the story once of Namath showing up for a game after getting a tooth pulled at the dentist, and throwing one-hit ball while pitching five innings. When he didn’t pitch, he played the outfield.
“Joe could charge a ball and make the play at the plate better than anyone,” Casey said. “He acted like an infielder playing the outfield.”
Namath told Playboy, “I think I could have been an outstanding professional baseball player, but I don’t think I could have reached the heights that I have in football, being one of the very top players in the game, being a world champion. I might have been part of a team that won a World Series, I guess.”
A Chicago Cubs World Series champion, perhaps.
The great Philadelphia Phillies slugger, Dick Allen, was from nearby Wampum, and remembered seeing Namath play. He also saw the early signs of “Broadway Joe” during a workout for scouts.
“He just sat on the bench,” Allen told Kriegel. “He was wearing a beret and smoking a cigarette in a long cigarette holder and his glove hanging from his belt. The scouts asked him to play and he refused. He stuck his head up and shook his head, ‘No.’ And he could play.”
Yes, Namath would have brought some style to Chicago and Major League Baseball — Michigan Avenue Joe — and maybe a World Series title.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.