In 2001, Tom Brady, a sixth round draft pick, entered into an NFL game in relief of star quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who had just suffered a serious injury at the hands of the Jets’ Mo Lewis. The rest, as they say, is history. Brady went on to lead the Pats to their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history that very same season, and has gone on to have on of the greatest careers in NFL history. What many people don’t know is that Brady almost never played professional football at all.
In 1995, The Montreal Expos actually drafted Brady in the 18th round of the MLB draft right out of high school. Brady, who then played both football and baseball, ultimately decided to stay in school and stick with football. He attended the University of Michigan, graduated, and was ultimately drafted 199th overall by the Patriots in the 2000 NFL Draft.
However, today, with baseball representing a much safer, easier, and arguably more lucrative sport for professional athletes, one wonders how things would have shaken out if Brady had chosen the diamond over the gridiron. While the question may be shunned by Patriots fans, as a Montreal Expos fan forever deprived of a chance to see a championship in Montreal, I am sure I am not alone in wondering… What if Tom Brady had chosen to play professional baseball instead?
Had Brady chosen to pursue a professional baseball career over one in football, the Tom Brady that we all know would not exist. Sure, Brady had all the tools to not only reach, but remain in the big leagues. However, his talents as a catcher or pitcher did not make him a ‘can’t-miss’ prospect (hence the 18th round selection). He very well could have grown into one of the top pitchers in the league but Brady alone would not be enough to save the Expos from their eventual demise.
After being drafted by the Expos in 1995, Brady reaches the big leagues by 1998, just in time to watch reigning National League Cy Young winner, Pedro Martinez, get traded to Boston. However, Montreal’s loss is Brady’s gain, as he begins to channel the same persistence that has brought him to the top of the football world into dominating the mound. Brady sees this as his chance to step in and and become Montreal’s new ace. In true Brady fashion, he does just that, quickly picking up where Pedro left off. Best of all is that no one saw it coming. As shocked as people were to see Brady leading the Patriots to victory in his rookie year, they would be even more astounded to see him maintain the same dominance over a 162-game schedule.
Suddenly, the loss of Pedro feels like a necessary evil. If not for the trade, the Expos would never have known what they had in young Brady. For the next three seasons, Brady sits atop every NL pitching statistic and is the talk of the league. Unfortunately for Expos fans, this is where the fun of drafting Brady ends.
Brady’s success is exciting, but also problematic for a team that has long struggled to maintain homegrown talent. With free agency looming and Montreal’s notoriously high taxes, the organization quickly realizes that if they aren’t going to pay him, they will have to trade Brady or see him walk for nothing. A bidding war ensues with none other than the Red Sox and Yankees at the top of the pack. Ultimately, in a move that seems like fate, Brady is shipped to Boston, a city he seems destined to call home. With Pedro Martinez, the man who inspired him as an Expo, Brady’s game reaches a new level. Behind one of the greatest pitching tandems in history, the Red Sox become unstoppable and win three out of the next five World Series’.
Brady’s time in Montreal is nothing more than a fun trivia answer, as he joins a long list of start players that Montreal has traded away for nothing. Pero Martinez. Randy Johnson. Now, Tom Brady. Meanwhile, in Boston, Brady quickly cements himself as one of the city’s greatest sports heroes.
Some things never change.
The Patriots & Brady’s Replacements
“Patriot Success” was an oxymoron in the years before Brady joined the team. In a world where Brady chooses baseball, that reputation holds to this day.
With no Brady to replace an injured Drew Bledsoe in the second game of the 2001 season, the Patriots find themselves up a creek with no paddle. Much like any team that loses its starting QB at the beginning of the season, the Pats write this season off as a loss, and begin looking to the future. The Patriots win only one game without their starter at the helm. By week 14, Bledsoe is healthy enough to come back, but Belichick chooses to hold him out in the hopes of securing the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. The Patriots’ season is over long before January.
With the Patriots finishing near the bottom of the division, the Oakland Raiders path to the Super Bowl looks clear. The 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff Game is completed just like any other game. The Raiders advance to the Super Bowl before losing to the Rams, who would become back to back Champs. The definition of Incomplete pass and fumble are not forever changed by a single play and the NFL never begins its shift toward a league concerned only with quarterbacks and offense… at least not yet.
That off-season, in a blockbuster trade, the Patriots ship off the oft-injured Bledsoe to the Atlanta Falcons for another top-5 draft pick. With their two draft picks, the Patriots hit the erase button on their entire offensive strategy, banking it all on two players: quarterback Mike Vick, as well as running back, LaDainian Tomlinson.
As a member of the New England Patriots, Michael Vick goes down in history for all the right reasons. In moving to the Northeast, Vick leaves behind every negative influence in his life and becomes a full time student of Belichick. The solitude, combined with the Belichick’s no-nonsense approach allows Vick to develop a near-perfect feel for the offense, turning him into a dual-threat QB actually capable of going through his reads. Vick’s off-field career is uneventful and uninteresting, something Belichick pushed him hard on. Factor in L.T., who remained the same all-time great running back, along with the Pats defense, and the Patriots would quickly rise to the top of the AFC. By 2004, the Patriots reach the Super Bowl, and still manage to defeat the Eagles, earning the franchise its first Super Bowl trophy ever. The Patriots are just beginning, and manage to capture another three championships by 2017.
So a Brady-less Pats team still owns 4 Super Bowl rings. Did you expect any less from a team coached by one of the best of all time and owned by one of the few owners really invested in the game? The Patriots see success even without Brady. After all, it is just the Patriot Way.
A Brady who plays baseball is barely a Brady at all. Sure, he might have gone on to be a truly above average, if not great pitcher. However, the MLB is chalk full of those guys. A pitcher, even if it is your ace, is at the end of the day just another member of the team. A quarterback, on the other hand, is your future. As a pitcher, Brady still comes out and makes clutch performances, but only when it is his turn in the rotation. 75% of the time, it is someone else’s heroics lifting the Red Sox to victory. As such, no matter how good he might have been, Brady the pitcher is not the star we know him as today.
As an NFL quarterback, Brady gets to play hero every single down. There is no rotation to dictate who will take a snap or lead a drive. There is just one guy. It is that aura that catapulted Brady to superstardom and it is his continued success at the age of 40 that has allowed him to achieve true legendary status before even hanging up the cleats. Had Brady chosen baseball, there is no lifestyle or fitness brand built around his longevity. After all, as one of a few starting pitchers on the team, Brady lacks the following to build a real brand at all. A 40-year old MVP quarterback is damn-near unbelievable. A 40-year old ace pitcher is just nothing new.
Baseball player Brady goes down as a really fantastic pitcher. But that’s it. Pretty underwhelming for the man who might just be the greatest QB in NFL history.
Not to worry Patriot fans, Brady definitely made the right decision in pursuing a professional football career. He will no doubt go down in history as one of the greatest players in the NFL. Meanwhile, for the many who hate the Patriots (myself included) and wish Brady had chosen baseball, take solace in knowing that even if he had, the Patriots would still be the Patriots. You just can’t fake good management.
Photo courtesy of: Sporting news