Gipp could have been a Chicago Cub

Provided Photo George Gipp, fourth from right in top row, was an outstanding baseball player in his time. He led Laurium to the Upper Peninsula Baseball League championship in 1919 when he hit .494.

LAURIUM — He’s widely known for his exploits on the football field.

But George Gipp likely would have played major league baseball — if he had not died tragically in 1920 in the prime of his youth.

And it is very likely the Notre Dame football legend would have been a member of the Chicago Cubs, who were avidly courting him.

Gipp was on the 1919 Laurium baseball team that captured the Upper Peninsula League championship by defeating Sault Ste. Marie that long ago summer.

The late Pete Baudino of Calumet saw Gipp play several times. Baudino lived to the age of 96 before passing away a few years ago.

“George Gipp was a great athlete,” Baudino said in a 1998 interview. “He could hit, run and field with the best of them.”

Baudino recalled a game in 1919 when Gipp collected two homers, two triples and two doubles in a doubleheader sweep of Marquette. He batted in nine runs that day.

“The homers he hit were well over the fence,” he said. “He turned singles in doubles and doubles into triples with his speed,” Baudino recalled.

Of course, Gipp, who hit .494 that season, had some help on the Laurium team.

Paul Hogan, Joe Savini, Pat Rapson and Bill Harvey were all key players.

Hogan, who played later for the famed Houghton Copper Sox, was a hard-hitting infielder.

Savini later coached hockey at the Michigan College of Mines (later Michigan Tech) and was a longtime manager of the Calumet Armory. He was the catcher on the 1919 squad.

Rapson and Harvey were steady players, who could hit.

Gipp, ironically, never played football for Calumet High.

The late Joe Mishica, a classmate of Gipp, remembered the day the future gridiron great picked up a football at practice, and dropkicked it some 90 yards.

“George was on his way to the pool hall …. he didn’t have time for football,” Mishica said.

Mishica went on to play football at Kalamazoo College and recalled the day his team met Notre Dame. Kalamazoo was a major team back then.

“I went to tackle him (Gipp) on a running play and he hit me as hard as I was ever hit,” he said. “He stopped after the play …. and asked me how I was doing. That was George.”

At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Gipp was big for an athlete in those days. He was quick to attract the attention of Fighting Irish foootball coach Knute Rockne, even though he went to Notre Dame on a baseball scholarship.

Rockne talked him into playing football, however. The rest as they say, is history.

After putting together an All-American season in 1918, Gipp was offered a contract by the Cubs.

But he rejected the Chicago offer and returned to ND for the 1919 season.

After putting together another a great season, he contracted a case of strep throat after playing in a game against Illinois. He had been advised to sit out the game.

He died of complications of the sickness on Dec. 18, 1920. Stores in Calumet and Laurium closed for the afternoon in his honor.

A memorial was later built in Laurium to honor the most outstanding athlete ever produced in the Copper Country.