On October 6, 1994, Michael Jordan shocked the world when he retired from basketball at the peak of his career to pursue the dream of playing professional baseball.
It’s not every day a 29-year-old with very little injury history walks away from his professional sport during his prime, but Jordan cited the recent death of his father, who loved baseball, and a fading love for the game. basketball as the main reasons he wanted to pursue a different career at a Chicago media press conference.
Nine consecutive All-Star Game appearances, seven consecutive scoring titles (averaging more than 30.0 points per game each year), six consecutive All-NBA and All-Defensive First Team picks, two MVPs, one Player honor Defender of the Year and most importantly, three consecutive NBA championships. That’s the résumé Jordan left behind when he decided to bring his talents to baseball.
As the most popular athlete on the planet and undoubtedly the best player in the NBA at the time, the news shook the league, although rumors and reports had started to leak out the day or two earlier. When Jordan officially announced his next career move, his decision was pretty much the worst-kept secret in sports.
Was Michael Jordan good at baseball?
Jordan officially signed with the White Sox (Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf also owned the Sox) on February 7, 1994, 10 days before his 31st birthday. He had been hitting regularly at Comiskey Park, and had spoken quite openly about his desire to try his hand at baseball, now that he had hung up his famous running shoes.
Jordan loved to play baseball as a kid. His father loved baseball. Jordan almost gave baseball a chance the summer before.
I’m not sure I know that Michael Jordan was about to play baseball in the White Sox organization in 1993 as well. I found this in the Sporting News archives. pic.twitter.com/RGbWbITT6i
– Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) April 28, 2020
MORE: Michael Jordan’s Legacy Wasn’t Complete At 28, And Neither Is Mike Trout’s
So when he officially walked away from the basketball court, he decided to give baseball a try next spring, in part as a tribute to his father, who had been murdered in the summer of 1993.
But the motivation and work you put in to become a better baseball player? Well, that was the inner drive that helped make him a basketball superstar. It was intensely competitive and it didn’t matter what the competition was. This story, written by longtime Sporting News columnist Dave Kindred, appeared in the January 17, 1994 issue of TSN (published about a month before he officially signed with the White Sox).
All this hot talk reminded Jerry Krause of a story. Krause made the Bulls three-time NBA champions after a decade as a baseball executive. Every time Jordan made one of his “I can do anything” speeches (Jerry Reinsdorf says Jordan once threw two strikes, throwing the ball back between his legs), Krause would be there to challenge Jordan’s claims.
“Michael always talked about himself as a baseball hitter,” Krause said. “So I said, ‘We’re going to Comiskey, and you’re up against a batting practice pitcher. You will not knock one out of the frame. “
Jerry, what happened?
“Michael hit a couple on the seats.”
Jordan got off to a slow start in spring training games, which was to be expected. No amount of cage swings, against a pitching machine or batting practice pitcher, could have prepared him for major league-caliber live pitchers.
However, in typical Jordan fashion, he had this unforgettable moment in spring training on April 7, when he went 2-for-5 in the Windy City Classic exhibition game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
MORE: Photos from Michael Jordan’s baseball career
“I don’t think I’ve proven that I can be on the team,” Jordan told writers that spring, as reported in TSN’s Chicago White Sox team notes. “That’s just being honest. … But I’m not going to give up. I’m trying to turn five years into eight weeks. It just hasn’t happened the way I wanted it to. “
What were Michael Jordan’s baseball stats?
Jordan played 127 regular-season games for the Birmingham Barons, the Double-A affiliate of the White Sox, in 1994. Here are the basics:
- 127 games, 497 plate appearances, 436 at-bats
- .202 / .289 / .266 (average / on base / slugging), .556 OPS
- 88 hits: 17 doubles, 1 triple, 3 home runs
- 51 RBIs, 46 runs scored
- 30 stolen bases / 18 caught stealing
- 51 walks, 114 strikeouts
Neither of those regular season numbers is particularly good, as you can see. The 30 stolen bases are nice, but the 18 times he was caught stealing negated that value.
Here’s a bit of context: Yeah, he only hit three home runs, but no one really hit home runs for the Barons that year. They obtained 40 as a team, last in the South Double-A League. Jacksonville, then affiliated with Seattle, led the league with 131, and every other team except the Barons hit at least 63. Jordan hit all three of his home runs in the Barons’ second half of the season, despite his average a small drop after a decent start (he hit .265 in his first month with Birmingham).
Jordan struck out 114 times in 497 plate appearances. That’s 22.9 percent of your PA. The league average in the Southern League that year was 16.4 percent, well below Jordan’s rate. But maybe he was ahead of his time. Do you know what the average MLB strikeout percentage was in 2019? Exactly 23.0 percent.
Jordan played right field for the Barons. He struggled at times, but by all reports he seemed to be improving as the season progressed.
Here’s something you may have forgotten: Jordan didn’t give up his baseball dream immediately after the 1994 season, even though that major league season ended in August with the players’ strike. Jordan played in the Arizona Fall League that year, hitting .317 in his first 41 at-bats and finishing with a .252 average in 123 AB.
Could Michael Jordan have played in MLB?
Terry Francona, who had a little (OK, a TON) of success as an MLB manager, was his manager in Birmingham and in the AFL. He said, as quoted on TSN, “He just needs to play. He hasn’t played much. It’s a good pillar for next year. “
Even though the MLB strike continued into the 1995 season, minor league players were unaffected, so Jordan showed up for spring training. He left when official spring training games with replacement players were scheduled to begin, as neither Jordan nor the White Sox had any intention of involving him with that nasty element of the game.
In March, Jordan returned to basketball. The what if baseball would never have an answer.
“I think with another 1,000 at-bats, he would have done it,” Francona said. as cited in this ESPN article. But there is more to it than the strange people from that season. Baseball wasn’t the only thing he learned. I really think he rediscovered himself, his joy for the competition. We made him want to play basketball again. “
Maybe eventually he would have made it to the big leagues. Probably not, but maybe. He was fined by Triple-A Nashville for the 1995 season. And if that was his only goal, there is no question that he would have done the necessary work. But starting at 31, with nothing but batting cage changes, he was far behind the players he was competing against.
From another Kindred column on TSN, shortly after Jordan returned to the Bulls.
Earlier in Jordan’s season at Double-A Birmingham, Rangers pitching instructor Tom House said: “He’s trying to compete with hitters who have seen 350,000 fastballs in their professional lives and 204,000 break balls. Baseball is a replay feature. If Michael had chased baseball out of high school, I have no doubt he would have ended up making as much money in baseball as he did in basketball. But he’s not exactly trashing Double-A, and that’s light years away from the big boys. leagues. In Double-A, pitchers can’t detect the fastball and the breaking ball. It will take him several years to learn the game of chess played by major league pitchers with exceptional control. “
Going back to basketball was the right decision, of course. He led the Bulls to three more NBA titles: in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.