In stark contrast to all of Michael Jordan's accomplishments on the basketball court, his short-lived baseball career is generally viewed as a failure. After abruptly retiring from the NBA in 1993 following his third consecutive championship, Jordan played one season with the Birmingham Barons, the Chicago White Sox Double-A affiliate, in an effort to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player. He returned to the NBA in 1995, and went on to win three more titles.
Jordan's baseball stats were not good compared to other prospects at his level, but he showed considerable promise for someone who hadn't played competitive baseball since high school. Don't believe it? Just try going to the 80-mph batting cage and see how well you fare. Jordan was facing elite pitching, just two levels below big leaguers, and managed to hit over .200 with three home runs in a full season.
Could the Chicago Bulls legend have ever made the majors? Maybe not. But his former teammates and coaches gushed about his work ethic and rate of improvement over his short stint on the diamond, convinced that he could have achieved his goal had he stuck with it. Here's a look back at Jordan's pro baseball career, including his stats, highlights and a few telling quotes from those who witnessed the experiment.
|Michael Jordan baseball stats||Avg.||HR||RBI||SB||2B|
1994 (127 games)
Jordan's baseball stats weren't exactly eye-popping (at least not in a good way), but his speed immediately jumps off the page and the 51 RBI in 127 games is respectable for someone coming off of such a long layoff from the game. From the modern lens of power and on-base percentage, Jordan struggled mightily -- his .289 OBP and .266 slugging percentage were atrocious -- but he improved his batting average to .252 in the Arizona Fall League before deciding to return to the NBA.
Michael Jordan baseball highlights
- Double at Wrigley
Perhaps Jordan's most memorable on-field moment came in the spring 1994, when he donned a White Sox uniform for an exhibition game against the crosstown rival Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Already with an RBI single under his belt, Jordan stepped up to the plate late in the game and, tying the score. More impressive, the double came off of Chuck Crim, who pitched in the majors for eight seasons. Even the Wrigley faithful couldn't help but cheer for the Chicago legend.
- First home run
Jordan was three months into his professional baseball career before he launched his first home run. On July 30, 1994 (as you can tell from the old-school date on the bottom right of the grainy video), he belted a 2-0 fastball over the left-center field fence against the Carolina Mudcats in the eighth inning, for his first of three career round-trippers. Kevin Rychel, who gave up Jordan's first homer, is the answer to many a trivia questions. The home run came one day before what would have been Jordan's late father's 58th birthday.
"It still makes me emotional because I wish he was here to see it," Jordan said after the game. "But I know he saw it."
- Triple in Fall League
After adjusting his stance early in his minor league career to better attack inside fastballs, Jordan struggled when pitchers began throwing him a steady diet of breaking balls. "Damn, you pitchers. What's with this slider? How in God's name do you hit this hard slider?" Jordan once. So it was a huge step forward in the Arizona Fall League, when Jordan, playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions, waited on this hanging curveball and roped a triple to left-center field. The other thing that obviously stands out is his speed, as he really turns on the jets after rounding second base. Another cool piece of trivia: Terry Francona, current manager of the Cleveland Indians and former manager of the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, was Jordan's coach with both the Barons and the Scorpions. You get some insight into his thoughts on Jordan in this clip.
- Game-winning double
Early in his pro baseball career, Jordan showcased the clutch ability that we saw so many times on the basketball court. Facing the Huntsville Stars on April 28, 1994, Jordan hit a go-ahead double late in the game, which would end up being the game-winning RBI (double comes at the 1:24 mark of the video below). You can see Jordan's beaming smile as he stands on second base after driving in the run.
Former teammates/coaches on Jordan's baseball potential
- "He had it all. Ability, aptitude, work ethic. He was always so respectful of what we were doing and considerate of his teammates ... I do think with another 1,000 at-bats, he would've made it." -- Terry Francona, former Birmingham Barons manager
- "He hadn't played since high school, and he was holding his own in Double-A, which is filled with prospects. By August, those routine fly balls in [batting practice] were starting to go out. I'm not sure I've ever seen something as beautiful on a baseball field as the time Michael Jordan hit the ball into the gap and raced around to third for a triple. Two more seasons, he would've been a legitimate extra outfielder for the White Sox, maybe even a starter." -- Mike Barnett, former Birmingham Barons batting coach
- "I prided myself on my work ethic and getting to the field and putting in work, and you could not beat him to the field. He was there, taking extra batting practice before batting practice. We'd play our games, and he was the last one there, finishing up with Mike Barnett, our hitting coach. I'm sitting here thinking, from a dollars and cents standpoint, this guy does not need to work this hard." --
- "If everybody was like M.J., the game would be better." -- Walt Hriniak, former White Sox hitting coach
- "Michael can't really play baseball, but he's not terrible. He doesn't have power. His defense is way below average. He can't throw. His baseball instincts are poor. But he can run a little bit and can hit a little bit. Considering he's never played baseball all these years, it's incredible that he's able to hold his own here. He's not a prospect for me. But he may play in the big leagues. You may take him as a 25th guy. Why not?" --
- "We saw how good he could be, and we became invested in making him better." -- Kenny Coleman, former Birmingham Barons infielder
- "On a scale of 20 to 80, his throwing arm went from 20 in spring training to 50 by August." -- Mike Barnett, former Birmingham Barons batting coach
- "Being with him on a daily basis for six months, and knowing how much work he was putting into it ... I don't think it's that big of a stretch to see him in a big-league uniform." -