Michael Jordan's foray into baseball is considered a blip on the radar of his Hall of Fame career, but it could have gone much differently. Jordan shocked the sports world before the 1993 NBA season by abruptly announcing his retirement from basketball, then made jaws drop even further the following February, when he signed a deal to play professional baseball in the Chicago White Sox organization.
After spring training, Jordan was assigned to the Double-A Birmingham Barons, where he went on to have an underwhelming 1994 season before returning to the NBA the following spring. We never got to see Jordan in a major league baseball game, but it turns out he had the opportunity. Former Oakland Athletics general manager Sandy Alderson recently told ESPN's Buster Olney on the "Baseball Tonight" podcast that he offered Jordan a major league contract as soon as he heard that His Airness was being sent to the minor leagues (transcription via NBC Sports).
"You recall when Jordan stopped playing basketball and decided to try baseball, and ultimately went down to the Birmingham Barons -- the Chicago White Sox affiliate," Alderson said. "When I heard that was happening, or about to happen, I called his agent right away and said, 'Hey look, I understand he may be going to Double-A. I don't even know who the 25th man is on our major league team right now, I will sign him and put him on the major league roster. He'll be part of our 25-man team. Tomorrow.'
"It wasn't about, 'We've got a spot for him, he's got a particular skill. That wasn't the idea. The idea was, 'We've got Michael Jordan on our team' and the interest that would have generated."
Bringing Jordan directly to the majors made no sense from a baseball perspective and might have angered some players, but you can't ignore the potential boost in revenue -- particularly for an A's team that was 21st in the league in attendance in 1993. Just watch how wild the Chicago fans went as Jordan stroked an RBI double during an exhibition game at Wrigley Field.
Despite the enticing offer, however, Jordan eventually declined and joined the Barons. According to his former agent, David Falk, Jordan wanted to "do the baseball thing from the ground up" and "didn't feel he was ready." Falk also said that Jordan wanted to remain loyal to Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of both the Bulls and White Sox.
"Michael's an amazingly loyal guy," Falk told MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince. "If not for his relationship with the White Sox, (the A's offer) might have been something he might have done."
The A's finished 51-63 in the strike-shortened 1994 season, while Jordan batted .202 with three home runs, 30 stolen bases and a .556 OPS in his only season with Birmingham. Judging by his minor league stats, Jordan probably wouldn't have made much impact on a big-league roster. But still, it's fun to think what might have been, and what kind of stories that would stem from Jordan and Rickey Henderson being teammates.