On October 6, 1994, Michael Jordan shocked the world when he retired from basketball at the height of his career to pursue his dream of playing professional baseball.
It’s not every day that a 29-year-old with very little injury history walks away from his professional sport in his prime, but Jordan cited the recent death of his father – who loved baseball – and a waning love for basketball as the main reasons he wanted to pursue a different career at a press conference with the Chicago media.
Nine consecutive all-star appearances, seven consecutive scoring titles (averaging over 30.0 points per game each year), six consecutive All-NBA and All-Defensive First Team caps, two MVPs, one defensive player honor of the year and most especially, three consecutive NBA championships. This is the resume Jordan left behind when he chose to exercise his baseball talents.
As the most popular athlete on the planet and arguably the best player in the NBA at the time, news rocked the league, although rumors and reports had started to flow a day or two before. When Jordan officially announced his next career change, his decision was pretty much the sport’s worst-kept secret.
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 practiced batting 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 sneakers.
Jordan loved to play baseball as a child. His father loved baseball. Jordan almost tried his luck at baseball the previous summer.
I’m not sure I know that Michael Jordan almost played 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 Mike Trout’s
So when he officially walked away from the basketball court, he decided to try baseball the following spring, in part as a tribute to his father, who had been murdered in the summer of 1993.
But the motivation – and the work – that he put into becoming a better baseball player? Well, it was the inner motivation that helped make him a basketball superstar. He was intensely competitive, and the competition didn’t matter. 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 of that stove talk reminded Jerry Krause of a story. Krause made the Bulls a three-time NBA champion after a decade as a baseball executive. Every time Jordan came out of one of his I can do anything speeches – Jerry Reinsdorf says Jordan once threw two strikes while throwing the ball back between his legs – Krause was there to challenge claims by Jordan.
“Michael always referred to him as a baseball hitter,” Krause said. “So I said, ‘Let’s go to Comiskey, and you come in there against a practice batting pitcher. You won’t hit one out of the infield.
So, Jerry, what happened?
“Michael hit a couple in the seats.”
Jordan started off slow in the spring practice games, which was to be expected. No amount of swings in the cages – against a throwing machine or a practice batting pitcher – could have prepared him for living pitchers of major league caliber.
In typical Jordanian fashion, however, he had that unforgettable spring training moment on April 7, when he went 2v5 in the Windy City Classic exhibition game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
MORE: Photos of Michael Jordan’s Baseball Career
“I don’t think I proved I could be a part of the team,” Jordan told the writers that spring, as noted in TSN’s Chicago White Sox team notes. “It’s just to be honest. … But I’m not going to give up. I try to make five years go by in eight weeks. It just didn’t turn out 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 branch of the White Sox, in 1994. Here’s the basics:
- 127 games, 497 home plate appearances, 436 batting appearances
- .202 / .289 / .266 (average / on base / slugging), .556 OPS
- 88 hits: 17 doubles, 1 triple, 3 homers
- 51 RBIs, 46 Races scored
- 30 bases stolen / 18 caught in the act of theft
- 51 walks, 114 strikeouts
None of those regular season numbers are particularly good, as you can see. The 30 stolen bases are fine, but the 18 times he was caught stealing negated that value.
Here’s a bit of background: yes, he only hit three home runs, but nobody really hit home runs for the Barons that year. They made 40 as a team, last in the Southern League Double-A. Jacksonville, then affiliated with Seattle, led the league with 131, and all other teams other than the Barons have hit at least 63. Jordan hit all three homers in the second half of the Barons’ season, although his average was took a bit of a tumble after a decent start (he hit .265 in his first month with Birmingham).
Jordan has struck 114 times in 497 home plate appearances. That’s 22.9% of his MA. The league average in the Southern League that year was 16.4%, which is quite significantly lower than 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%.
Jordan played on the right ground for the Barons. He struggled at times but by all reports he seemed to improve as the season wore on.
Here’s something you might have forgotten: Jordan didn’t give up his dream of baseball 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, averaging 0.317 in his first 41 at-bat and averaging 0.252 in 123 AB.
Could Michael Jordan have played in MLB?
Terry Francona, who has enjoyed quite a bit (OK, a ton) of success as an MLB manager, was his manager in Birmingham and the AFL. He said, as quoted in TSN, “He just needs to play. He didn’t play much. It’s a good base 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 the official spring training games with replacement players were due to begin, as neither Jordan nor the White Sox intended to involve him in this ugly element of the game.
In March, Jordan returned to basketball. The what if of baseball would never be answered.
“I think with another 1,000 at-bat he would have done it,” Francona said, as cited in this ESPN article. “But there is something else that people are missing this season. Baseball wasn’t the only thing he was learning. I really believe that he has rediscovered himself, his joy in competition. We made him want to play basketball again.
Maybe he would have finally made it to the big leagues. Probably not, but maybe. He was ticket to Triple-A Nashville for the 1995 season. And if that was his only goal, there is no doubt he would have done the job required. But from the age of 31, with no more than cage strikes, he was so far behind the players he was competing against.
From another Kindred column in TSN, shortly after Jordan returned to the Bulls.
At the start of 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 fast balls in their professional lives and 204,000 balls. Baseball is a function of repetition. If Michael had pursued baseball out of high school, I have no doubt he would have ended up making as much money in baseball as basketball. But he didn’t exactly tear Double “A, and it’s light years away from the big leagues. At Double-A, pitchers can’t spot the fastball and the broken ball. It will take him several years to learn the game of chess played by. big 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.