Michael Jordan is back in the spotlight thanks to the ESPN documentary The Last Dance. One memorable aspect of Jordan’s time on top was the year he took in the midst of his basketball career to attempt to play professional baseball.
Jordan famously went to the minor leagues to try to work his way up to the big league roster. But did you know Jordan actually declined a major league contract from the Oakland A’s?
Michael Jordan’s (first) retirement
Following the Bulls’ 1993 NBA Finals victory, Jordan was on the top of the basketball world. Despite facing quite a challenge from Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, and the Phoenix Suns, the Bulls were able to prevail in six games for their third straight Finals’ victory. Jordan had reached the pinnacle of basketball achievement.
Sadly, Jordan’s world came tumbling down soon thereafter with the sudden death of his beloved father James. Jordan was incredibly close to his father and the shocking murder rocked Jordan to his core.
It was one of the major factors in Jordan’s retirement. Jordan’s father had been a semi-professional baseball player and remained an avid fan of the sport, always having wanted his son to enter the game. It was with this in mind that Jordan decided to embark on an unlikely career in pro baseball.
The baseball career of Michael Jordan
Jordan’s signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox thanks to his ties with Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The organization assigned him to their Double-A affiliate, the Birmingham Barons.
Jordan’s experiment on the baseball field is looked at by some now as a lark or some sort of sideshow, but it was not that at all. Jordan was an intensely hard worker who was dedicated to making it.
In an ESPN piece on Jordan’s brief baseball career, the Barons’ hitting instructor from that year Mike Barnett said that Jordan’s talent was legit:
“Don’t look at his batting average. Look at his 51 RBIs — he was never overwhelmed by the moment. He could fly — look at the 30 stolen bases. He hadn’t played since high school, and he was holding his own in Double-A, which is filled with prospects.”
Those who deride Jordan’s baseball career like to point out his .202 batting average, but that only speaks to how difficult it is to play professional baseball. According to Baseball Reference, Jordan had three home runs and a .289 on-base percentage in 127 games.
Granted, those wouldn’t be impressive numbers for a typical Double-A prospect. But Jordan was 31 years old and playing a sport he’d never played at the professional level. With more time, Jordan could have made it to the majors.
Jordan also could have gone directly to the majors but opted not to.
Declining a contract from the Oakland A’s
The Oakland A’s offered Michael Jordan a major league baseball contract when he made his desire to play baseball known. Jordan signed with the White Sox due to his relationship with Reinsdorf, but even they offered him the opportunity to play at the MLB-level right away.
So why did Jordan trade the sure thing of playing in MLB stadiums every night for the buses and ad-filled outfield walls of the minor leagues?
According to Jordan’s agent David Falk in an interview with MLB.com, it was because Jordan didn’t want a handout.
“I was excited about [the offer], and Michael was very appreciative… But he wanted to do the baseball thing from the ground up. He didn’t feel he deserved a spot on the Major League roster and didn’t feel he was ready.”
That’s MJ in a nutshell: insanely competitive, and wanting to do what it took to truly earn his spot. Nothing was given to Jordan on the basketball court and he wanted the same to be true on the baseball diamond.
Jordan never made it to the bigs, but he did eventually get a lovely parting gift: three more NBA titles.