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These days, the name Michael Jordan is synonymous with success. During his time on the NBA hardwood, His Airness dominated the competition, claiming six championships and establishing himself as a serial winner. He’s also done rather well for himself away from the court, using his name and likeness to pile up plenty of cash.

There is one place where MJ largely came up short, though: the baseball diamond.

During the 1990s, Jordan famously left basketball behind and tried his hand at professional baseball. While success is in the eye of the beholder — we’ll get to that shortly — Mike was rather candid about his time within the White Sox organization. In the spring of 1994, he told the world that he quite simply didn’t deserve to make the big club.

Sound unbelievable? Let’s travel back in time and check it out.

Michael Jordan shocked the world with his (first) retirement and subsequent foray into baseball

Following the 1992-93 NBA season, Michael Jordan seemed to be on top of the world. He had led the Chicago Bulls to a six-game NBA Finals series victory over Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns. It was his third consecutive title, proving his sporting superiority. In the ’80s, the NBA belonged to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. After the Bulls’ threepeat, there was no question that the game now belonged to MJ. 

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Jordan announced that he was hanging up his sneakers and donning a pair of baseball spikes.

“I love the game of basketball. I always will,” the legend said in his retirement press conference. “I just feel that, at this particular time in my career, I have reached the pinnacle of my career. I have achieved a lot in that short amount of time, if you want to call it short. But I just feel that I don’t have anything else for myself to prove.”

It’s also likely that the tragic murder of Jordan’s father played a role in the decision. James Jordan dreamed that his son would become a baseball player and taught Mike about the game; later in life, they also talked about the possibility of leaving basketball behind for America’s pastime.

With James gone, Michael had a fitting way to pay tribute to his dad.

And, while it may have shocked the sporting world, he did just that.

His Airness knew that he wasn’t ready for the big leagues

Under most circumstances, Michael Jordan was incredibly confident. This was the man, after all, who took innocuous things personally and trash-talked anyone within earshot. When it came to baseball, however, he took a different course of action.

As laid out by The Sporting News, Jordan planned to join the White Sox organization in 1993, reporting to the club’s Class-A affiliate in North Carolina. His father’s death, however, paused that plan.

After MJ’s retirement, though, he was able to follow a more conventional baseball calendar. He signed with the Sox in February 1994 joined up with the rest of the players for Spring Training. On one famous occasion, he even took the field in Chicago.

During the spring of 1994, Jordan played in the “Windy City Classic,” an exhibition that pitted the White Sox against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Ever the clutch performer, His Airness made the most of the spotlight and went 2-for-5 with a game-tying RBI double.

While you might expect Mike to use that opportunity to flex his metaphorical muscles and brag about his own greatness, the living legend did the opposite. With Spring Training wrapping up, he candidly told writers that he wasn’t ready for the big leagues.

“I don’t think I’ve proven I can make the team. That’s just being honest. … But I’m not going to give up. I’m trying to squeeze five years into eight weeks. It just hasn’t happened the way I wanted it to.”

Michael Jordan, as quoted in the Sporting NEws

Jordan stuck to his word, though. He joined the Double-A Birmingham Barons and got to work. Even in a different sport, quitting wasn’t in his vocabulary

Michael Jordan never made the big leagues, but his baseball career was impressive in its own way

While it might have seemed unbelievable for Michael Jordan to admit he wasn’t ready for Major League Baseball, he wasn’t wrong. You could argue that he wasn’t even ready for Double-A action. During his time with the Barons, His Airness hit .202 with a .290 on-base percentage in 497 at-bats.

With that being said, though, that’s not as bad as you’d think. To be clear, those aren’t good numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but remember the situation we’re talking about. This isn’t a really a professional baseball player; it’s Michael Jordan, who spent his sporting prime playing a completely different sport. For the most part, the NBA star was trying to make up for decades away from the diamond in a matter of months.

In that context, hitting .202 isn’t that bad. Double-A players might not be the elite of the elite, but they’re better at baseball than your average adult. The fact that Jordan even put the bat on the ball, let alone broke the Mendoza line, with less than a year of high-level experience shouldn’t be overlooked.

It’s also worth noting that Terry Francona, who managed MJ during his time in the minors, felt the outfielder had potential.

“If he’d been willing to commit three years, I think he’d have found his way to the Major Leagues,” the manager told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt. “I really believe that. One, because of some of the tools he had. But the other one, and maybe more important, and I found out first-hand, when you tell Michael ‘no,’ he finds a way to make the answer be ‘yes.’ And it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, he is really good at that.”

Ultimately, we never go to see that happen. Jordan, of course, left baseball behind and returned to the Chicago Bulls, where he reasserted his dominance with three more NBA titles. His time on the diamond, however, won’t be forgotten.

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