During his time in the NBA, it seemed like Michael Jordan could do no wrong. While His Airness might not have been the easiest man to play with, his ruthlessness paid off; the Chicago Bulls turned into a powerhouse, and MJ revolutionized the game of basketball. His time playing professional baseball, however, was a different story.
In the midst of his NBA career, Michael Jordan hung up his sneakers and decided to swap sports. While his brief baseball career may live on in sporting lore, was he any good at America’s pastime?
Michael Jordan’s initial retirement from basketball
By the fall of 1993, Michael Jordan had already established himself as basketball’s dominant star. He had won three straight NBA Championships and was named the NBA Finals MVP each time; he had also taken home three league MVP awards and earned two Olympic gold medals.
That reality, combined with his father’s brutal murder, inspired Jordan to make a change. In October 1993, His Airness, seemingly out of nowhere, retired from professional basketball.
“I’ve always stressed to people that when I lose the sense of motivation, it’s time for me to move on,” Jordan explained at the time. “I’ve reached the pinnacle and I’ve achieved a lot in a short period. I don’t have anything else to prove.”
Where he did have something to prove, though, was on the baseball diamond. In 1994, he signed a contract with the Chicago White Sox, setting out to fulfill a promise to his late father.
Plying his trade on the baseball diamond
In the spring of 1994, Michael Jordan’s professional baseball career officially begun. He reported to spring training with the Chicago White Sox; at the end of camp, he was assigned to the Birmingham Barrons, the organization’s AA affiliate.
Despite being thrown into the deep end, Jordan eventually found his feet and managed to go on a 13-game hitting streak. Before long, though, everything would change. As with most ‘young’ hitters, MJ started seeing a steady diet of offspeed pitches and balls outside of the strike zone; he struggled to adjust and started striking out with increasing regularity.
In the field, he didn’t do much better. According to Bob Herold, who worked with Jordan in the Arizona Fall League, the NBA star was still catching fly balls like a little leaguer.
“The first time I saw him fielding, he looked like a 5-year-old going for fly balls, catching everything on the run with two hands,” Herold recalled. “I told him, ‘A big man like you has to catch those on the side, with one hand.’ And he said, ‘That’s how my dad taught me, catching everything with two hands. That’s how you play the game right.’ Sure, if you’re standing still. And I’m wondering, ‘I’m really the first guy to tell this guy how to catch the ball right?”
Was Michael Jordan any good at baseball?
When everything was said and done, Michael Jordan’s professional baseball career only lasted for the 1994 campaign. With Major League players on strike, he decided it was time to return to the hardwood.
During his one season in AA, Jordan appeared in 127 games. He recorded 88 hits in 436 at-bats, which works out to a .202 batting average; he also hit three home runs and stole 30 bases while striking out 114 times.
It goes without saying that those aren’t dominant numbers, but they’re still impressive in their own way. Some players spend their entire careers trying to make it past AA ball; Jordan admittedly struggled, but he did so without a wealth of experience. Based on what we know about MJ’s incredible willpower, it’s a safe bet that he would have improved over time. While he probably wouldn’t have been good enough for the Majors, it’s not like he was a bum unfit to ever step on the field.
While Michael Jordan’s baseball abilities are up for debate, we can all agree on one thing: returning to basketball was probably for the best.