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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Michael Jordan and Baseball: Fulfilling A Fathers Dream

Michael Jordan in MiLB Action

September 29, 2009 – Jason DelSignore

Editor’s note: Yes, that is current Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona. He was Jordan’s baseball manager with the Barons!

Michael Jordan’s recent induction into the NBA Hall of Fame was a no-brainer. There is no other basketball player on the face of the earth who deserves it more, with the exception of maybe Bill Russell, with all due respect. The idea that Jordan is anything but the greatest is as ridiculous as saying Manny Ramirez is a two-time NBA all-star. Of course, we do know that Ramirez never played professional basketball on any level, but the same cannot be said for Jordan, who played minor league baseball in the mid-90’s after the first of his three eventual basketball retirements.

Jordan’s story is sad and noble, but is it fair that he was able to walk into a baseball roster spot because he was a great…basketball player?

Let’s start with the sad part of the story. In July 1993, when Jordan was at the height of a tremendous career wave, the story broke that his father was murdered. The late James R. Jordan was gunned down as he slept in his car at a rest stop.

According to Jerry Reinsdorf, majority owner of the Chicago White Sox & the Chicago Bulls, said of Jordan- “The death of his father and all of the media attention and people saying it was because of his gambling, it had got to him. He was burned out.”

Jordan himself has said that it was his father’s dream to see him play baseball. That might be why he was set to play a few games for the Kannapolis Intimidators, a Class A affiliate for the Chicago White Sox, before his father’s passing.

“He said he wants to go to Kannapolis and just play a couple of games. He had taken batting practice a couple of years before,” said Reinsdorf. “Shortly thereafter, he found out his father was dead and that took care of the Kannapolis thing.”

It’s understandable that Jordan would be sick and tired of the media attention, and how ultimately this would affect his play on the court. It’s a noble and precious idea to take the words of a father who taught him so much, knowing that you’ll never be able to see or talk to him again. The only thing Jordan had was the dream of a father that his son play major league baseball.

And that’s what he set out to do. Jordan shocked the world by retiring from basketball at the age of 30.

In March 1994, he signed a contract to play professional baseball for the Birmingham Barons, a Class AA affiliate of the White Sox. The media coverage didn’t cease, nor did the idea that a publicity stunt was in the works. Even White Sox hitting coach Walt Hriniak had his doubts. “We don’t need this kind of publicity and what kind of gimmick is this?” remembers Reinsdorf of Hriniaks comments.

As it turns out Jordan was one of the hardest working guys on the field in the spring of that year. Of course trying to quell the doubts of many, and learning in a short time what the guys next to him have been learning since the early days of little league, will challenge anyone to work harder than most.

At the end of that baseball year stood Michael Jordan, an outfielder with a .202 batting average, 114 strikeouts in 436 at bats, three home runs, 51 RBI’s, and 30 stolen bases in 127 games. Let’s be honest, these numbers aren’t even good enough to keep a no-name orphan with a prosthetic leg and one blind eye in the game of baseball. They’d tell him maybe he should start looking for another line of work. That maybe this baseball thing isn’t going to work out after all. For a young player, the scouts would say this kid’s got potential. For a 31 year old Michael Jordan with mediocre skills, it’s too late for potential. The greatness he showed on the basketball court didn’t translate over to the diamond. He showed good instincts on the fastball, but couldn’t hit a curve with a 2×4.

There have never been many two-sport superstars in the professional ring. Bo Jackson was one, and Deion Sanders was another, playing both baseball and football. Both men displayed incredible skills to be able to achieve that goal. Is it fair that someone who has the want and desire to enter a professional sports setting, but has never demonstrated the ability to be able to perform such tasks, be allowed to take a spot away from those that do because he was great in another arena? Some may say yes, but there’s a 9-5er out there somewhere that might disagree.

If his name starts with Michael and ends with Jordan, then I guess that question is null and void.

In the end, Jordan retired from baseball in March 1995 and went back to the Chicago Bulls. For one year the sports writers had a story to write about, the White Sox organization took in unexpected publicity and profits, and Jordan got to partially fulfill his fathers dream of playing professional baseball, even if it wasn’t in a major league setting.

The quotes from Jerry Reinsdorf were taken from Scott Merkin’s piece “Jordan’s effort a marvel 15 years later on