How Michael Jordan swapped basketball for baseball during the 1990s

In America, Bo Jackson is arguably considered the greatest athlete to have played multiple sports professionally. However, during the 1990s Michael Jordan tried his luck too, as he switched from basketball to baseball.

American football star Jackson also excelled at baseball and is the only professional athlete in history to be named an All-Star in both sports.

Jordan is synonymous with basketball and the predominant consensus is that he is the GOAT (greatest of all time). He made six NBA Finals – winning them all, won five MVP (Most Valuable Player) crowns and was a 14-time All-Star among his plethora of accolades during a stunning career.

During the 1990s, Michael Jordan stunned the world when he quit basketball to play baseball

In June 1993, Jordan was on the crest of the wave having just celebrated a third NBA Finals title

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However, while he was at the peak of his powers Jordan decided to give all that up for baseball.

The year was 1993. Jordan and his Chicago Bulls side had continued their dominance over the NBA by winning their third successive NBA title. During that 1992-93 season the grind of the calendar coupled with his mass celebrity were beginning to take a toll on him but he still led the Bulls to a 4-2 victory over the Phoenix Suns nevertheless.

The Finals-clinching game happened on June 5, 1993. Just 18 days later Jordan’s jubilation turned into despair with the brutal murder of his father, James. On July 23, Jordan senior was murdered at a highway rest area in Lumberton, North Carolina, by two teenagers who carjacked him. They then dumped his body in a South Carolina swamp with his corpse not found until 11 days later. He was aged just 56.

The horrific incident, and the sheer brutality of it, understandably impacted Jordan. His father was his closest confidant and had been there throughout his life.

On October 6, 1993, Jordan announced his decision to retire from basketball. He cited a loss of desire to play the game he dominated as well as the fact he was still in mourning over the tragedy of his father.

But just 18 days later Jordan’s world was turned upside down when his father, James, was killed

James Jordan (pictured moments after his son’s 1993 triumph) was murdered when carjacked

He was his son’s closest confidant and had been there through everything  – as this picture shows of the pair hugging in the dressing room after Jordan won his first-ever NBA title in 1991

It was later revealed in his 1998 autobiography For the Love of the Game that he had been contemplating retirement after winning Olympic gold with the ‘Dream Team’ at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Four months after his announcement to retire from basketball, Jordan shocked the world again with a statement on February 7, 1994. In that, he stated he would be returning to professional sports but this time it would be for baseball instead by signing a Minor League Baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox.

The White Sox were owned by Jerry Reinsdorf. Reinsdorf was also the owner of the Bulls who vowed to honour Jordan’s basketball $4million-a-year contract during the years he played baseball.

Since he was a child, Jordan loved playing baseball – a sport that he shared an affinity for with his father. He grew up playing catch up with his dad. Jordan Snr always felt he could make it in that sport and would tell him so while he was slaying everyone when playing with the Bulls.

While his father always liked basketball, he loved baseball and having felt he achieved it all in the NBA, Jordan wanted to fulfil his parent’s aspirations by mimicking the likes of Jackson or another two-sport star in Deion Sanders.

In February 1994, Jordan announced that he was coming out of retirement to play baseball

It was revealed that he would sign a Minor League Baseball deal with the Chicago White Sox

With the announcement of his baseball foray confirmed, Jordan joined up with the White Sox for spring training in Florida. He was then assigned to their Minor League affiliate the Birmingham Barons.

The Minor League is the tier below the Major League Baseball and is seen as a stepping stone for developing players to make it to the top. Within that structure the Barons were playing in the Double A – the second level in the Minor League only bettered by the Triple-A.

Being assigned to Birmingham on March 31, who are based in Alabama, brought much fanfare to the franchise. Fans queued in their droves to see Jordan play.

Scrutiny over Jordan’s ability with the bat was instant. Known as ‘Air Jordan’ for his ability to soar for a highlight-reel dunk in the NBA, Sports Illustrated were damning of his baseball swing and produced a cover story titled ‘Err Jordan’.

‘Somewhere men are laughing,’ wrote the author. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated titled their front cover of that publication as: ‘Bag It, Michael: Jordan and the White Sox are embarrassing baseball’.

Scrutiny over his baseball abilities came immediately with the media particularly damning

It was a completely different realm to what Jordan was used to. For a starters, there was the vast difference in training techniques. 

Jordan would have to overhaul his body from being in basketball-shape to baseball-shape. Reinsdorf knew this would be an issue and before Thanksgiving 1993, months before Jordan’s public decision, he brought in Herm Schneider to help begin the transition of Jordan’s body.

Schneider was instructing Jordan on rotation workouts to tighten up his core and palm training to toughen up his hands.

‘He’s a great athlete in basketball,’ Schneider recalled to MLB.com. ‘When it came to baseball, he was a little bit like a duck out of water. He loved baseball, but he didn’t necessarily have that body awareness that you need. So we had to teach him.’

Soon after Reinsdorf also called in Mike Huff, one of the outfielders against whom Jordan would actually be competing for a roster spot in camp at the White Sox.

Huff taught him how to properly hold a baseball, how to throw, how to slide, how to train his feet to be ready for the footwork of the position.

Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf aided Jordan in his transition to baseball

Still, there was work to be done. Not just from the skillset but also the physical anatomy.

At his heaviest, Jordan weighed 15st 7lbs playing basketball. Bulking up to play baseball this shot up by over a stone as he added an extra 15lbs on.

When it came to his actual on-field performances, Jordan was considered disappointing. There was excitement that he would be able to transition seamlessly into a different sport but that wasn’t the case.

Over the course of that summer in 1994 his batting average was .202, he was struck out 114 times and committed 11 errors. Alongside that though, he stole 30 bases and drove in 51 runs. 

It wasn’t until three months into his Birmingham career that he hit his first home-run – which came against the Carolina Mudcats in the eighth inning on July 30, 1994.

Things improved that autumn when his batting average increased to .252 in the Arizona Fall League. This was particularly encouraging as it was against some of the game’s best prospects.

During his time with the Birmingham Barons (left, pictured in 1994) Jordan added 15lbs in weight as he trained his body differently than to the rigours of an 82-game basketball season

That happened to be Jordan’s sole year in baseball as come 1995 he decided to return to basketball. 

That year saw a disagreement between the players and Major League Baseball with the former going on a strike.

As he reported to Spring Training Camp, Jordan sided with the players – having been a member of the NBA players’ union beforehand and wishing to maintain his morals on that front albeit in baseball. In early March that year he quit the sport, and two weeks later he announced his return to basketball with the ‘I’m Back’ statement.

Jordan’s return to basketball was a successful one as he a won a further three-straight NBA titles between 1996-98.

Hindsight can be a wonderful thing and 바다이야기게임 while we look back fondly on his basketball brilliance, 오션파라다이스 his baseball career is now being analysed differently. Many acknowledge now that his figures were not to be scoffed at at all considering the circumstances.

Jordan’s Barons coach, Terry Francona,  believes he could have made to Major League Baseball

Terry Francona was Jordan’s manager at the time at the Barons and had this to say about him when asked if he believes he could have made it to Major League Baseball if he had stuck with it.

‘Yes,’ he said in the seventh episode of the Last Dance documentary on Netflix. ‘I found out a couple of things about Michael. No 1, if you tell him “no” he’ll find a way to make it “yes”. And if you gave him three years with 1,500 at-bats he could find his way to the big leagues. I’m pretty sure about that.’

Francona has the nous to back up his claims – having led the Boston Red Sox to two World Series crowns years after coaching Jordan.

If Francona believes he could have, the nickname ‘Air Jordan’ could have transitioned to baseball by plundering home runs. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

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Michael Jordan, the real story of his baseball career | MLB.com

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