5 Reasons Michael Jordan Would Have Eventually Made His MLB Debut

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2020

5 Reasons Michael Jordan Would Have Eventually Made His MLB Debut

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    John Swart/Associated Press

    Contrary to what the surface-level statistics might lead you to believe, Michael Jordan was not completely overmatched on the baseball diamond.

    As a 31-year-old playing organized baseball for the first time since high school, he was aggressively sent to Double-A Birmingham, and throughout his lone minor league season, he showed legitimate signs of progress, as detailed in the seventh episode of ESPN's The Last Dance documentary.

    We'll never know if he would have succeeded in the majors, but there's plenty of reason to think he would have at least gotten the chance.

    Ahead we've highlighted five such reasons, covering everything from the Chicago White Sox roster to the business side of things to his improving game.

    Let's dive in.

Stadium Upgrades on the Horizon?

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Baseball is a game, but it's also a business.

    After 81 years at Comiskey Park, the Chicago White Sox ushered in a new era with the opening of "New" Comiskey Park in 1991. It was poorly received from the start.

    "Widely seen as architecturally obsolete only one year after opening, the White Sox ownership failed to see the obvious tide of integrated urban aesthetics, retro designs and fan-friendly features about to sweep the nation's baseball cities," wrote Cole Shoemaker of BallparkRatings.com.

    Sure enough, just 10 years after it opened, a five-phase renovation plan began. The team eventually pumped $69 million into upgrading a stadium that cost $135 million to build.

    Those renovations may not have started until long after the potential Michael Jordan era, but they were likely already on the mind of owner Jerry Reinsdorf in 1994.

    Meanwhile, attendance was trending in the wrong direction:

    With those inevitable renovations on the horizon, the revenue spike that would have come with a Jordan promotion would have been impossible for ownership to ignore.

    Again, baseball is a business.

The White Sox Outfield Situation

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    Mike Cameron
    Mike CameronMitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Enough about the business side of things.

    Let's talk about how Michael Jordan would have fit on the Chicago White Sox roster.

    In left field, veteran Tim Raines had just re-signed with the team on a three-year, $11 million deal during the 1993-94 offseason, and he was still going strong entering his age-35 campaign.

    In center field, speedy Lance Johnson was in his eighth MLB season and fresh off a stellar 1993 in which he hit .311 and stole 35 bases while leading the AL in triples (14) for the third year in a row.

    While those two spots were locked up, right field was a question mark.

    Journeyman Darrin Jackson hit .312/.362/.455 for a 112 OPS+ with 10 home runs and 51 RBI in 403 plate appearances as the primary starter there in 1994. However, he was playing on a one-year deal, and he signed with the Seibu Lions of the Japanese League during the offseason.

    Another one-year deal was handed to 32-year-old Mike Devereaux during the 1994-95 offseason, and he posted a solid 115 OPS+ with 10 home runs and 55 RBI in 92 games. With the White Sox out of the playoff race, he was flipped to the Atlanta Braves in an August waiver trade.

    Would that have opened the door for Jordan to receive a late-season call-up?

    Rookies Lyle Mouton and Mike Cameron handled the position down the stretch, with the highly regarded Cameron jumping straight from Double-A to the majors.

    It's not out of the question to think Jordan, who likely would have been in Triple-A, would have been ahead of Cameron on the pecking order for a promotion.

Value on the Bases

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    John Swart/Associated Press

    The stolen base is something of a lost art in today's power-driven game.

    Only eight players had 30 or more steals last year, with Seattle Mariners outfielder Mallex Smith leading the majors with 46 thefts.

    Compare that to 20 players with 30-plus steals in 1995, including five guys who topped the 50 mark, led by Florida Marlins second baseman Quilvio Veras with 56.

    While his offensive game was a work in progress, Jordan was a threat on the bases from the get-go, swiping 30 in his lone Double-A season. Granted, he was also caught 18 times, but the tools were there for him to make an impact in the running game.

    To his credit, Jordan also showed some solid on-base ability.

    He tallied 51 walks in 497 plate appearances for a 10.3 percent walk rate, which gave him an on-base percentage (.289) that was 82 points higher than his batting average. The ability to reach base is the first step in using that speed, and Jordan seemed to possess some of the requisite skills to do so.

    Even if he never showed the necessary skills to be an everyday player, his speed and ability to work a walk would have given him some value in a fourth outfielder role.

    That is especially true for an AL team that doesn't necessarily need a bench stocked with pinch-hitting options.

A Drive to Succeed

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    There's a reason Michael Jordan is the greatest player in NBA history.

    Aside from his tremendous natural talent, he also had an unrivaled work ethic and a drive to be great, which allowed him to turn that raw ability into something special.

    While he did not have the same natural skills on a baseball diamond, that same drive was there.

    "Michael would go after it five times a day," Barons hitting coach Mike Barnett told Steve Wulf of ESPN. "In the cage before breakfast. Regular batting practice. Soft toss. Game BP. Then, after the game, he was back in the cage. His hands were blistered and bleeding; his intensity was off the charts."

    That level of dedication has an impact on the developmental curve, and all of that hard work paid dividends for Jordan as the season progressed.

    "I saw him struggle for a few months, but I also saw him become a ballplayer right before my eyes. He worked his butt off, but he enjoyed himself and bonded with the team," Barons announcer Curt Bloom told ESPN. "I swear, he was going to the majors."

    At 31 years old, Jordan was playing catch-up from the start, but who's to say he wasn't going to eventually do just that?

An Improving All-Around Game

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    Barry Jarvinen/Associated Press

    There is no shortage of people who were around Jordan during his lone season of professional baseball who believe he was on his way to the big leagues.

    Birmingham hitting coach Mike Barnett, via ESPN:

    "He hadn't played since high school, and he was holding his own in Double-A, which is filled with prospects. By August, those routine fly balls in BP were starting to go out. I'm not sure I've ever seen something as beautiful on a baseball field as the time Michael Jordan hit the ball into the gap and raced around to third for a triple. Two more seasons, he would've been a legitimate extra outfielder for the White Sox, maybe even a starter."

    Birmingham manager Terry Francona, via ESPN: "I do think with another 1,000 at-bats, he would've made it."

    All told, he hit a modest .202/.289/.266 with 17 doubles, one triple, three home runs, 51 RBI and 46 runs scored in 127 games at Double-A.

    He was then sent to the Arizona Fall League during the offseason, where he hit .252 in 120 at-bats against some of baseball's top prospects.

    Things were very clearly trending in the right direction.

    While we'll never really know if Jordan could have cut it in the big leagues, there is plenty of reason to believe he would have gotten the chance had he continued on with his baseball career.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, unless otherwise noted.