Michael Jordan's Baseball Career Stats, Struggles, Highlights and Reaction

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 10, 2020

Michael Jordan's Baseball Career Stats, Struggles, Highlights and Reaction

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    Mark Elias/Associated Press

    It's been more than 25 years, but it is still hard to believe at times.

    Michael Jordan, the world's greatest basketball player coming off three straight championships and still in the middle of his prime, decided to walk away from the Chicago Bulls and play a completely different sport professionally.

    What followed was a mostly forgettable season with the Birmingham Barons, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, although there is still something to be said about coming into professional baseball at 30 years old without any experience at a level anywhere near what he was facing and finishing with a batting average better than .200.

    Here is a look at some of the details from Jordan's brief baseball career that will be chronicled in Sunday's episodes of The Last Dance documentary.

Career Stats

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    Barry Jarvinen/Associated Press

    According to Baseball Reference, Jordan finished the 1994 season with the Barons with a .202/.289/.266 slash line, three home runs, 51 RBI, 30 stolen bases, 51 walks and 114 strikeouts in 497 plate appearances.

    While it isn't the most impressive stat line, it is a testament to Jordan's athleticism and speed that he finished with 30 steals despite getting on base less than 30 percent of the time.

    R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports noted the Bulls legend enjoyed more success from a batting average perspective during his time in the Arizona Fall League and hit .252 with five extra-base hits and six steals.


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    Jim Gund/Getty Images

    Perhaps the most famous reaction to Jordan's baseball career came from Sports Illustrated.

    The magazine ran a cover image of Jordan swinging and missing at a pitch with the words, "Bag It, Michael! Jordan and the White Sox Are Embarrassing Baseball." Darren Rovell of Action Network noted His Airness was so upset he denied the magazine interview requests in the aftermath.

    Still, Jordan was a major attraction, even on a minor league team.

    In addition to drawing massive crowds whenever the Barons went on the road, the basketball legend became the focus of baseball media. Aaron Dodson of The Undefeated noted Baseball America put Jordan on the cover for the American League Central preview edition even though he wasn't even a top-10 prospect within the White Sox's organization.

    The decision left Cleveland Indians outfield prospect Manny Ramirez in the corner of the cover and out of focus.

    "Michael Jordan could've gone to be a curler somewhere and people would've been really interested in how he was going to do in curling," Jim Callis, who was the former managing editor of Baseball America, said, per Dodson. "We were just kind of feeding off that."


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    Jim Gund/Getty Images

    The overall perception of Jordan's baseball career was that it was a failure.

    Which, by Jordan standards, is fair. After all, his name is synonymous with greatness when it comes to basketball, and he still is a one-man brand nearly 20 years after his final retirement. He is an icon in every sense of the word, and it wasn't because of his baseball career.

    Mike Bertotti, who was a teammate of Jordan's on the Barons, told Anderson members of the team's pitching staff had meetings with manager Terry Francona and asked him to move Jordan from right field to left field because he didn't have the throwing ability to prevent runners from advancing to third.

    "We said, 'Tito, listen, you're killing us. Can you please put him in left field,'" Bertotti said. "He's like, 'well, it's really not my decision, it's coming from upstairs.'"

    Even Space Jam treated Jordan's baseball career as a punchline during a scene with broadcaster Jim Rome poking fun at his failures on the diamond.


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    It wasn't all bad for Jordan, though, as Bertotti and teammate Barry Johnson told Anderson the Bulls legend made noticeable strides as the season continued and was particularly determined to improve all while being "one of the guys" and carrying his bags, riding the buses and living the minor league life.

    Both teammates praised Jordan for consistently being the first one in the clubhouse and continuously doing the extra work in batting practice and before games.

    The work on making his swing more compact—which wasn't easy at 6'6"—contributed to the improvements he showed in the Arizona Fall League.

    "If you look at what he accomplished during the Birmingham season, and if you look at the season as a whole, you zero in on the batting average, but seeing what kind of production he did from the midway point on, and then going out to the Fall League and competing against everyone's top prospects and the numbers are even better," Johnson said. "Being with him on a daily basis for six months, and knowing how much work he was putting into it ... I don't think it [was] that big of a stretch to see him in a big league uniform."

    Francona also suggested Jordan would have eventually made it to the major leagues with enough time.

    "I do think with another 1,000 at-bats, he would've made it," Francona said, per Steve Wulf of ESPN. "But there's something else that people miss about that season. Baseball wasn't the only thing he picked up. I truly believe that he rediscovered himself, his joy for competition. We made him want to play basketball again. And he made me a better manager."

    Chris Landers of MLB.com wrote an article titled "MJ's baseball career wasn't the failure you think," pointing out there are few things more difficult in all of sports than hitting professional pitching. He was able to do that at an adequate level all while showing off impressive skills on the basepaths despite not playing organized baseball since high school.

    Jordan even had the chance to play at legendary Wrigley Field in an exhibition game between the White Sox and Chicago Cubs. He hit an RBI double with Harry Caray on the call in a clip featuring two of the marquee names of Chicago sports in the 1990s.

    It was surely one of the only times Cubs fans were actively cheering for a White Sox player.

The Return

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    Charles Bennett/Associated Press

    "I'm back."

    That is all Jordan's fax said when he decided to come back to the NBA near the end of the 1994-95 campaign following his hiatus on the baseball field. He appeared in 17 games for the Bulls that season and got his legs underneath him for another stretch of dominance in the years to come.

    Perhaps he wouldn't have given up on baseball if there hadn't been a players' strike at the time, but it was the best thing that could have happened to the Bulls.

    Chicago three-peated for the second time in 1996, 1997 and 1998, winning a then-record 72 regular-season games in the 1995-96 season.

    Jordan retired again following the 1997-98 season but eventually came back one more time as a member of the Washington Wizards in 2001-02 and 2002-03. That final stop was nothing like his time on the Bulls, but Jordan still impressed at times and averaged 21.2 points per game in his two seasons in Washington.