Hoops to Baseball
Michael Jordan is a six time NBA champion, five time NBA Most Valuable Player, fourteen time NBA Finals MVP, and a retired White Sox baseball player. Jordan’s accomplishments have overshadowed one of the most bizarre moves any professional athlete has ever made. After winning three consecutive NBA championships for the Chicago Bulls, he shocked the world beyond imagination. In 1993, Jordan retired from the game of basketball and went on to sign a minor league baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox. The transformation from being a superstar basketball player to a minor league baseball player left many people in disbelief. Critics and fans had differing opinions on Jordan’s decision. The critics felt that Jordan was making a mockery of baseball, attempting to commit a publicity stunt, and even that he was in it for endorsements. On the other hand, former fans were so disappointed in Jordan’s early retirement that they simply wanted to see him fail miserably. However, through Jordan’s perspective and an unlikely series of events, his decision was solely based upon a dream he had with his father.
It all began on July 23, 1993, when Jordan’s father, James R. Jordan, pulled into a North Carolina rest stop on Interstate 95 to take a nap. He was approached by two people, Daniel Green and Larry Demery, trying to steal his car. They shot James R. Jordan in the chest and dumped his corpse in a South Carolina swamp. By tracing back several calls assailants made on Jordan’s cell phone, the two assailants were captured. They were later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison (AP, 1993). The death of his father took a huge toll on Jordan. At the same time Jordan’s father died, Michael was being accused by the media for gambling addiction. The combination of the two emotional stresses convinced Jordan that it was time to step down from the main stage and focus on something he believed was more important.
A couple of months after Jordan’s father was murdered, the White Sox chairman, Jerry Reinsdorf, was approached by David Falk, Jordan’s representative, about some very important news. David Falk told Jerry that Jordan lost the desire to play basketball and wanted to retire. The announcement drew worldwide attention. A Greek TV station informed its viewers of “A Sporting Bomb from the U.S.” (Hersch, 1996). The news struck everyone from fans to critics with confusion to why Jordan would pull such an obscure move. In hopes to get a better idea of what Jordan’s intentions, “Reinsdorf asked Michael, ‘What do you want to do,’ Michael responded, ‘I want to play baseball. It was my father’s dream that I become a baseball player’”(Merkin, 2009). Reinsdorf, who owned the White Sox, as well as the Bulls, was more than happy to help Jordan fulfill his dream, although the cynics among society kept harping on the possible ulterior motives (Wulf, 1995). The assumptions regarding why Jordan wanted to play baseball were similar to when Chad OhcoCinco raced a horse as a publicity stunt for further endorsements. When it came time for his retirement speech, a sincere and genuine Jordan was revealed.
On October 6, 1993, Jordan was ready to make his decision public to the media, fans, and basketball connoisseurs alike. He announced that he would be retiring from the game of basketball. Jordan told the assembled press, “The desire just isn’t there” (Hersh,1996). Jordan announced his retirement with feelings toward basketball as if it was not right for him to continue playing. His tone of voice did not frame the event as a publicity stunt. He made news later by signing a free-agent contract on February 7, 1994, with the Chicago White Sox. Jordan’s baseball career revolved around seriousness, dedication, and the same work ethic that he displayed on the court as a superstar basketball player.
The first day of spring training he put his heart into being a professional baseball player. Jordan had one goal in mind; to make it from the minors to the major leagues. The hitting coach for the White Sox approached Jordan in the outfield on the first day of spring training. He wanted to see how serious Jordan was and so he asked him, “‘Are you serious about this or is it just a game?’ Jordan replied, ‘I’m dead serious’” (Merkin, 2009). From then on, Jordan showed his dedication by waking up every day at 7:30 AM to work on his swing in the batting cages. Reinsdorf also stated, “Sometimes his hands were bleeding, that’s how hard he worked” (Merkin, 2009). Jordan wanted to help out the team on and off the field. In many ways, he did more for the minor league organization than anyone could have ever imagined. He was sent to the Double-A Birmingham Barons out of Spring Training on March 31. Once news broke out that he would be playing in Birmingham, Alabama, the entire city exploded in excitement. Jordan’s popularity helped bring in 467,867, shattering the club’s single-season attendance record. Jordan single-handedly doubled the amount of people that came destroying the normal attendance record of 250,000 (Team History, 2011). There were sold out games almost every night with people showing up hours before the game simply to catch a glimpse of the legendary basketball player in a baseball uniform. All the excitement was around one man who had no intention of creating havoc. Jordan was doing it for his father, a move he truly felt was best for him at the time. Basketball was over and it was a time to move on and focus on family and the better things in life he enjoyed.
Through out the entire ordeal, there were many critics. In a U.S. News & World Report article, Lynn Rosellini (1994) illustrates some of the criticism of Jordan’s decision. One Chicago sportswriter called Jordan “embarrassing.” A California talk show caller labeled him “ludicrous.” The media was nailing Jordan with all types of non-motivational messages alluding to Jordan’s failure. The truth in the matter is Jordan’s willingness to succeed at baseball.
The transient yet symbolic career Jordan had in minor league baseball was nothing short of an ordinary pick up game. Having only the experience he gained from high school baseball, the profound athlete managed to bat .202 with three home runs, 51 RBI, and swiped 30 stolen bases for the Birmingham Barons (Team History, 2011). Jordan’s time playing baseball was for self-gratification fulfilling a dream he had with his deceased father.
AP. (1996, March). BASKETBALL; Former Convict Is Found Guilty In Jordan Case. New York Times. p.10. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Hersh, H. (1996). A fast break Michael Jordan shocked the world by walking away from baskeball, but his retirement wouldn’t last long. Sports Illustrated, 38. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Merkin, S. (2009, November 9). Jordan’s effort a marvel 15 years later. MLB. Retrieved October 3, 2011, from http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?
Rosellini, L. (1994). Michael Jordan’s latest big leap. U.S. News & World Report, 116(7), 23. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Team History. (2011, July 8). Birmingham Barons. Retrieved from http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/about/page.jspymd
Wulf, S. (1995). More air goes out of baseball. Time, 145(11), 82. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Photo Credit: AP in Sports Illustrated