Michael Jordan’s Baseball Career is the Most Impressive Thing He Ever Did

michael jordan baseball[With Michael Jordan's 50th birthday arriving, and the sporting world awash in Jordan moments and memories, I thought I'd join the party. Lemming, ho!]

I’m not a basketball fan. I played it when I was a kid, and I follow the sport at the college level and in the NBA with a passing interest. I know enough to speak intelligently about the sport, but probably no more than your average American male. I think that context is probably important for you to have when you see me saying things like that headline up there. I’m a baseball guy. I know baseball. I view the world through the lens of baseball.

So, when it comes to comparing the relative successes of Michael Jordan the basketball player (perhaps the best player ever), and Michael Jordan the baseball player (a scuffling AA outfielder), I probably bring a certain prejudice to the table.

That said, I have thought for years that Jordan’s stint in professional baseball is one of the most impressive feats in all of sports. As he celebrates his 50th birthday, I think it’s worth contextualizing just what he accomplished on the diamond, and underscoring how crazy amazingly talented Jordan must have been.

That Jordan was an all-universe basketball player is, on some level, to be expected. In a population of elite basketball players, a handful of them are going to be “the best.” Indeed, by definition, that happens.

You know what doesn’t happen?

One of those “best” basketball players picks up a bat and can instantly compete with professional baseball players at age 31, when he hasn’t played the sport competitively in over a decade.

No, Jordan’s production in his one year of professional ball wasn’t, on its own merits, impressive: he put up a .202/.289/.266 line over 497 plate appearances at AA. He hit three homers, stole 30 bases (but was thrown out 18 times). He played so-so outfield defense. He was 31.

Still, the walk rate was impressive, especially for a guy just picking up the bat. He didn’t strikeout at an obscene rate, and his batting average was actually better than you might think – the Birmingham Barons’ average that year was just .248. Their park was considered pitcher-friendly.

But let’s set aside the numbers. Let’s grant that they’re terrible, and go as far as to say he would have been one of the worst players in the league. Professional ballplayers – even those at AA – have been honing their craft for years. For all their lives, really. Compared to the general population, the average AA player is Babe Ruth. The best AA players are big league caliber, and the worst AA players are still better than 99.99% of people who’ve ever picked up a baseball.

Michael Jordan, after dedicating himself to basketball for the previous 13 years, picked up a bat and joined that 0.01%. He competed, passably, with some of the best baseball players on Earth, having not played with or against them since he was a teenager (and, even then, what was the talent level against which he was playing?). That’s the kind of accomplishment that is so difficult to contextualize that it is probably massively underappreciated.

I’m sure that what Jordan did on the court was amazing. And it’s a fair guess that what he did in professional basketball may never be duplicated.

But what he did in professional baseball? That’s an even better bet to never be duplicated.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

87 responses to “Michael Jordan’s Baseball Career is the Most Impressive Thing He Ever Did”

  1. butlerdawgs

    Great read, but I’d have to say his greatest feat was beating the Monstars.

  2. LoneStarCub

    Jordan batted .252 in the AZ fall league for the Scottsdale Scorpions…

    People sometimes forget that.

    1. Andoalex

      Exactly. His first two months were just absolutely atrocious. If you take those first two months out his line looks a lot better.

  3. AP

    I sometimes catch crap from people for saying this very thing. Whenever people around me mock Jordan’s year of baseball I like to point out to them that many consider the biggest jump in baseball to be from A to AA, and for Jordan to step into a AA clubhouse and do as well as he did is pretty impressive. Just the other day I watched “Jordan Rides the Bus” and thoroughly enjoyed it. Very impressive accomplishment for Jordan.

  4. Mike

    “The best AA players are big league caliber, and the worst AA players are still better than 99.99% of people who’ve ever picked up a baseball.

    Michael Jordan, after dedicating himself to basketball for the previous 13 years, picked up a bat and joined that 99.9%. ”

    Technically, I think you’re saying that he joined the 0.1%.

    1. mircs

      where did we lose the decimal?

  5. Mike S

    Couldn’t agree more that Jordan’s time in AA was incredibly impressive, but let’s face it….Bo Jackson’s career made Jordan’s attempt at Baseball seem foolish. Jackson’s whole career was the most impressive feat in all of sports.

  6. Oswego Chris

    Man Brett…you have once again nailed an argument I have been having with people for years…his baseball career was far from a failure…let me put it this way…

    I played baseball at the semi-pro level(a nice way of saying I didn’t quit until my early twenties), I played all of my life…and I would not of come close to what Jordan did at AA…

    The most amazing athlete ever, except for possibly Jackie Robinson who could have played 3 pro sports…

    1. brickhouse

      Jordan was bad at AA. Either him or Wilt are the greatest basketball players but I would no pu as the most amazing athlete ever.

  7. cubsin

    My vote goes to Gene Conley, who played 11 years in MLB (RHP, 91-96, 3.82, 101 ERA+) and six years in the NBA (PF, 351 games, 2,069 points, 2,212 rebounds, 201 assists). Several years he played two professional sports at the highest level.

  8. Die hard

    The most impressive aspect may have been the cover- up as to why he did not play in the NBA or any other basketball league for that period of time

  9. ETS

    Espn’s 30 for 30 did a documentary on Jordan (I think it was called “Jordan Rides the Bus”). I always think it’s crazy that Terry Francona managed Michael Jordan.

  10. JR

    That’s funny you wrote this Brett. I have always felt the same thing about Jordan and his baseball stint at AA. He’s also 6’6, so to get everything working the correct way in a matter of months is absolutely amazing. I am sure guys like Durant and LeBron would be a train wreck on the Diamond against professionals. Athletically, Jordan is just a freak.

  11. Mike Taylor (no relation)

    I forget the source, but on a TV program, they were saying that right before he went back to basketball, he started improving his baseball skills and would have had a great year (maybe he learned to hit the curveball, something like that).

  12. JulioZuleta

    Terry Francona (Jordan’s minor league manager) has said for years that he is absolutely convinced Jordan would have become a solid major leaguer if he had stuck with it. Unfortunatey for Sox fans (fortunately for Bulls fans), that gambling suspension, I mean retirement, ended.

    1. Stinky Pete

      And after dominating in one sport, I wonder how he would have dealt with merely being “solid” in another. I think it would have driven him nuts and he would have been miserable not being on top.

  13. Morken

    If his name wasn’t Michael Jordan, he wouldn’t have been allowed to “compete” in the minor-leagues, or been given as many at-bats, as he was. It was a PR stunt, fueled by the death of Jordan’s father. Most NBA, NFL, MLB players could do the same in a minor-league system, of another sport. These are great athletes who grew up playing multiple sports; some in college.

    Again, Jordan was allowed to “compete” because of his name. He was the worst player in AA, and you wax poetically about it? Holy, hyperbole!

  14. Bob Johnson

    So happy to hear all the favorable comments on MJ’s baseball career! I totally agree that what he did in baseball was totally amazing!

  15. clark addison

    It was amazing. But so were Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, Dave DeBuschere, Gene Conley, Frankie Baumholtz, Fergie Jenkins, George Halas, Jim Thorpe, and Chuck Connors. I’m sure I missed about 50 others.

    BTW, Conley was also an outstanding age group swimmer. So was Kiki Vandeweghe.

  16. JG

    I would think its something only the truly elite could do at a passable level. Like Lebron talking about playing football or Usain Bolt playing soccer as they’ve talking about doing. Generational type athletes dropping what they do to play another sport and competing? I wouldn’t doubt them

  17. Harry

    baseball will never be more popular than basketball in this world

    1. gutshot5820

      Wonder if that is quantifiable with statistics? Personally, I enjoy baseball more, but did enjoy basketball during the Jordan era.

  18. Jim L

    I’m still disappointed that he cheated us out of an 8-peat, my friends.

    1. King Jeff

      You should be mad at Jerry Krause and Jerry Reinsdorf for running everyone out of town. Remember the quote “Players don’t win championships, GM’s do.” ? That was Krause, before he proceeded to chase Jordan into retirement, and Pippen and Phil Jackson out of town.

      1. Martin

        That’s not correct at all. Krause’s actual quote was “players don’t win championships. Organizations do.” And he was saying it in defense of the people who worked in the offices, from the mail room up to the training staff, etc.

        Aside from that, Krause didn’t “chase” anyone into retirement. Jordan wouldn’t have been able to play in 99 regardless due to a finger injury he sustained, Jackson had threatened retirement for three years, and all Jerry Reinsdorf did was make Jordan the highest paid player on a per season basis in the history of American sports (a record that still stands, by the way).

        Krause had a lot of faults (ego being one of them), but the end of the Bulls dynasty was a group effort.

      2. Boogens

        I’m no Jerry Krause apologist but isn’t this the same guy that allowed Pippen to maximize his contract by signing a max deal with the Bulls and then trading him to the Rockets? Krause did make that stupid statement but that was hardly the catalyst that broke that team apart.

        1. Martin

          The full quote is actually:

          “Players and coaches alone don’t win championships, organizations win championships.”

  19. Twin31s

    Brett — I think this was a very insightful post. I’d never thought about how tough that was for Jordan: you’re right, he must be some gifted athlete. A la Gene Conley, it makes you wonder what Jordan could’ve done had he played the two sports concurrently (if it had been even possible) at the higher levels. Excellent post.

  20. cubzforlife

    I played at u of a with Francona and we’re still buds. The only thing I ever mooched from him was a MJ signed baseball. He threw in a deck of cards signed by Mike. Pretty cool.

  21. Doc Evans

    “I think it’s the greatest shot in the arm baseball could get. Once upon a time, all kids wanted to be baseball players, but nowadays a young kid dreams about playing basketball or football and making millions. I think it’s great to see a man (Michael Jordan) who has reached the pinnacle of his career, and now he wants to go back and do what he wanted to do as a kid – play baseball.”
    -Harry Caray

    That says a lot.

  22. DocPeterWimsey

    I often think of Jordan when the DH debate comes up. You’ll often read “why don’t pitchers work at hitting to become as good as position players?” However, the athletic tools upon which pitchers are sorted as relevant to batting as basketball skills are. If an “athlete” of Jordan’s prowess couldn’t “learn” to hit professional pitching, then that’s telling us a lot about how useless the concept of “athlete” is in general. There are people with NBA-level basketball skills who might just as well be you or me when it comes to baseball: and, of course, vice-versa. Jim Thorpes are unique!

  23. Die hard

    Basketball HOF entry has lower bar- ask Pete Rose how he feels about two sport poser Jordan-Rose would’ve been a decent point guard for CBA during his prime

  24. Coal

    Apropos of nothing, I’m reminded of a quote by then Chicago Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome who, during Jordan’s baseball season and the fervor that it created, wrote something along the lines of “I’d pay to watch Michael Jordan try to hit a fastball for the same reason I’d pay to see Roseann Barr try to stop a slapshot – I’m just not sure I’d pay to see it twice.”

    I’m messing the quote up – but the idea was hilarious (and, probably, true).

  25. Morken

    This may be the most ridiculous article I’ve ever read.

    Brett’s sensitivity to any criticism regarding it, corroborates such.

    1. Hansman1982

      I have no idea what in the Sam blazes you are pulling. Are you bashing Jordan just to bash him?

      Brett isn’t overreacting to anything. He merely stated, given the circumstances, Jordan had a great year. If he’d been playing baseball for any amount of time immediately prior, no then it wouldn’t have been great. And I doubt other athletes would do precisely what Jordan did, he’ll there are some pitchers who can’t do that.

    2. Martin

      You’ve started three different comment threads just to reiterate a single point regarding the article. That is equally, if not more ridiculous, and each suceeding response corroborates such.

    3. Spencer

      Oh dear. I’ve finally been sucked in. Given that I’ve read this site for over two years now, I can say with some authority that Brett doesn’t use hyperbole and doesn’t write sensational headlines just to get traffic.

      There is certainly an argument to be made that Michael Jordan’s baseball career was the most impressive thing about him. I disagree with that assessment, and it’s clear that you do too. That’s fine. But it doesn’t make this article ridiculous because there are clear facts to back up the arguments being made here. For someone to bat over .200 after 13 years of playing a different sport is pretty good. There are AA baseball players that have spent their whole lives playing baseball that haven’t hit above .200. Had Jordan’s line been .300/.400/.500, then yeah, of course it would be more impressive.

      I believe that saying baseball was Jordan’s “greatest” achievement is a bit much because he was such a wizard (imbedded pun!!) on the court, but it’s certainly something noteworthy about his sporting career and shouldn’t be discounted because he wasn’t spectacular in comparison to guys who actually make their living playing baseball. It’s not hyperbole, and it’s not completely ridiculous.

  26. KDubya

    After reading all of the comments I’ve arrived at the conclusion that “Morken” is either a Hoya or a Cougar and has been bitter since 1982.

  27. mircs

    Rebecca Romero, olympic silver medallist at rowing, and olympic champion in track cycling. not to devalue jordans achievements at all!

  28. John C

    I’ve made the same argument myself. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s his most impressive feat, given that he was only the best basketball player who ever lived, but going straight to AA pro baseball at 31, having not played baseball for 13 years, and staying over the Mendoza Line was a remarkable athletic feat. Everyone in pro baseball who reaches AA is considered a prospect of some stripe. He was competing against guys who were considered to be potential major-leaguers–and about half of his teammates on a sub-.500 team that year did make it to the big leagues–and wasn’t made to look incompetent.

    If Jordan could do what he did under the circumstances he did, he probably could have made the majors if he’d chosen baseball out of high school. But I’d have to say he made the right choice.

  29. Abe S

    I love jordan but to say hes the greatest athlete ever, any american for that matter, is silly. Nfl and baseball is not just not played, but disliked where but america, basketball is a low-lying sport at best. Best basketball player ever, probably americas best sportsman, but but when compared to dual internationals etc, america is a sporting minnow

  30. carklos

    Brett whats your feeling on QZZIE if he was Cubs manager? I think the FO is afraid he would over shadow them. I feel QZZIE has learned from his past. He really is the only available guy out there who fills Everything the FO is looking for. He would also fill those empty seats. Go QZZIE Go.

    1. mr.mac

      This idea seems to be gathering a lot of steam, and it sounds awful to me. I was so glad when he left town the last time because I was tired of his me, me, me interviews and constant attention whoring. Why anyone would want this guy as the Cubs manager is beyond me. I would much rather the Cubs find a manager who goes about his business in a professional manner, and focuses on winning as opposed to focusing on what his next controversy will be.

      1. MichiganGoat

        Yeah I can’t understand why anybody anywhere would want him to manage a team, he had one year where magic happened and then a steady decline into egocentric maniacal nearly rabid rants and bad records. He failed miserably in Miami (a job he was hand picked for because of his connection to the culture) and then made one of the worst comments a person could ever make… he praised Castro. Yeah he would be such a great fit in Chicago. When a fan base is desperate and depressed we sure jump to some hideous conclusions.

      2. Die hard

        I proposed hiring him day after sink or Sveum walked the plank but Theo never returned my text messages👻👻👻

        1. MichiganGoat

          As well has countless other “recommendations” – keep throwing darts at somepoint you will hit a bulls-eye.