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.

  • butlerdawgs

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

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett


  • LoneStarCub

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

    People sometimes forget that.

    • Andoalex

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

  • 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.

  • 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%.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Haha. Yes. Thanks.

    • mircs

      where did we lose the decimal?

  • 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.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Absolutely (Deion was super impressive for the same reason) – but Bo always played baseball. Big difference.

  • 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…

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Lots of guys have played two professional sports, though. And well. I do like your choice.

      What Jordan did was very, very different. That’s all I’m saying.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • http://www.survivingthalia.com 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).

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      “Most NBA, NFL, MLB players could do the same in a minor-league system, of another sport.”

      After 13 years away from the sport, all of those years in your adult life? Ridiculous.

      (I have been trolled.)

      • Morken

        Don’t cry “troll” just because someone strongly disagrees with your hyperbolic concept.

        Many professional players in the big 3 could perform mediocrely in the lower minor-leagues of another sport. Jordan was AWFUL. He played amongst the top 1% because his name is “Michael Jordan”. That’s it. He didn’t earn it. He was given extensive at bats, at bats that he didn’t deserve, because his name is “Michael Jordan”.

        Your article would have credibility if Jordan played well.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          This is utter nonsense. Some of the most important tools that position players need to succeed are completely irrelevant to basketball and football. Ditto that for the completely different set of tools that pitchers need. That means that successful basketball and football players are selected at random with respect to the tools that make a successful position player or pitcher.

          • Morken

            He played horribly; not well.

            It’s nonsense to believe that Jordan’s horribleness was unique.

            • DocPeter Wimsey

              What basketball tools equal important baseball tools? Most NBA players would fare no better than me in baseball!

              • Morken

                It didn’t equate for Jordan either; he was horrible.

                • Martin

                  You have absolutely no idea how hard it is to hit .200 at AA. Absolutely. No. Idea.

              • Tommy

                Speed, strength, agility, balance to name a few.

        • Spencer

          Actually, he decided to play baseball because David Stern secretly suspended him for two years for gambling on basketball but didn’t want to publicly shame him.

          • BluBlud

            Ding ding ding. You sir are the winner. Many people don’t realize this. It was actually a one year suspension. Jordan decided he would rather retire. This is why the retirement was announced so late and right before the start of training camp. I believe his betting had to be deeper then Vegas, AC and the Golf Course however, possibly on NBA games or mahbe even his own games. This was part of the reason it took Jordan a while after he announced his comeback to actually sign and play. He negotiated his reinstatement.

            • Boogens

              Have you ever considered that he was still devastated by the murder of his father and didn’t have the fire to jump right back into another grueling season?

              • BluBlud

                His gambling debts was the real reason his father was killed. This story is even bigger here then in Chicago because it happened here in the Carolinas. It was a hit. Jordan has a very bad history of not paying his debts, even his gambling debts. This is no secrets. This is why it was such a big deal that he was in Atlantic City late one night before playing a Eastern Conference finales game. The fact that so many reporters have reported this and still discuss this without any “hard evidence” so there is something credible about it. Even Sterns comment about him telling Jordan he was “Happy about him going to play baseball” when he fojnd out he was retiring doesn’t even sound right. The man was suspended.

                • Boogens

                  Are these the same reporters that talk about Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster, and the fake moon landing? 😉

                  • BluBlud

                    No. Jordan is a scumbag. A despicable person who I have about as much respect for as the rug under my steering wheel. He confirmed by belief with his bitter ass HOF speach and he continues with the negativity he spews. Nobody has any reason to give him the benefit of the doubt. He is a great ball player and that is about as far as it goes.

                  • Scotti

                    Lochy played baseball too? Now that’s talent!

                    Two things Brett didn’t bring up that support his thesis: first, Jordan was a PITCHER in h.s. (didn’t play in college at all). When his baseball comeback started he was trying to get his fastball back and it never did rebound so only then did he try to learn to hit. Again he wasn’t a good hitter even in h.s. His becoming a passable minor league hitter is a representation of Jordan’s “force of will” as much as it is a representation of his skill.

                    Second, Reinsdorf (and Jordan’s ego) did him no favors by starting him off at AA. The normal progression, even back then, for a professional baseball player who had missed extended time was to start them off at lower levels and bring them up in stages. For the Cubs this would mean starting at Kane, moving to Daytona, then to AA and finally stopping where his skill and ability match (two separate things) for continued instruction. Starting in AA, for Jordan, was ego but, for Reinsdorf, it was a way to get Jordan back to basketball sooner without burning any bridges with Jordan during an emotional time in his life.

                • Die hard

                  Never heard that tie in- hope not true

          • Boogens

            I hear this claim repeatedly and all I can think is that it’s completely baseless. Michael Jordan, at that time, was THE most recognizable figure in all of sports and one of the most recognizable persons in the entire world. Journalists would be lining up and conducting all kinds of investigative research to be the one that broke this story with credible evidence. They would be dying to build their careers off of him and this “story”. The fact that it’s never been supported with any kind of facts after nearly 20 years demonstrates that it’s just an unfounded conspiracy theory.

          • Die hard

            Another voice of reason

  • 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!

  • http://ehanauer.com 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.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      None of whom picked up a sport professionally after 13 years of not playing it at all. Right?

      • Morken

        No. But they played at the top levels of another sport; not the minor-leagues. You act as if Jordan was playing CF for the White Sox. He was amongst the worst players in all of AA.

        How is that comparable?

        • bbmoney

          I think people don’t really get the 13 year thing. Which to me is astounding because that’s the biggest part of the whole article and comment in general.

          But whatever.

          • Morken

            We do.

            It’s that “just doing something” shouldn’t be designated “amazing”.

            At the age of 31, Michael Jordan played at AA, not the major leagues; and he did so HORRIBLY.

            It would be “amazing” if Jordan earned his way to the majors. It woud be “amazing” if at the age of 31, Michael Jordan became a good AA player. But it’s not “amazing” that at the age of 31, because of his name, Michael Jordan was GIVEN, not earned, a spot on a AA team; and GIVEN, not earned, an everyday job; and he played HORRIBLY.

            That’s not “amazing”. That’s to be expected.

            • bbmoney

              Well in that case, I’m glad ‘amazing’ is a completely subjective term. Feel free to define it and bestow it upon athletic accomplishments as you wish.

              • Morken

                You characterized Michael Jordan’s journey into baseball, as ‘astounding’. You did so because he played awfully at AA, at the age of 31.

                If Lebron James played in AA next season and put up a .195/.245/.295 line, would that be ‘astounding’ as well?

                • Spriggs

                  Yes. especially if he was 31 next year.

                • bbmoney

                  Yes. I believe the ability to go straight to AA after not having played any baseball for 13 years (or in LeBron’s case…10 yrs/ever?) and even hit an empty ~.200 would be pretty amazing….astounding….or any other synonym you want to throw out there.

                  • Morken

                    You people are pretty easily ‘astounded’.

                    The bar has been lowered!

                    • Morken

                      To me, ‘astounding’ is a player playing WELL after a long absence from baseball.

                      The truth is, most NBA/NFL players with a background in baseball(high school/ college), would be as productive as Jordan was, at AA, with the same gap between playing.

                      Jordan’s story is full of hyperbole because he quit a sport in which he was the greatest ever, in the middle of his prime, in order to chase a childhood dream, in the name of his deceased father. ‘Admirable’? Absolutely. ‘Courageous’? Absolutely. But the results were far from ‘astounding’ or unique. He was horrible.

                    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                      “The truth is, most NBA/NFL players with a background in baseball(high school/ college), would be as productive as Jordan was, at AA, with the same gap between playing.”

                      The TRUTH!

                    • Hansman1982

                      Considering there are many decent prospects who have been playing baseball for a really long time who struggle to hit that in AA. Given that Jordan had been playing all of 6 months of baseball at the end of the summer, it is astounding.

                      It’d be like saying its astounding that someone who had driven accident free for 20 years but never raced was able to finish a NASCAR race. It’s astounding because its a difficult feat for even those who’ve been doing it for a while.

                      I don’t think you’re correcting weighting how little hitting a baseball has to do with basketball. Hate it all you want, the fact he did as well as he did is astounding.

  • 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

  • Harry

    baseball will never be more popular than basketball in this world

    • gutshot5820

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

  • Jim L

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

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • 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.

        • Martin

          The full quote is actually:

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

  • http://www.trin-linc.com 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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

  • 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).

  • Morken

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

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

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • mircs

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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • Die hard

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

        • MichiganGoat

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