The sports world stood still on October 6, 1993. Michael Jordan announced he was stepping away from the game of basketball after nine seasons in the NBA and one of the greatest playoff runs in league history. Jordan had just won three straight NBA championships and Finals MVPs. Why would the greatest basketball player on Earth retire at the peak of his powers?
Rewind to July 23, 1993. Michael's father, James Jordan, was murdered at a highway rest area in Lumberton, North Carolina by two teenagers. The news was devastating for Michael. He shared a close bond with his father, who loved baseball and envisioned his son playing at the professional level. The whirlwind of emotions combined with exhaustion from basketball prompted MJ, a player with multiple NBA All-Star game appearances already, to retire and pursue professional baseball in honor of his father.
Which Baseball Team Did Michael Jordan Play For?
Air Jordan was able to fulfill his father's vision. On February 7th, 1994, he signed a minor league baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox -- who were also owned by Chicago Bulls' owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The NBA superstar reported to spring training in Sarasota, Florida and was assigned to the Birmingham Barons --the White Sox's Double-A affiliate which plays in the Southern League.
The juxtaposition between the top of the basketball world and Double-A ball was drastic. In the NBA, you fly to games, dress in pristine locker rooms, play in front of packed arenas, and stay in four-star hotels. In minor league baseball, you ride the bus to the ballpark and stay in motels. ESPN's 30 for 30, Jordan Rides the Bus, explores MJ's reasoning for playing baseball and gives a look at life in the minor leagues.
What Were Michael Jordan's Baseball Stats?
The Hall-Of-Fame basketball player started his professional baseball career as an outfielder for the Barons under up-and-coming manager Terry Francona. Having not played competitive baseball since his time at Laney High School, the Chicago Bull put up noble numbers as a rookie during the regular season.
MJ's Baseball Stats (1994)
Games Played: 127
Batting Average: .202
Home Runs: 3
Stolen Bases: 30
Fielding Errors: 11
Jordan vowed to improve as a hitter. His Airness played in the Arizona Fall League for the Scottsdale Scorpions and boosted his batting average to .252. The North Carolina star was geared to make a run for a spot on the 1995 Chicago White Sox's major league roster.
Michael Jordan's Return to the NBA
Jordan's baseball career came to an end due to the ongoing MLB strike that started in August 1994. In March 1995, he officially called it quits on the diamond and announced his return to basketball the same month with two simple words: "I'm back."
Jordan's improvement as a baseball player is noteworthy and should come as no surprise. He has one of the most notorious work ethics out there and embraced the challenge of baseball with an end goal of reaching the big leagues.
The six-time NBA champion's sudden retirement to play baseball is one of the most shocking in sports. It reminds us that no matter how great we may be at something, we're only human and our heart may lie elsewhere.
Jordan's retirement, baseball career, then subsequent return and second three-peat, was chronicled in the ESPN documentary The Last Dance.
While it was disappointing for basketball that MJ stepped away, It was a treat seeing one of the best players of all-time try his hand on a different field.
This article was originally published February 6, 2020.
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