In November of 1993 just shortly after the murder of his father, Michael Jordan retired from basketball. Jordan had revolutionized basketball with his high skill set and magnetic charisma. He had already cemented his position in the Hall Of Fame and was arguably the most popular athlete in the history of America. After nine seasons in the NBA and two straight NBA titles it was all over.
As 1994 began Michael Jordan soon announced that he would try his hand at professional baseball. Mostly because it was the one sport his father wanted to see him succeed at when he was growing up. It would be a tribute to his father he said. The owner of the Chicago Bulls was Jerry Reinsdorf and he also happened to own the Chicago White Sox. Reinsdorf being the smart and adventurous business man he was knew that Michael Jordan would be a huge money draw in baseball. He agreed to sign Jordan to a minor league contract and pay him the same amount that he was contracted to receive with his Bulls contract. It was a done deal and the media and fans clamored to see Jordan make his debut in baseball.
Michael Jordan the “baseball player” (Getty Images)
As spring training began for the White Sox in Sarasota, Florida the Michael Jordan circus began. The media was always around and were focused solely on Jordan. They followed his batting practices, fielding practices and watched his every move. The fans also swarmed him every chance they could get, hoping they could snag an autograph of one of the greatest basketball players ever. The attendance for White Sox games that spring shot through the roof and many fans were unable to even get a ticket to the spring games. Michael Jordan played his first official spring training game on March 3, 1994 as an outfielder. He would play 17 games that spring and on March 31, 1994 was optioned to the White Sox minor league affiliate the Birmingham Barons.
The city of Birmingham was set on fire by the Michael Jordan experience. They sold out more games than they had ever before and had major media at almost every game. It was a treat for the fans of the Barons to get to see such a great athlete trying to make it in a sport he had not played since high school. Jordan had an average season with many ups and downs. He batted .202, hit 3 home runs and batted in 51 runs. Jordan played 127 games in that season and struck out 114 times. He definitely had a rough time but did make improvements by the end of the season.
Jordan being Jordan wanted to work more on his baseball skills and decided to play in the Arizona Fall League following his first minor league season. In that short season for the Scottsdale Scorpions Jordan batted a .252. While not great by professional baseball standards he did improve even more in the fall league and was poised to continue his development in 1995.
Unfortunately Major League Baseball was still dealing with the 1994 players strike when the 1995 Spring Training season was to begin. As the battle between the owners and the players union intensified the lines were being drawn. The players were deciding whether to sit out until a deal could be arranged or to play anyways. Jordan reported to camp in Florida initially in February of 1995. He would end up deciding in March not to be involved in the drama and chose to sit out while the strike continued.
It was during this time in mid march of 1995 Jordan attended a Chicago Bulls game. just two weeks later he was on the court playing basketball again. Many fans where excited to have his talents back in basketball and did not care that he quite his baseball career. Jordan would go onto win three more NBA Titles and retired from basketball for good after the 2002-03 season.
Because his basketball career picked up right where it left off in 1993 not many questioned the decision. It makes one wonder almost 20 years later what would have been if not for the baseball players strike of 1994. Would Michael Jordan continued until he was either cut or made it to the Major Leagues? That is hard to say but it was clear he was on the right track to eventually play at the Major League level. He was only 32 when he went back to basketball and had time to develop into an even better baseball player.
We will never know where baseball could have taken Michael Jordan. We wont ever know where Jordan could have taken baseball had he stayed. The popularity of baseball would have likely increased after the horrible strike and maybe Jordan could have been the face of baseball. All we can do now is imagine what could have been but it is clear to see that the baseball strike deterred Jordan from continuing his baseball dream.