Michael Jordan’s one-year odyssey from basketball and his attempt to make it as a professional baseball player may be seen as a footnote of his athletic career now, but the NBA legend’s former manager thinks he could have had a successful baseball career if he had given it more time.
That minor league manager was Terry Francona, the future World Series champion skipper of the Boston Red Sox.
Jordan’s foray into baseball is back in the spotlight thanks to the ESPN docu-series, The Last Dance, which, in Sunday’s episode, explored Jordan’s first retirement from basketball and attempt to launch a baseball career. Jordan said it was always his father’s dream to see him playing professional baseball, and following the death of his father, the Bulls legend decided to give it a try.
As Deadspin recalled, Jordan spent a season playing in the farm system of the Chicago White Sox, but left the sport as Major League Baseball went on strike in 1994 in a stoppage that would last until the next year.
While Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls and eventually led them to three more NBA titles before another retirement — and another comeback, that time with the Washington Wizards — Francona said that Jordan was a very talented baseball player who could have had a career in that sport.
“He had it all,” Francona said, via Deadspin. “Granted, he had a lot to learn…I do think with another 1,000 at-bats, he would’ve made it.”
Jordan hit just .202 in 127 games, with three home runs and 51 RBI. He was more effective on the basepath, swiping 30 bases. But as CBS Sports reported, Jordan’s skill was clear to those who played with him. Barry Johnson, a relief pitcher for the Birmingham Barons, said that Jordan’s famous work ethic in basketball carried over to his baseball career, as he was always taking extra batting practice and working with hitting coach Mike Barnett.
Barnett added that Jordan started putting it together late in the season, which was especially impressive since the basketball legend hadn’t picked up a bat since high school but held his own in Double-A, a level filled with major league prospects.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen something as beautiful on a baseball field as the time Michael Jordan hit the ball into the gap and raced around to third for a triple,” Barnett told ESPN. “Two more seasons, he would’ve been a legitimate extra outfielder for the White Sox, maybe even a starter.”