60 years, two tricennials, six decades, 21,915 days. No matter the verbiage, Michael Jordan has packed his 60 years of life to the fullest. He accomplished many things in his life and will be remembered for eternity as, arguably, the best basketball player of all-time. Jordan’s passion for basketball was
60 years, two tricennials, six decades, 21,915 days. No matter the verbiage, Michael Jordan has packed his 60 years of life to the fullest. He accomplished many things in his life and will be remembered for eternity as, arguably, the best basketball player of all-time. Jordan’s passion for basketball was unequivocal, but he had a unique tie to baseball that made his time with the Birmingham Barons more meaningful than stats.
The passing of Jordan’s father was one of the leading factors in him taking time and stepping away from basketball in 1993. His father had a dream that his son would play professional baseball.
So that's what he did.
The Barons were no stranger to the spotlight before Jordan arrived. In 1993, one season before he would suit up, they won the Southern League Championship with the help of manager Terry Francona and players such as right-handed pitcher James Baldwin, second baseman Ray Durham and first/third baseman Olmedo Saenz.
Jordan only added to the already abundant claim to fame that the Barons had.
A lot of outsiders thought that Jordan’s move to professional baseball was a publicity stunt. A stunt they thought would be abandoned after a few lousy games, or that baseball’s slow pace of play would bore the basketball phenom.
Jordan took that personally.
When he arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, Jordan did not look out of place. With his 6-foot-6, 200-pound frame, he filled out the uniform like a veteran. Jordan, also, acted like a veteran.
During warm-ups, the team usually liked to listen to music. However, the first couple of times were not as smooth as everyone would have hoped. Long-term Barons broadcaster, Curt Bloom, recalls Jordan barking at him while trying to figure out the speakers.
“I remember after three or four days of batting practice, that I finally got it right and he looked down on me saying ‘You finally got it right today’,” Bloom said. “For the three or four days before he was screaming [from the field] ‘Get it right, Get that music up’.”
They quickly got the music figured out, but the frustration of the speakers could have been attributed to Jordan’s early struggles in the minors. Jordan, like the speakers, started out his professional baseball career scratchy.
From the plate he started 0-for-7 in his first two games. It wouldn’t come until his third game that Jordan would break his slump with a line shot to centerfield. However, despite the early jitters, Jordan was no slouch.
“His very first at bat, he hit a fly ball to right field,” Bloom said. “I’m his age and I am not coming out of the booth to hit a fly ball at 90 miles per hour to right field.”
With the relief of getting his first hit of the season, the then three-time NBA Finals Champion knew how to ride momentum. Jordan skyrocketed his batting average to a scorching .327 due to a 13-game hit streak. He eventually cooled off as the pitchers around the league started to realize that he had a hard time tracking an off-speed pitch.
Even when things started to get a little easier for Jordan, he knew settling was not an option. His historic determination carried over to baseball. Jordan would spend time before and after practice in the batting cages watching off-speed pitchers from inside the box, as well as various hitting drills.
The drills started to pay dividends as Jordan started to get the feel of pro ball. His stats may not have shown how much he was adjusting to the play gap, but the eye test showed a different story. Most of Jordan’s plate appearances were similar to his at bats the night of July 30th.
That night started with a fly out to deep center field in the fourth. Jordan then launched a missile that ricocheted off the wall for a double in the sixth. Finally, eclipsing the wall in deep left field in the 8th inning Jordan had done it. As Bloom put it “Gonzo!”. He was becoming what Francona and others thought he would be, a promising prospect.
“I look at the incredible progress that he made, from where he was opening day to where he finished. I look at the athleticism, the speed and the process of how hard he worked. I would share the same opinion as Francona, Mike Barnett and the others that looked at him the way I looked at him, which was that this was a success and not a failure,” Bloom said.
Jordan finished his time with a near Mendoza Line average of .202, three home runs and an on-base percentage of .290. With that being said, his stats don’t tell the entire story of Jordan's time in Double A.
“You can’t fake three home runs, he also stole 30 some odd bases. Those are legit numbers that guys won’t do this year, last year or next year,” Bloom said.
It was more than just a stunt. It was a time to enjoy himself and go after a dream that his father had for him. During Jordan's time in the clubhouse and city of Birmingham, he fully embraced the present.
From the competitive ping pong games with his teammates, to the countless autographs that he always made sure to sign, Jordan indoctrinated himself into the culture. The city wanted Jordan, and he felt that.
Jordan went on to continue his greatness in basketball, winning another three more consecutive titles for the Bulls and countless other accolades. The material things in life for Jordan speak for themselves, but the genuine hunger to be the best that he can be is unmatched. In efforts before his birthday, Jordan donated Make-A-Wish’s largest donation in the organization's tenure, $10 Million.
His campaign with the Barons was 29 years ago, but the impact that he made on the city, the Barons and the world of sports will last forever. The attendance records that were broken at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium because of the crowd that he brought, as well as the coverage that he brought nationally to the minor leagues enhanced what was minor league sports.
To one of our own, happy birthday Michael.