Michael Jordan was arguably the greatest basketball player on the planet Earth. After winning his third consecutive NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls in 1993, Jordan announced his retirement. His father had been murdered in July of that year and he lost his desire to play the game.
Jordan did not leave sports for long. In the following spring, Jordan surprised the sports world when he signed a minor league baseball contract with the Double-A Birmingham Barons of the Southern League.
At this time, Nashville baseball was in a unique situation. The Double-A Nashville Xpress of the Southern League joined the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. When one team was on the road, the other was at Greer Stadium. This would give Nashvillians a chance to see MJ play baseball.
A Birmingham newspaper wrote about life in the minor leagues for one of the world's richest sports figures:
"He rents a $450,000 home on the area's most prestigious golf course. He parks his black Porsche in a private, fenced-in area at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, and has a police escort to the freeway most nights. "Rather than scrunch his long legs in a regular bus seat and strain his neck to see one of three TV monitors, Michael Jordan shelled out $330,000 to buy the Birmingham Barons a new bus that has extra leg room, six TV's and a lounge.
"Jordan insists that he is just another AA ballplayer, chasing a boyhood dream, but the only things the retired basketball star seems to have in common with his teammates are his salary-reportedly $850 a month-and the $16 meal allowance he gets on road trips.
"Nobody else on the Barons roster has autograph-hungry fans at the stadium four hours before game time. Nobody else has replicas of his jersey on sale at the nearby Riverchase Galleria Mall. Nobody else had 130 reporters at his locker opening night, including two from Germany and Japan."
In April, that Jordan circus came to Nashville for a two-game series. After nine games, Jordan was hitting .333 with one RBI and four stolen bases. In his first appearance at Greer before 16, 842 fans, the right fielder was 1-for-4 with an RBI single. Jordan made an impression immediately in the first inning which Jimmy Davy of the Tennessean wrote:
"Michael Jordan did a 360 last night at Greer Stadium and it wasn't a dunk. It was a first-inning, head-spinning catch of a fly ball near the right field fence, during which Jordan whirled two or three directions and made the catch tumbling to the turf.
"The celebrated outfielder for the Birmingham Barons of the Class AA Southern League held up the ball. And the crowd went wild. Jordan then loped in from the outfield to a standing ovation, the first of many he would get from was a partisan throng."
In his first at-bat, Jordan grounded out on a play from third to first that wasn't close. But the fans booed the first base umpire anyway. In the fourth inning, Jordan slammed a single off the glove of the Xpress pitcher that drove in a run to give the Barons a 2-1 lead. The fans really went crazy when Jordan stole second base.
The next night another 16,000-plus fans witnessed Jordan going 1-for-4 with a stolen base in an Xpress 5-3 victory. When Jordan was standing in his right field position, fans tried to overload that side of the stadium for a closer look or a better camera shot. When he moved to third base after a teammate walked, that side of the stadium became unbalanced. Wherever MJ went, the fans wanted to be.
When Jordan, wearing jersey No. 45, came back to Nashville a month later, he was not such a hot item as far as drawing fans or at the plate. Jordan 's second trip into Greer for a three-game series came with a .209 batting average and a slump. In his first game, Jordan was 0-for-4 while reaching base on an error. Just 5, 083 fans were in attendance.
In the second game before 10, 206 fans, Jordan was 1-for-3 with a single. He was in the midst of a 1-for-20 skid. Said Xpress winning pitcher LaTroy Hawkins after the game on facing Jordan, "It was a big thrill. I'm definitely waking my folks up to tell them about this. He hit a fastball. The man is so damn cool, though. I've kind of been talking to him for a while." Jordan was 0-for-3 in the third game. Over 11, 000 fans watched Jordan's batting average dip to .209. In the ninth inning, Jordan was given the bunt sign with no outs and a teammate on first base. Jordan laid down a perfect bunt to advance the runner. Two runs would score that inning to give the Barons the eventual victory.
For the 1994 season, Jordan would appear in 127 games, batted .202 (88-for-436), scored 46 runs, recorded 116 total bases (17 doubles, 1 triple, 3 home runs), 51 RBI's, 51 walks, 30 stolen bases and 11 errors. Jordan retired from baseball and went back to playing for the Bulls in the NBA where he won three more consecutive championships.
In 13 NBA seasons, Jordan would win the MVP award five times; six Finals MVP; Rookie-of-the-Year (1985); 10-time All-NBA First Team; 12-time All-Star and Defensive Player-of-the-Year in 1998 and inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame.
"My first season playing baseball was filled with both highs and lows, with the lows taking place more often than not," Jordan once said about his lone baseball season. "It was when these lows took over that I'd sit back and think about whether or not I had gotten myself too far in over my head with this game.
"At one point my game got so shaky it kind of reinforced some previous doubts. But continuing to play at such a poor level really made me question playing at all. I needed to know if I was wasting my time or not.
"I approached my manager Terry Francona and explained to him that I had developed some reservations about my level or performance. If he had said, 'You're wasting your time Mike,' I would have walked away from the game then and there, but instead he reassured me I was not."
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