By my count, Michael Jordan has four retirements to his name, but only one is from baseball. On this day in 1995, Jordan, citing labor unrest as his primary concern, retired from his brief foray into professional baseball to return to the NBA. In his lone season with the Chicago White Sox Double-A Birmingham Barons, Jordan batted only .201 and was clearly overmatched at times.
That he was able to hit even that high is a true testament to the athletic ability of His Airness. There are players who work at the game of baseball their entire lives who could not bat over .200 at the Double-A level. Jordan did so after over a decade away from baseball.
You can rip on Jordan all you want for his baseball performance, and many in the sports world went after Jordan mercilessly as he flailed away at minor league pitching. I, however, find his performance quite impressive. The .201 average is ugly, but Jordan also managed to draw over 50 walks, something many minor leaguers struggle to do, and steal 30 bases. More impressive still, Jordan managed to hit .252 in the Arizona Fall League against some of the game’s top prospects.
Keep in mind, that as Jordan picked up baseball, he was a 31-year-old whose prior baseball experience topped out at the high school level over a decade prior to signing with the White Sox. Jordan signed his contract on February 7 and reported to Spring Training on March 31. In less than two months, Jordan worked himself into a passable minor league player. He was able to show enough ability that the White Sox sent him to Double-A, not the rookie league!
There are probably only a handful of humans on Earth capable of matching this feat, and I doubt any of them were amongst those cracking jokes at Jordan’s expense.
In the end, I think everyone knew Jordan’s attempt to play baseball was only going to be brief. Whether you believe he was facing a secret NBA gambling suspension or truly just needed time away from basketball to recharge after the death of his father, Jordan was just not good enough to play Major League Baseball. It was fun while it lasted, and I still have a Michael Jordan rookie card tucked away in my stash of baseball cards. Jordan’s season in the minors should be taken and appreciated for what it was, an interesting chapter in the athletic career of one our truly iconic sportsmen.