After all that, he finally got to throw out the first pitch.
Remember what a disaster Michael Jordan was playing baseball?
The well done ESPN 30 for 30 movie “Jordan Rides the Bus” has come along to remind us that why we thought Jordan went to play baseball was wrong. Oh, and that he was pretty good at it, as Eric Freeman notes at Early Termination Option (his new blog which you should be reading).
It’s commonly said that Jordan’s time with the Barons was a failure — he had trouble hitting breaking pitches and generally looked exceedingly raw in all aspects of the game. The stats show that he was a marginal major league prospect at best: .202 BA, 3 HR, 51 RBI, 30 SB (in 48 attempts), 114 K, .289 OBP, .289 OBP, .266 SLG.
As usual, though, you need context for the full story. At the age of 31, Jordan hadn’t played regular baseball since his time at Laney High. On top of that, he was playing in AA, not A or rookie ball. AA typically doesn’t have as much developed talent as AAA, but it’s often said to have the better prospects (as many high-end players skip AAA entirely between seasons), so it’s not as if Jordan was playing against a bunch of no-talent scrubs. Plus, at 6-6 his size is considered a hindrance in baseball, where tall players have more area of strike zone to cover at the plate.
Jordan was not some stud Major League prospect, but considering everything he wasn’t that bad, either. His calling may have been elsewhere, but his dad would have been proud of him as a ball player.
Michael Jordan went to play baseball as a quiet suspension for his gambling activities. It’s an accepted truth in America, right up there with the man on the grassy knoll and the aliens at Area 51.
Except that maybe it’s not true. None of it. Especially the MJ part.
Tuesday night the latest in ESPN’s fantastic “30 for 30” series continues with “Jordan Rides the Bus” about MJ’s time — at the peak of his basketball career — that he left to play minor league baseball.
The rumors have been for years that Jordan walked only because David Stern was punishing him for his gambling ties. But Ron Shelton — the director of the new documentary — said he looked into it, and told the Chicago Tribune there was no truth to it.
“I probably, like most people in America, thought he left the NBA for a year because of gambling,” Shelton told us Monday. “After researching the project, I was utterly convinced that was nonsense. And probably like most people, I thought he was a catastrophically bad baseball player. And after researching it, I got a different view about that, as well….”
“Everybody that I talked to said they spent hundreds of hours looking for smoking guns and there is not even a leak; it’s just circumstantial. It’s just a theory,” he said.
Jordan is a personality that needs a challenge in front of him. After a three-peat with the Bulls, was the NBA still a challenge? Throw in that Jordan’s father, a huge baseball fan, had just been murdered and you start to see more logical pieces fall together. Jordan had the emotional ties to baseball, something rekindled by his father’s death, and he needed a new challenge.
But that’s no fun. It’s more logical that there was some grand conspiracy that was covered up. That the CIA moved and switched JFK’s body, but nobody ever talked in an era when we know all the cold war secrets of that era. That the same government incapable of tripping over its own feet can keep an alien spacecraft and the bodies of extra-terrestrials secret in the desert for 50 years.
Maybe Jordan just wanted to play baseball. Why is that so hard to believe?