Wednesday, December 8, 2021

How Michael Jordan’s Baseball Career Could have influenced the 2005 White Sox


During Sunday’s episode of “The Last Dance,” Michael Jordan’s brief baseball career with the Chicago White Sox was covered in detail. Jordan was apart of the White Sox organization for the 1994 season before returning to the NBA in March of 1995. Had the legend stuck with baseball, there was a good chance he would have made it to the majors where his career could have influenced the 2005 Chicago White Sox World Series team.

Jordan’s lone season in the White Sox organization was spent with the Double-A Birmingham Barons. While at Double-A, he accumulated a .202 batting average along with a .289 on-base percentage with no prior professional baseball experience. It was because of this that many in the organization believed that with more time, Jordan would make it to the major leagues, including future World Series manager Terry Francona. Francona and others believed that the Bulls legend could be Major League ready with another 1,500 at-bats.

The 1994 MLB strike influenced Jordan to leave baseball in march of 1995. With there still no agreement in place from the prior season, MLB owners were ready to hire replacement players to play the 1995 season. Jordan was asked to be one of those players and declined before leaving the organization altogether. Now imagine if the strike had been resolved earlier and spring training begins as normal with MLB regulars, the greatest player in NBA history might have continued with his baseball career.

Given the timeline needed and if he develops as a player, Jordan would have been in the minors for another year and a half before the White Sox possibly call him up towards the end of 1996 season, if not the 1997 season. During this time, Chicago’s organization was packed with quality outfielders at the Major League level and prospects in the minors. Some of the outfielders the White Sox had included Albert Belle, Magglio Ordonez, Tony Phillips, Dave Martinez, Carlos Lee, Jeff Abbott, Lyle Mouton, and Mike Cameron.

Jordan’s presence on the roster would have demanded playing-time simply from a marketing standpoint as ticket sales, TV ratings, and merchandising would have massively increased. One of the outfielders listed would have either had their spot on the roster taken or at least seen their playing time reduced to split time with the Bulls legend. While it was likely that Mouton or Abbott loses their roster spot, Cameron likely sees his playing time reduced. Albert Belle was signed to the biggest contract in MLB history at the time, while Ordonez was the team’s best prospect. Cameron was a highly rated prospect himself, and did go on to have a very respectable MLB career, but was not as offensively skilled as Ordonez was.

Cameron played in 116 games in 1997 and 141 games in 1998. The future Gold Glove outfielder performed well in his rookie season of 1997, hitting .259, driving in 59 RBIs, and stealing 23 bases. He regressed in 1998 but was still highly touted for his speed and defensive skill. Cameron was traded to the Cincinnati Reds following the 1998 season for the first baseman Paul Konerko. Konerko would go on to be one of the best players in White Sox history as he would hit 432 home runs and be a six-time All-Star in 16 seasons. Most importantly, the first baseman was the best and most important hitter for the team’s 2005 World Championship season. Konerko hit 40 home runs, drove in 100 RBIs, and was named the ALCS MVP.

Had Jordan stayed in the organization making it to the majors, whether at the end of 1996 or early on in 1997, he would have played for the team at least through 1998 season. Had that occurred, it could have affected Cameron’s development, which in turn could have influenced the trade with Cincinnati for Konerko. Jordan’s baseball career, as memorable as it would have been with him making it to the majors, may have cost the team its first world title in 88 years.

Although it’s hypothetical, it is important to note given how many in the organization truly believed Jordan could have played with the White Sox had he stuck with baseball. Sports history is filled with great “what-if” moments. MLB history has seen moments where players were and were not traded for the smallest of reasons. The history of Chicago sport could have been drastically altered to where both the White Sox and Bulls could have been without four championships due to Jordan.

Steve Pusch
Eastern Illinois University graduate, Steve earned a Bachelor’s in Journalism with a concentration in sports. While at EIU, Steve co-hosted a weekly radio sports talk show focused on Chicago.

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