By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Michael Jordan has already tried to play major-league baseball. And failed.
You can look it up.
Back in 1890, The Baseball Encyclopedia informs us, one Michael Henry Jordan, the pride of Lawrence, Massachusetts, appeared in 37 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 125 at-bats, the 27-year-old outfielder managed to get twelve hits--that works out to a dismal .096 batting average--and he struck out nineteen times. The man had one double, but he never hit a home run.
At the end of the year, Michael Jordan's brief big-league career was over.
Remember what Santayana said about minding history lest you be doomed to repeat it? That other Michael Jordan had better start minding.
The latest word from Chicago, the City of Big Shoulders (but no World Series titles since Babe Ruth was in diapers), is that, for months now, the former NBA superstar has been taking 600 to 1,000 cuts of batting practice a day at Comiskey Park, and that the Chicago White Sox are about to invite him to spring training in Sarasota.
Terrific. But before Sox manager Gene Lamont scratches regular right fielder Darrin Jackson from the lineup, he'd do well to think about a couple of things. Like the fact that at the All-Star Game in Baltimore last year, TV actor Tom Selleck outslugged Jordan in a celebrity home run contest. That the greatest basketball player in the history of the game has not put on a pair of baseball spikes since his junior year of high school. That ego is no substitute for skill when Roger Clemens or Lee Smith is glaring at you from sixty feet away.
The White Sox also might consider that some current members of the club, who last year came within a whisper of the World Series, may not take kindly to the media circus that's sure to surround His Airness in Florida. The Sox already are ragged off about such things: Two-sport star Bo Jackson's comeback try last spring proved to be an awful distraction.
But Jordan clearly can't thrive without limelight.
"I'm not saying I'm walking into this thing to be a Reggie Jackson or a Barry Bonds," he allowed last week. That's good to know. Because Michael Jackson and Barry Manilow have just about the same shot at playing in the bigs. Still, Jordan pressed on thusly: "I'm looking at it as an opportunity to overcome a feat that a lot of people don't think I'm capable of doing."
At the moment a show of hands among baseball people wouldn't get Jordan very far. But Ron Scheuler thinks otherwise. Along with a machine, which isn't talking, it's been Scheuler, a former big-league pitcher and the current White Sox general manager, who's been throwing BP to MJ. And it is Scheuler who believes his rookie student can start playing big-league baseball at age thirty. Next week he plans to parade Michael Jordan's batting-practice skills before the press.
Of course, Scheuler is the same guy who wanted to activate seventy-year-old Minnie Minoso for one game. And last summer he stuck tongue firmly into cheek and drafted his daughter for the organization. Longtime White Sox fans can tell you these aren't the first hijinks they've seen on the South Side: Everybody remembers the Black Sox scandal, and irrepressible showman Bill Veeck, the man who once sent a midget to the plate for the old St. Louis Browns and later dressed his White Sox in shorts and knee socks--a "trend" that mercifully died after one season.
Now there's Michael Jordan. And if anyone seriously believes he can play in the bigs, just wait until he runs into Lord Charles.
No, not Sir Charles. That's a different guy. Jordan's already met Sir Charles on the hardwood in Philadelphia and Phoenix, and he's held up his end just fine, thank you. Lord Charles is, of course, reverent baseball slang for the top-of-the-line major-league curveball. Aka the yakker. The deuce. The bender. The hook. And if, as world-reknowned physicists and perennial Texas League outfielders agree, the toughest thing to do in all of sports may be to strike a fast-moving, round ball with a skinny round bat, the feat is multiplied infinitely when the fast-moving round ball is spinning wickedly in on the hands or dropping off the table a nanosecond before dinner is served.
Batting-practice pitcher Scheuler says he has been throwing Michael Jordan the curve, and that Jordan hits it pretty well. But Schueler's curve is not Lord Charles. And if you think Jordan's seven straight scoring titles or his string of 23 consecutive points were something, wait until he steps into the batter's box at his little fantasy camp down in Sarasota and some hungry young junk-baller just up from Nashville or Pawtucket zips the nasty deuce low and in against the greatest basketball player who ever lived.
He doesn't know it yet, but Michael Jordan suddenly will look just about like, well...the aforementioned Reggie Jackson.
That's right. Mr. October hit 563 home runs in his storied career, which is sixth on the all-time list. He also struck out 2,597 times, which is first on the list. In most of these cases it was Lord Charles who did Reggie Jackson in, who screwed him down into the dirt in an unholy, absolutely mortal heap. So when Jordan tells us that he's "not walking into this thing to be Reggie Jackson," he might do well to mind his words...as well as history. For there's every chance he frequently will resemble Reggie Jackson at his worst and without ever getting a sniff of Reggie Jackson at his best.