On this date in 1994, Michael Jordan made his late father’s dream come true.
On Feb. 7, 1994, the White Sox signed Jordan — whho hadn’t played baseball since his senior year in high school — as a free agent and gave him a non-roster invitation to spring training.
After retiring from the NBA following three titles and three MVPs with the Bulls, Jordan began working out with White Sox trainer Herm Schneider at Comiskey Park in December.
On the day he signed with the Sox, Jordan went through a baseball workout in front of the media at the Illinois Institute of Technology in the shadows of Comiskey Park.
Jordan was inked as an outfielder and was assigned No. 45. His trademark 23 was taken — by Robin Ventura!
“I chose to try to play baseball just to see if I could,” Jordan said at the time. “I’m not doing it as a distraction and I’m not doing it as a media hog or looking for the media exposure from it. It’s one of the wishes my father had and I had as a kid.”
With his every move being scrutinized by fans, media and the baseball world, Jordan went through an exhaustive crash course on the game at the Sox spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla.
Jordan hit .150 in 13 Grapefruit League games before being assigned to the White Sox minor league camp on March 21st.
Things didn’t get much easier with the minor leaguers as Jordan’s .154 average showed. The White Sox placed Jordan on Double-A Birmingham’s roster on March 31st.
He got a taste of the big time when he started in right field for the Sox April 7th against the Cubs before 37,825 at Wrigley Field in maybe the greatest atmosphere ever for an exhibition game.
Under an enthusiastic microscope, Jordan went 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs as the Sox remained unbeaten against the Cubs since the resumption of the crosstown rivalry in 1984 with a 4-4 tie. Jordan touched relievers Dave Otto and Chuck Crim for hits but was also charged with an error in right field.
With the Barons and manager Terry Francona, Jordan hit .202 with three homers, 51 RBI, 30 steals and a league-leading 11 errors in the outfield as Birmingham played to record crowds in the Southern League throughout the season. Jordan continued his dream after the season in the Arizona Fall League and instructional league.
Jordan went to spring training in 1995 but he retired on March 10.
Whether he didn’t want to get mixed up in the contentious labor situation going on at the time (he was listed in the Sox “replacement” players 1995 media guide) or he had grown tired of the criticism (Sports Illustrated put him on a cover flailing at a baseball and told him to “Bag It) or he just wanted to play basketball again, Jordan walked away from baseball quicker than he had picked it up.
It should be pointed out — despite SI’s proclamation — there WAS hope for MJ as a baseball player. After all, the guy hit .202 in Double-A, which one veteran coach calls the “men’s league” when it comes to minor leaguers, AFTER NOT PLAYING BASEBALL SINCE HIS HIGH SCHOOL DAYS.
In addition, it was obvious that Jordan was improving with experience, time and coaching.
Eight days after bolting the Sox, Jordan announced his return to the NBA with a press release that simply said: “I’m back.”
Three NBA titles later, the most prominent minor leaguer ever had cemented his status as the greatest basketball player ever.