Getty Images

Must-Click Link: The Oral History of Michael Jordan’s Baseball Career

5 Comments

Tim Tebow’s presence in New York Mets camp has launched a thousand articles, blog posts and tweets. But he’s not even close to being the most famous non-baseball player to play baseball. That honor belongs to Michael Jordan, who is perhaps the most famous athlete in history not named Babe Ruth or Muhammad Ali. And even then it’s close.

As everyone knows, Jordan spent the 1994 season with the Double-A Birmingham Barons, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. As everyone also knows, he wasn’t super successful. He hit .202 and, after one season, he went back to basketball, filmed “Space Jam” and then went on to his second three-peat as an NBA champion. But there was more to his journey through baseball than just a less-than-stellar season.

Rob Neyer spent time interviewing those who were on the scene for Jordan’s time in baseball and compiled an oral history of it over at Complex. It’s well worth your time. Both for the stories — and there are some great ones you may not have heard or perhaps forgot — and for some instructive parallels with the Tim Tebow experiment.

Jordan’s foray into baseball is widely viewed as unsuccessful, but he did hold his own for a while at Double-A. There are some — including his minor league hitting coach, Mike Barnett — who believed he could’ve made the bigs as a fourth outfielder given more time. Great? Nah, and that big league stuff may be hyperbole, but people could squint at him and mistake for a baseball player.

So far the scouting reports on Tebow suggest he’d be eaten alive by Double-A pitchers. Tebow’s supporters note his athleticism and work ethic, which are undeniable, but it’d be hard to find anyone who would say he is an athlete on par with a mid-1990s Michael Jordan. And I don’t think there has ever been an athlete with a more widely reputed work ethic and competitive drive than Michael Jordan. He was almost pathological in this regard. It’s hard to see where Tebow’s upside comes from in light of that, and that’s before you remember that pitchers throw a LOT harder now than they did in 1994.

One thing will be the same, though: opposing ballplayers are going to be out to get him. Or at least get the best of him. This comment came from Bob Herold, the long-time college coach and current instructor with the Pirates, who was the hitting coach for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League, where Jordan played his last competitive baseball in the fall of 1994:

I was coaching in the Royals organization. I didn’t have a problem with him at all, but I can tell you there were definitely a lot of guys in baseball who were hoping for him to fail. Just because they didn’t like the idea of somebody who hadn’t played in 14 or 15 years jumping right in and doing better than them.

Tebow will begin playing in major league spring training games this week. Everyone is going to try a bit harder against him, one thinks. It’s gonna be a rough go of it, methinks.

Odubel Herrera went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts today

Getty Images
9 Comments

Did you have a bad day? It’s OK. We all do sometimes. It’s just part of life. Even ballplayers have bad days. Even the good ones.

Odubel Herrera is a good one. He’s only 25, but he’s already got two seasons of above average hitting under his belt. Dude gets on base. He could be a regular for tons of teams, so there’s no shame at all in him having a bad day. And boy howdy did he have a bad day today. He went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts in the Phillies extra innings win against the Rockies.

“I feel that I am making good swings but I’m just missing the pitches,” Herrera said.

Well, that is how strikeouts work.

Four strikeouts in a game is known as a Golden Sombrero. Players don’t strike out five times in a game very often so they don’t have an agreed upon name, but I’ve seen it referred to as the “platinum sombrero,” which seems pretty solid for such a feat. Six is a titanium sombrero or a double platinum sombrero, though there are references to it as a “Horn,” for Sam Horn, who deserves something to be named in his honor. Horn is like Moe Greene — a great man, a man of vision and guts — yet there isn’t even a plaque, or a signpost or a statue of him!

But I digress.

The last time a Phillies player did it was when Pat Burrell K’d five times in September 2008. The Phillies won the World Series that year, of course, so maybe this is an omen. [looks at standings] Or maybe not.

Anyway, get a good night’s sleep tonight, Odubel. Shake it off. Tomorrow is another day.

Rachel Robinson to receive O’Neil Award from the Hall of Fame

Getty Images
3 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) Rachel Robinson will receive the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award from baseball’s Hall of Fame on July 29, the day before this year’s induction ceremony.

She’s the wife of late Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, who broke the major league color barrier in 1947. Rachel Robinson created the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 1973, a year after he husband’s death. Rachel Robinson, who turns 95 in July 19, headed the foundation’s board until 1996.

The O’Neil award was established in 2007 to honor individuals who broaden the game’s appeal and whose character is comparable to that of O’Neil. He played in the Negro Leagues, was a scout for major league baseball teams and helped establish the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

The award was given to O’Neil in 2008, Roland Hemond in 2011 and Joe Garagiola in 2014.