Baseball historian Chris Jaffe points out that today is the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordan quitting baseball, noting that “he went back to his previous line of work.”
People always mock Jordan’s one-year baseball career and I suppose that’s to be expected when the best basketball player of all time leaves the sport he’s dominating to spend a year struggling at Double-A, but it always seemed to me that Jordan’s baseball performance was actually kind of impressive.
He played 127 games as a Double-A outfielder in the White Sox’s farm system–with Terry Francona as his manager–hitting .202 with three homers, 51 walks, 30 steals, and a .556 OPS. Make no mistake, that’s awful. FOR A PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL PLAYER. Jordan was a 31-year-old non-baseball player who hadn’t played the sport regularly in more than a decade and had never played the sport regularly above the high school level.
So yes, you could say “he quit basketball to hit .202 at Double-A?” or you could say “he took up professional baseball at age 31 without any experience above high school and somehow managed to hit above .200 with multiple home runs, an above-average walk rate, and lots of stolen bases!” Or you could just say “Jordan has a higher career on-base percentage at Double-A than Drew Butera!”
Baseball is super hard and what Michael Jordan did during his one year playing the sport professionally is more impressive than he gets credit for.
José Bautista hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2018 but the 39-year-old isn’t done playing just yet. Last month, we learned via a report from ESPN’s Jeff Passan that Bautista is hoping to come back as a two-way player. He spent the winter working out as a pitcher.
Bautista had also been working with former Blue Jays teammate Marcus Stroman. Back in January, Stroman tweeted, “My bro @JoeyBats19 is nasty on the mound. We been working working. All jokes aside, this man can pitch in a big league bullpen. I’ll put my word on it!”
In March, Passan added some details about Bautista, writing, “I’ve seen video of Jose Bautista throwing a bullpen session. Couldn’t tell the velocity, but one source said he can run his fastball up to 94. His slider had legitimate tilt — threw a short one and a bigger bender. @STR0 said in January he could pitch in a big league bullpen.” Stroman retweeted it, adding, “Facts!”
Stroman reiterated his feelings on Tuesday. He tweeted, “Since y’all thought I wasn’t being serious when I said it the first time…my bro @JoeyBats19could EASILY pitch in a big league bullpen. Easily. Sinker, slider, and changeup are MLB ready!” Stroman attached a video of Bautista throwing a slider, in which one can hear Stroman calling the pitch “nasty.”
Stroman attached another video of Bautista throwing a glove-side sinker:
Replying to a fan, Stroman said Bautista’s body “is in better shape than 90-95% of the league.”
I am not a scout and won’t pretend to be one after watching two low-resolution videos. And Stroman’s hype is likely partially one friend attempting to uplift another. That being said, I’ve seen much worse from position players attempting to pitch. It’s a long shot, especially given his age, that Bautista will ever pitch in the majors, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get an opportunity to pitch in front of major league scouts.