Interleague play in Chicago in 1994 was still a thing of the future save for a yearly Crosstown Classic exhibition between the Cubs and White Sox. The real novelty on April 7, 1994 wasn’t seeing the town’s two teams hook up, it was seeing basketball’s greatest player standing in Wrigley’s right field wearing a Chicago White Sox road uniform.
Michael Jordan surprised the nation by retiring from baseball just five months before and had opted to chase his childhood dream of becoming a major league baseball player. Sox/Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf game him the chance and after spring training, Jordan was ticketed for AA Birmingham, but first, there was the chance to taste the big leagues by playing in the Crosstown exhibition.
An exuberant Harry Caray talked to MJ for the WGN “Lead-off Man” show and asked him if he had any doubts. “It really gives credibility to baseball as a whole, said Jordan. “A lot of people view me as a decent athlete, yet I’m trying to come out here and I found out that these professionals are athletes and it takes a really good talent, an exceptionally talented player to come out and do this. I’m really having a good time trying. Hopefully I can get better at it. If I don’t succeed, at least I learned a lot about the game and I can watch it with better interest.”
Jordan made the most of his day at the park, getting two hits, including an RBI double that bounced just inside third base, delighting a crowd of more than 38,000 fans. He spent one season in the Sox minor league system at Birmingham. MJ may not have made his big league dream come true, but his minor league manager did in a big way. Terry Francona went on to multiple big league managing jobs and won two World Series with the Red Sox.
– Bob Vorwald