CHICAGO – During Thanksgiving week 1993, Jerry Reinsdorf told Herm Schneider a secret that would soon shock the sports world.
“He goes, ‘I’d like for you to get MJ ready to play baseball,'” explained Schneider, White Sox head athletic trainer emeritus. “I really did give him kind of a funny look like, ‘You messing with me?’ He goes, ‘No, absolutely. He wants to play baseball. I have the ability to let him do that and I’m going to let him do that.’”
By that Saturday, Schneider was meeting Jordan covertly at Comiskey to get his body ready for baseball.
“Every day he would call me when he just got off on 35th Street at Wentworth. The garage door was right there and I would push it. It would go up and I would see him at the light. He would just pull in. I’d push it. It would go down. Honestly, no one knew he was there.”
Every day for months, Schneider built up Jordan’s baseball strength, focusing on his shoulders, elbows and hands.
”He was thirsty for knowledge. He was thirsty to do more. He would hit in the cage until his hands bled.”
Once down at spring training, Schneider recalls MJ’s generosity, treating players to dinner and new nike gear while never turning down an autograph request.
He was larger than life, but on the diamond displayed the same dream and drive to make the majors as his teammates.
“He was really one of the players. He wasn’t somebody who just stood out,” remarked Kirk Champion, the pitching coach for the Birmingham Barons at the time. “Obviously, he did when he went to the ballpark with the media coverage and the fan coverage and all those things. But, he was not out of the ordinary. He wasn’t just on a pedestal away from everybody. He really blended in.”
During MJ’s lone season in Birmingham, he hit just .202 with three home runs in 127 games. But, he stole 30 bases and was fourth on the Barons with 51 RBI.
“I think he would have got to the big leagues if he would have stayed with it or things would have fallen into place with all the other things off field that were going on with the strike,” Champion noted. “I think he would’ve shown up in big league park somewhere, hopefully with us, maybe somebody else. But, there would have been some big league at bats, I’m sure, in his career if he would’ve stayed with it.”
A great what-if in one of the greatest subplots of Jordan’s career.