Tonight, ESPN premiered Jordan Rides the Bus, the latest installment in their 30 for 30 series. I didn’t watch it, mostly because the reviews said it was only so-so, but I did want to mention one thing about Jordan’s year-long stint with the AA Birmingham Barons of the Southern League.
It’s commonly said that Jordan’s time with the Barons was a failure — he had trouble hitting breaking pitches and generally looked exceedingly raw in all aspects of the game. The stats show that he was a marginal major league prospect at best: .202 BA, 3 HR, 51 RBI, 30 SB (in 48 attempts), 114 K, .289 OBP, .289 OBP, .266 SLG.
As usual, though, you need context for the full story. At the age of 31, Jordan hadn’t played regular baseball since his time at Laney High. On top of that, he was playing in AA, not A or rookie ball. AA typically doesn’t have as much developed talent as AAA, but it’s often said to have the better prospects (as many high-end players skip AAA entirely between seasons), so it’s not as if Jordan was playing against a bunch of no-talent scrubs. Plus, at 6-6 his size is considered a hindrance in baseball, where tall players have more area of strike zone to cover at the plate.
In other words, the fact that Jordan got a hit 1/5 of the time (including 21 extra-base hits) is something of a marvel considering that legitimate committed baseball prospects often flounder at the same level. He wasn’t a star by any means, but to come to the sport as a blank state and perform at the level he did is an accomplishment. It proves just how great of an athlete he was.
It’s not a controversial statement to call Jordan an amazing natural athlete. Yet his baseball stint is often discussed as if its a black mark on his athletic career. However, it might actually be one of the most impressive things he ever did on a field or court.