As George Brett, a baseball executive with the Kansas City Royals, says, "I know a lot of players don't want to see him make it, because it will be a slap in the face to them."
The huffing and puffing over Jordan's supposed sacrilege is so intense you almost want to root for the guy, just to prove all these baseball snobs wrong. But they are right about one thing: He will never, ever hit. "It's called bat speed," says one American League scout, "and he ain't got it."
He ain't got experience, either. Next to his name and vital statistics on the official list of 1994 White Sox, where his '93 batting stats should be, it reads DID NOT PLAY. It should read HASN'T PLAYED IN 15 YEARS! Says one American League Central manager, "What'd he hit in high school, .280? Pathetic. I've got players in my clubhouse who are only now starting to hit after living and breathing baseball for 15 years, and this guy thinks he can become a hitter in a couple of months. It's a disgrace to the game. All I know is that I wouldn't want to be [ White Sox manager] Gene Lamont, having to tell a Mike Huff or a Warren Newson that they didn't make the team because Michael bleeping Jordan did."
Indeed, cither Huff or Newson would have to go in order to make room for Jordan. The 30-year-old Huff isn't a great hitter, but he has made only two errors in 217 major league games, and no player has been more helpful in teaching Jordan to play the outfield than Huff. Newson, 29, isn't much bigger than Muggsy Bogues, but last year, between Triple A Nashville and Chicago, he hit .333.
So there was some poetic justice at work in the second inning of last Thursday's intrasquad game, the most heavily covered intrasquad game in baseball history. Jordan lined prospect James Baldwin's fastball into left centerfield, and Newson made a diving, backhanded catch to rob him of a double. In his other two at bats Jordan struck out. He also made a two-out error that allowed the go-ahead run to score: Playing right, he ran in on Joe Hall's windblown fly ball, only to have it glance off his Michael Jordan model glove, made by Wilson. But never mind the error. The White Sox were ecstatic over Jordan's line drive. Gushed Lamont, "That's probably as good a ball as he's hit, and maybe the best we hit today."
On Friday the Rangers came to Ed Smith Stadium for the exhibition season opener, and so did 7,091 paying customers and about 100 credentialed media. Jordan wasn't in the starting lineup; Darrin Jackson is the real rightfielder for the White Sox. In the bottom of the fifth, the fans went wild when Jordan ran out to the outfield to warm up. At the start of the sixth, the P.A. announcer, with history hanging on his every word, intoned, "Now playing in rightfield and batting seventh, number 45... Michael Jordan."
As Jordan long-tossed with centerfielder Lance Johnson, the White Sox staged some sort of promotional stunt along the third base line: Two fans had to race each other after running around a bat 10 times. It was hard to tell which gimmick was more ridiculous, the one down by third or the one in right. Jordan did field a ball in the top of the sixth, picking up Jose Canseco's bloop double down the rightfield line and tossing it to second. What might have been a close play was not so close.
In the bottom of the sixth, Jordan came up with one out, nobody on and Chicago trailing 7-0. A young lefthander, Darren Oliver, was on the mound. Oliver's biggest claim to fame, before Friday, was that he is the son of former major leaguer Bob Oliver. But now he was Michael Jordan's first official opposing pitcher, and his first official opposing pitch to Michael Jordan was a fastball low, ball one. His second pitch was a fastball that Jordan swung at and tipped. Another fastball, another swing...nothing but air. Jordan swung at the fourth fastball, and, befitting a great basketball player, he hit a dribbler down the first base line. One small dribbler for a man, one giant dribbler for mankind.
Whatever, Oliver picked it up and swiped Jordan's back as he went by. Just to make sure, Oliver also threw to first base. Even though home plate umpire Drew Coble had already called Jordan out, first base umpire Chuck Meriwether decided that Jordan had beaten the ball to the bag and called him safe—to the roaring delight of the crowd. But Coble's call stood. Michael later said, "As much as I wanted to be safe, I knew I was out. The ref at first confused me." Poor Michael. He can't talk the talk, either.
Jordan was on deck when the same ended, so his first official line in a box score reads JORDAN RF 1000.