He called the first base umpire "the ref." In the field, he played a single into a double and an out into a single. Though he moves well on the base paths, his best time to first base, 4.35 seconds, is slower than average. At bat he brings to mind a taller, righthanded Rich Gedman—the Walt Hriniak disciple who can no longer hit the ball out of the infield.
At least he has provided baseball people with a conversation starter this spring. Barely concealing their sneers, the scouts and players and writers ask one another, "Have you seen him?" They are not talking about Oddibe McDowell. They are talking, of course, about the rightfield hopeful for the Chicago White Sox, 31-year-old Michael Jordan.
Granted, he looks good in a baseball uniform. Granted, he is the greatest basketball player who has ever lived. Granted, a few weeks of batting practice, an intrasquad game and two exhibitions against the Texas Rangers are not a lot to go on. But this much is clear: Michael Jordan has no more business patrolling rightfield in Comiskey Park than Minnie Minoso has bringing the ball upcourt for the Chicago Bulls.
The single most impressive thing Jordan has done on a baseball field occurred shortly before his first official spring training game, last Friday in Sarasota, Fla. He and some of the other White Sox were taking BP on an out-of-the-way diamond—Minnie Minoso Field, to be exact—when it came time to collect the baseballs and put them in a basket on the mound. Much to the delight of a small crowd, Jordan started shooting fallaway jumpers with the balls. For the sake of posterity and those basketball fans who miss him, it should be noted that Jordan was 5 for 7 from the field.
To hear the crowd cheer every step that number 45 takes on a baseball field or to watch the fans walk around in their Air Jordan apparel purchased from the special Nike van at Ed Smith Stadium is to instantly understand why the White Sox are letting Jordan do this. So shame on them for their cynical manipulation of the public. And shame on them for feeding Michael's matchbook-cover delusion—BECOME A MAJOR LEAGUER IN JUST SIX WEEKS!
The nice thing, or maybe the sad thing, about Jordan's attempt to make the club is that he at least is sincere. He is working very hard, arriving at the park at 6:30 a.m. for sessions with hitting coach Hriniak and not leaving until sunset. His hands are too raw for this to be a mere lark. Jordan has not been a prima donna. In fact, he has been one of the guys.
Perhaps because of Michael's charm—and certainly not his swing—the Chicago players are fully cooperating in this charade. "He needs time, but I've already seen definite improvement," said American League MVP Frank Thomas late last week. "He can fly, and lots of teams carry speed guys. I want a player on my team who's not afraid of the big game, who loves the pressure, and that's Michael. He's blessed."
While the White Sox try to rationalize Jordan's audition, baseball's other uniformed personnel are almost irrational about it. "He had better tie his Air Jordans real tight if I pitch to him," said Seattle Mariner fireballer Randy Johnson. "I'd like to see how much air time he'd get on one of my inside pitches."
"Be like Mike?" scoffed one Houston Astro. "Hell, Mike right now only wishes he could be like Frank."
Said Pittsburgh Pirate centerfielder Andy Van Slyke, "I can just sec the American League catchers now. 'Sorry about that third strike, Michael. Can I have your autograph?' "