The Birmingham Barons were a struggling minor league team with Michael Jordan roaming the outfield, with him gone they were nearly a playoff team.
Each time Michael Jordan walked onto the field in 1994 for the Birmingham Barons, he was followed by a media circus and a barrage of fans trying to catch a glimpse of this basketball star turned Double-A baseball player.
While the exposure and gate receipts were good, the on-field product was not. The Barons finished the year nine games below .500 and in the basement of the Southern League West Division.
A glass half full approach says this is pretty good for a team whose starting left fielder hadn’t played an organized baseball game in the ten-plus years. The glass half empty look says Jordan took the spot of a more deserving player, someone the Chicago White Sox were truly trying to develop.
I’ll give Jordan props. Hitting a 90mph fastball is no easy task, especially with as much rust as he had. He hit .202 while driving in over fifty runs and stealing 30 bases. Respectable numbers given the circumstances. For the sake of the Barons on the field production, it was good news when Jordan returned to basketball after his one year on the diamond.
The 1995 edition of the Birmingham Barons ran Charles Poe to the outfield position previously occupied by Jordan. Poe hit .283 with a team high 13 home runs with 28 doubles, his OPS over .250 points higher than what Jordan produced. Poe was a baseball player by trade, he is supposed to be better, I get it.
Future Major Leaguers Mike Cameron and Greg Norton also made their presence known with the Barons in ’95. Kevin Coughlin who hit just .257 the year he played alongside Jordan, hit .385 in 327 at-bats the year after Jordan left. Maybe without the bright lights and hoopla surrounding the basketball star, the baseball players were able to focus more on their prospective games.
The Barons remained in the hunt for the division title up until the end of the year, finishing three and a half games behind the Chattanooga Lookouts. They finished 80-64, fifteen wins better than the previous year.
Players are promoted/demoted often in the minor leagues. This drastic turnaround can not be solely attributed to Michael Jordan being on the field or off of it, I’m not naive to think that. The athletic ability Jordan had may not have equated to baseball instincts in some cases though. The ducks Jordan left on the pond with two outs may have been pushed across had someone else had the opportunity, or they may not have. The error Charlie Poe makes may have been a play Jordan handles, who knows?
May have been coincidence, may have been a better team being fielded, may have been less drama with one less basketball superstar. All I know is the results of year one without Michael Jordan were encouraging for the Barons.