How Michael Jordan's baseball career was impacted by A's, Jason Giambi

How Michael Jordan's baseball career was impacted by A's, Jason Giambi

Michael Jordan went from winning three straight NBA championships to hitting under the Mendoza Line in just over one year. From two MVP awards to striking out twice on a nightly basis. 

Once the synthesized heartbeat of The Alan Parsons Project song "Sirius" reverberated across Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Jordan felt like he was back home being introduced before a Chicago Bulls game. In reality, he was walking to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning as a member of the Birmingham Barons -- not the Bulls -- on this July 6, 1994 night against the Huntsville Stars, then the A's Double-A affiliate. 

"When I heard that music from Chicago Stadium, I got pimples all over my arms," Jordan said to reporters, via the Associated Press. "It seemed like basketball all over again." 

The 31-year-old Jordan already was known for his ice-cold clutch gene with the Bulls. In the previous NBA season, he was named Finals MVP after averaging 41 points per game against Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns. While the basketball court was his temple, Jordan was the popular new kid in school still trying to find his way on the baseball diamond. 

On this night, however, he played the role of hero. And it was all thanks to an error from eventual A's star and AL MVP, Jason Giambi. 

With the bases loaded and the count full against reliever Scott Harris, Jordan hammered a hard ground ball down the third-base line. As the speedy shooting guard outfielder sprinted down the line, Giambi, then only 23 years old and playing third base, bobbled the ball and rushed his throw, sailing it over first baseman Joel Wolfe's head. By the time the Stars retrieved the ball, all three runners scored to give the Barons a 6-5 walk-off win. 

Jordan was mobbed by his teammates. Flashes of him jumping and pumping his fist after his famous game-winner over Craig Ehlo and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1989 playoffs no doubt were playing in everyone's mind.

"This is my most exciting moment in baseball," Jordan said after the win while sipping a celebratory beer. 

But the ultra-competitive Jordan couldn't help himself. 

"It should have been a hit," Jordan said. "I hit that ball hard." 

Regarding Giambi's poor throw, MJ had to point out "I got down there fast."

To put the situation even more into the realm of Jordan's famous clutch games, the Barons actually went into the ninth inning trailing 5-0 while being no-hit by Stars starting pitcher Steve Wojciechowski. The only batter to reach base at that point was Jordan himself, who drew a walk. 

By the time Jordan stepped into the batter's box, the score was 5-3 and the Barons had knocked Wojciechowski out of the game. That's when he went back to wearing a red No. 23 Bulls jersey in his mind instead of a pinstriped No. 45 Barons uniform. 

"It was one shot to win or lose," Jordan said. "Mentally, I've been in that situation before on the basketball court. All I had to do was relax, make something happen, make sure I hit the ball hard."

In typical Jordan fashion, that's exactly what he did. Jordan even called the moment "almost like a championship to me." But really, this was another 0-for-3 night, dropping his batting average to .193 at the time. 

For someone known for staggering numbers, the stats didn't matter. The win did, though, for the eventual six-time NBA champion. 

In the above video, Jordan scores from first base and also hammers a double off the wall on April 28, 1994, in a 9-4 win over the Huntsville Stars.

Jordan's heroic hustle wasn't the first time he was connected to Stars in that '94 season.

He went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts in an 11-inning, 5-4 Barons win over the Stars the same night the Bulls lost, 88-77, to the New York Knicks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, ending a run of three straight NBA Finals appearances. Tip-off at Madison Square Garden was minutes after Jordan struck out in the second inning. Shortly after the final score of the Bulls' loss flashed across the scoreboard, Jordan grounded out to end the 10th inning. 

The Bulls couldn't win it all without out him, as Jordan did his best swinging a bat instead of throwing down dunks on Patrick Ewing. While he chased a dream his slain father once had for him, Jordan's minor league career came to an end against the A's Double-A team. 

Jordan finished the season strong, hitting .300 over the final three weeks to get above the Mendoza Line. But he went out quiet, going 0-for-4 as the Barons beat the Stars, 4-2 in the season finale. Basketball's GOAT hit .202 with three homers and 51 RBI, and struck out 114 times in 127 games for the Barons. He also hit 17 doubles and stole 30 bases. 

After his lone minor league season, Jordan played for Terry Francona on the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. He seemed to improve a bit and hit .252 over 123 at-bats. 

Though his minor league career largely ended in a hitless win over the Stars, he nearly had a major league career begin thanks to the A's before ever suiting up for the Barons. When then-A's general manager Sandy Alderson learned of Jordan's baseball desires, he jumped at the opportunity to finally bring more fans to Oakland

“When I heard that was happening, or about to happen, I called his agent right away and said, 'Hey look, I understand he may be going to Double-A. I don't even know who the 25th man is on our major league team right now, I will sign him and put him on the major league roster. He'll be part of our 25-man team. Tomorrow,' " Alderson told ESPN’s Buster Olney last month on the "Baseball Tonight" podcast.

[RELATED: Kerr believes a Jordan 'Flu Game' will never happen again]

Jordan appreciated Alderson's interest but wanted to start from the ground up. He felt he didn't deserve to play in the majors right away, just like he turned down an invite to the Southern League All-Star Game.

Put the lowly stats aside. Forget the strikeouts and errors. Jordan fell in love with baseball while riding the bus with the Barons. And then it was taken away from him. He wanted nothing to do with the MLB strike, so on March 18, 1995, he famously announced his return to the Bulls in a two-word fax: "I'm back." 

Perhaps that's how he felt that July 6 night high-fiving teammates after Giambi's errant throw. "I'm back." There was the Bulls theme song and before he knew it, celebration. Baseball is a game of failure, but feeling on top was normalcy for Jordan.

Instead of famous words, though, as he drank his beer, Jordan shared the same sentiment so many baseball players have felt throughout the years: "It should have been a hit."

A's starter A.J. Puk ready to pitch restriction free in shortened MLB season

A's starter A.J. Puk ready to pitch restriction free in shortened MLB season

A.J. Puk got some curious stares while walking through the A’s clubhouse last week. Teammates couldn’t immediately identify the tall, lanky pitcher who had lost 10 pounds, and dramatically trimmed down his trademark locks.

The hair is high-and-tight now, for the first time since the A’s drafted him No. 6 overall back in 2016.

“Some people didn’t recognize me,” Puk said in a Friday video conference. “I told them I came in the Mateo trade.”

The front office recently shipped infielder Jorge Mateo to the Padres for a player to be named later. The return hasn’t been set yet. The A’s would be thrilled to get a dominant left-hander with ace potential like Puk.

Puk’s so good he has drawn Randy Johnson comparisons, and they won’t cease just because their hair no longer is identical. Their size and stature still is similar. So is the fact that, like Johnson, Puk can flat out bring it.

A’s fans saw that during a 10-game cameo in MLB late last year, where he struck out 13 over 11.1 innings. One bit of warning for those who assume we’ll see the same Puk in 2020: The A’s still had him in shackles, preventing him from throwing his full pitch arsenal.

The A’s were careful with a prized prospect who had Tommy John Surgery in April 2018, wanting to avoid a significant setback. He had a minor one during spring training, with some shoulder soreness common to those with UCL repairs. Baseball’s layoff due to the coronavirus allowed Puk to fully heal, and the shortened season has removed any inning restrictions that could have come into play over 162 games.

All that means Puk finally is free and clear. He can throw any pitch he wants, from a high-90s fastball to a buckling curve. His innings won’t be monitored closely.

Puk is free and clear in every sense.

“Mentally it feels great to know that I’m really feeling good to only worry about getting out there to worry about executing pitches,” Puk said. “I’m not worried about any of the rehab stuff. It’s a lot better than what it was previously.”

[RELATED: A's Matt Chapman adjusts personal goals in shortened 2020 MLB season]

That should scare opponents. So should this fact: Puk’s arm feels better than ever.

“I was able to clean up some of my mechanics,” Puk said. “It was a long grind coming back from Tommy John and then ramping it back up. A lot of times young guys come back and deal with some shoulder stuff, so hopefully that’s all in the past and I’m able to go forward.”

Once his shoulder felt right and he was able to get on the mound, Puk started sending video to trainers and pitching coach Scott Emerson in search of mechanical refinements.

“My arm angle’s just a little bit higher than what it was, and I’m trying to get more direction instead of pulling off and getting my pinching sensation in my shoulder,” Puk said. “That has been gone and that has been helpful.”

The hair was still long at that point, but Puk knew he wanted to cut some before reporting to the team’s summer training camp. He ended up chopping it all off. That’s nearly a foot of hair he left with his mom to donate when the time is right.

Puk is restriction-free and ready to attack a shortened season and realize his vast potential in the big leagues.

I would’ve probably been on an innings limit in a normal situation. Now that it’s only 60 games, hopefully that’s only 12 starts, with some playoff starts after that. It’s a quick year, but it’s one I’m looking forward to.

“…Everything’s coming together right now and it’s a good spot to be in.”

Bob Melvin supports Buster Posey's decision to opt out of 2020 season

Bob Melvin supports Buster Posey's decision to opt out of 2020 season

Buster Posey took several days of Giants training camp to deal with what was termed a personal issue. It turns out he spent that time weighing whether to play baseball this season during an ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Posey announced Friday that he would opt out and explained exactly why. Turns out he has a damn good reason.

His family adopted two twin girls born July 3 at just 32 weeks. They are in the NICU now and Posey said they will be in a particularly vulnerable state for at least four months. That’s more than the entire 2020 MLB season, even if everything goes right.

Posey made an easy decision, the right one.

That’s clear to most, including A’s manager Bob Melvin.

“In his case, I don’t know why you would want to play with what’s going on there,” Melvin said in a Friday video conference. “Each guy looks at it a little differently, so I’m not surprised that some have opted out. I’m certainly not surprised about Buster, now knowing the whole story.”

While most are supportive of easy choices like Posey’s or the less straightforward, detractors have proven vocal even in a decided minority.

A’s relief pitcher Jake Diekman has a higher risk for complications if he contracts COVID-19 due to a pre-existing condition but chose to play the season. The team is cognizant of that while strictly adhering to health and safety protocols during training camp.

[RELATED: Zaidi, Kapler support Posey's decision]

Whether someone chooses to play or not, Melvin says, that player will receive backing from around the sport.

“Whoever decides to opt out will be fully supported,” Melvin said. “There’s a lot at stake right now. It’s easy once you’re out on the field and it feels great again and everyone likes playing, but the underlying factor and issues are still there. If there’s somebody who has reservations, whether it’s Jake, who says he doesn’t have any, will be fully supported and I don’t think they’ll be criticized by the baseball community.”