In the winter of 1994, Michael Jordan was essentially in a baseball boot camp, driving from Highland Park to the South Side every day to prepare for his first spring training with the White Sox. The workouts were kept a secret and split between Comiskey Park and the facilities available at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Not surprisingly, Jordan approached those training sessions with the same relentlessness he did playing basketball.
“This guy was unbelievable,” longtime White Sox head trainer Herm Schneider said. “We worked seven days per week until basically we headed off to spring training. It was a lot and he was never a minute late, worked his butt off, always wanted to hit more. But we had to cut him off because I didn't want him to get hurt.”
But there was at least one week that Jordan didn’t work all seven days. And yes, a golf trip was involved.
“It's a Friday and he shows up with Richard Dent,” former White Sox outfielder Michael Huff said. Huff, who now runs the Bulls/Sox Academy, was among the group working with Jordan that winter, and even though he knew Dent personally, he was still surprised to see the Bears defensive end at the workout.
“I'm like, 'What are you doing over here?,’” Huff recalled. “And Michael said, 'Well, Charles Barkley is getting ready to come off the DL like Monday or Tuesday, so we're flying out to Phoenix and we're going to play 36 holes on Saturday and 36 on Sunday.' And I'm like, 'I'm going to be here Monday morning.' And he's like, 'I'll be here Monday morning, no problem.’”
Naturally, Huff was a little confused how Jordan planned to do all that in Arizona and still show up back in Chicago on Monday morning.
“He said, 'Don't worry about it. Let's get to work.’ So we start working out in the tunnel at Comiskey, go over to IIT,” Huff said. “He's having Richard now hit with us, and it's getting past noon and I'm like, 'Michael, what time's your flight?' And he's like, 'No, no, we got time. Don't worry about it.’”
Meanwhile, Dent was trying to figure out how to play baseball.
“He has Richard doing all these drills with us. Richard looks so goofy trying to throw a baseball. Can't even begin to tell you,” Huff said. “And Michael is laughing more than I am at him, and then when he's trying to swing ... same thing.”
By that time it was almost 2 p.m. and Huff couldn’t figure out why Jordan wasn’t worried about getting stuck in Friday afternoon traffic if he had a flight to catch at O’Hare.
“So I look at Michael a third time, and I said, ‘Michael, you gotta go if you're flying out. What time is your flight? You're going to miss it if we don't get you going.’ And he stopped and he looked at me and he's like, 'Mike, I've got my own plane. When we decide to fly out, we'll get there and whenever we get there, the flight will leave. And after Sunday, the flight will be here Sunday night and I will be here Monday morning.'”
Not everyone has the ability to bring a Super Bowl MVP to baseball practice before jumping on a private plane to play 72 holes of golf with an NBA MVP in Phoenix, so you can understand why Huff was struggling to understand the logistics.
“Here was a guy who very easily on the first time I asked, could have said, “Oh, it's just my private jet. No big deal.’ But he didn't boast about that stuff and was just eager to learn, humble himself, work as hard as he could to get as good as he could in baseball,” Huff said.
For more behind-the-scenes tales from Michael Jordan's baseball career, listen to this recent edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast.