GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s been 25 years since Michael Jordan famously wore No. 45 during his attempt to become a Major League Baseball player with the White Sox.
Now, a quarter century later, Jordan’s No. 45 is making a comeback — thanks to new White Sox outfielder Jon Jay.
Jay — who was born March 15, 1985, during Jordan’s rookie year with the Bulls — has been a die-hard Jordan fan his whole life. Soon after signing with the White Sox this offseason, he decided to honor his basketball hero by wearing Jordan’s old baseball number with his new team.
“Every year, I always have different numbers bouncing around from different teams. I kind of pay tribute to someone in my family. I’ve worn numbers for people who have passed away in my life before. This year coming to the South Side I said, 'Let’s see if someone is wearing 45,' and it was available so it’s cool,” Jay said.
Growing up in Miami, Jay fondly remembers the day he saw Jordan play in person when the Bulls came to town to play the Heat.
“I remember, I was 8 years old. I think it was ‘93,” Jay said. “That was pretty cool.”
Jay isn’t the first White Sox player to wear No. 45 since Jordan did it in 1994. Carlos Lee wore it from 1999 to 2004. Bobby Jenks had it from 2005 to 2010. There’s also been Dave Righetti (1995), Jeff Abbott (1997 and 1998), Derek Holland (2017), Gregory Infante (2018) and four others.
But none of them wore No. 45 for His Airness like Jay, who has always admired how Jordan changed careers in his prime at the age of 31.
“Hearing the story later on, it’s truly remarkable that somebody could stop in the middle of being the best and play baseball for a bit and then go back to being the best,” Jay said about Jordan, who after playing for the Double-A Birmingham Barons went on to win three more NBA titles with the Bulls. “I’ve always admired his work ethic and all those little things you hear about how intense he was in practice and just the competitor he was, and that’s something I always try to instill in myself.”
Jordan, who celebrated his 56th birthday Sunday, struggled in his one season in the minor leagues. He slashed .202/.289/.266 with three home runs, 51 RBIs and 30 steals in 436 at-bats.
If it wasn’t for being the greatest basketball player on the planet, Jay believes that Jordan would have made it to the majors.
“People don’t realize how hard it is to hit a baseball. You can sit there and you watch and you think, 'I can do that,' but it’s a lot tougher than that it looks,” Jay said. “You see Michael hadn’t played baseball in forever, and he did it. I truly believe that if he would have been playing baseball his whole life and continued it in college, he’s that good of an athlete, he definitely could have been in the show.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.