A sports-starved nation is getting ready for the premiere of The Last Dance, ESPN’s 10-part documentary about the final championship season for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. (Check out Awful Announcing’s advance review.)
But April is typically a time for baseball. As we remember Jordan’s concluding title run, Birmingham Barons broadcaster Curt Bloom has shared a look back (or listen back) to the days when the all-time NBA great briefly left professional basketball and followed through on an ambition to play baseball.
For those who might not remember, Jordan first retired after the 1992-93 season and the third of the Bulls’ eventual six NBA championships. Following the murder of his father, Jordan said he didn’t have the same desire to play basketball and wanted to pursue James Jordan’s dream of his son playing Major League Baseball.
Signing a minor-league deal with the Chicago White Sox (also owned by Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf), Jordan was eventually assigned to the organization’s Double-A team Birmingham. He debuted on April 8, 1994 and Bloom, who still broadcasts Baron games, called the play-by-play for Jordan’s first at-bat. Bloom recently posted the audio of the call on his website (hat tip to Midway Minute):
“He made contact!”
Facing Chattanooga’s John Courtright, Jordan flied out to right field in his pro baseball debut after working the plate appearance to a 3-2 count. The Barons’ right fielder went 0-for-3 in Birmingham’s 10-3 loss that night.
Jordan’s notched his first hit two games later (after starting his career 0-for-7) against Knoxville’s Joe Ganote. Bloom posted his call of that moment, a liner to center field by Jordan in his second pitch of the at-bat:
“Jordan trying not to laugh, but he’s got a big smile there at first base as he takes a lead,” said Bloom. “As you know, Jordan with outstanding speed.”
The single off Ganote was one of two hits Jordan got in the game. He finished that 1994 season with a .202 batting average, .556 OPS, 17 doubles, three home runs, 51 RBI, and 30 stolen bases in 127 games (497 plate appearances).
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that ’94 season,” Bloom told ESPN’s Steve Wulf in 2019.
“I spent 150 days with Michael Jordan. I played basketball with him — I remember trying to set a pick for him in a pickup game, only to have him tell me, ‘I don’t need that.’ Our daughter Chloe will turn 25 this August — she was born right after Michael rubbed my wife’s belly for good luck. I saw him struggle for a few months, but I also saw him become a ballplayer right before my eyes.”
On his website, Bloom explained that he “couldn’t have been more ecstatic” getting to cover Jordan in his seventh season of calling minor league baseball. In addition to the two calls already posted, he promises to share more from that 1994 season, such as Jordan’s first home run and Charles Barkley joining him in the booth.
We’re looking forward to that and are grateful Bloom provided us with his first-hand eyewitness account from one of the most intriguing periods in sports history.