May 9, 2020

Frank Thomas recalls Jordan at White Sox camp: ‘It was a freak show’

[The Score, JOHN SWART / Associated Press]

In 1994, Frank Thomas entered spring training for the Chicago White Sox fresh off earning the first MVP Award of his Hall of Fame career after hitting 41 home runs the season prior.

Normally, the media attention and spotlight would be on him. Instead, it was directed toward Michael Jordan, who had made a surprising decision to leave basketball and pursue a baseball career with the White Sox organization.

SARASOTA, FL - 1994 - Michael Jordan #45 of the Chicago White Sox looks on from the dugout during a spring training game at Ed Smith Stadium in 1994 in Sarasota, Florida.
Rich Pilling / Major League Baseball / Getty

“It was a freak show,” Thomas joked on the “White Sox Talk” podcast. “It was exciting for the team because we had so many people watching the games every day and so much fanfare, but it was a little crazy. It wasn’t a typical spring training. There were a lot of eyes on the White Sox that spring.”

Thomas said Jordan worked hard and was constantly seeking tips from him on how to become a better hitter. However, he also thought His Airness was distracting for a White Sox team that won 94 games the previous season, and the Toronto Blue Jays eliminated them in the American League Championship Series.

“It was a little distracting because people wanted to know whether Michael was going to make the team or not. And it was just one of those situations that we had a great team,” he added. “And we knew he wasn’t going to make the team because you can’t just wake up and say, ‘I want to make it to the big leagues.’

“But he came out and worked hard and really gave it his all. But after seeing him for a couple weeks, we knew he wasn’t going to make the big-league roster.”

Thomas continued, saying that despite Jordan not possessing the leg strength to hit at a top level, he did have a great swing and possibly a big-league career ahead of him if he stuck with baseball.

“I think he could have made it, but I don’t know if he would have stayed,” Thomas said. “I think his work ethic was second to none, but to sit out and not play baseball that long and catch up on the fly, you see it now with Tim Tebow, who’s making giant strides and who played a lot of baseball in high school. It takes time.”

Jordan played one season for the Double-A Birmingham Barons in 1994, hitting .202/.289/.266 with 51 RBIs and 30 steals.

Meanwhile, Thomas won a second MVP Award in 1994, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014 after clobbering 521 career home runs.

By Bryan Mcwilliam

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