His Lighter-Than-Airness proves to be the heaviest hitter in celebrity derby

JORDAN RULES

July 13, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

The Prince of the Air was the King of Swing for a day.

Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan had a couple of air balls. He had six fouls, no slams and only a few drives.

But the drives were hits of more than 300 feet as Jordan earned $3,600 with his bat and a $5,000 bonus -- all of which goes to charity -- for winning the Celebrity Home Run Challenge yesterday at Camden Yards.

Jordan was no Babe Ruth, but he was no Casey at his last at-bat, either.

"Wins. He always wins at everything," joked New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing, who along with Jordan, actors Jim Belushi, Tom Selleck and Bill Murray, Olympic sprint star Florence Griffith Joyner and former NFL wide receiver and NBC broadcaster Ahmad Rashad made up the celebrity field.

Selleck hit the only home run in the contest, a 318-foot shot off former Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych into the flag court. And Reggie Jackson, after chants of "Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie" from the crowd, ended the event in spectacular fashion with a home run over the right-field wall that landed on Eutaw Street.

But all eyes were on Jordan.

He had trained hard for this moment. He came to the ballpark early, taking batting practice against the pitching machine underneath Camden Yards at 10:30 a.m.

He came back for more indoor batting practice at 12:10, this time with outfielders Kirby Puckett of the Minnesota Twins, the Seattle Mariners' Ken Griffey, the Toronto Blue Jays' Joe Carter and the Chicago White Sox's Frank Thomas.

But before Jordan took a swing in his second session, he was given a brand-new bat, supposedly made especially for him by Rawlings.

Jordan examined it.

"Don't look for any Airness signature on the bat," said Puckett. "This is baseball, not basketball. How much is Nike paying you for wearing those shoes?"

Jordan lined the first three pitches. Thomas gave him his bat. Jordan swung and missed the first pitch. He laughed at Thomas. He missed another pitch. He took a bat from Puckett. He connected on the next six pitches.

Ewing entered the room.

"Hey Bobsled, get in the cage, Bobsled," Jordan said to Ewing.

Why is Ewing's nickname "Bobsled?"

"Jamaicans can't play no ball, all they can do is bobsled," said Jordan, poking fun at the Jamaican Winter Olympic team.

They all laughed. Ewing swung and missed his first six pitches. Former Orioles great Frank Robinson entered the underground batting cage.

"Oh my God, he's terrible," Robinson said of Ewing. "Hey Patrick, that's a baseball, not a basketball."

Jordan told Robinson: "Tell him it's a Chicago Bull. He'll hit it then. Please, teach this man how to hit. He's going to embarrass the brothers."

They laughed again and left the batting cage, but not before Griffey backed in and tried a post-up move on Ewing.

"That's exactly how you do it," said Jordan. "Back him in, give him this [a head fake] and gone. He goes for it every time."

Ewing replied: "Yeah, I didn't see you bringing that stuff in there in our last series."

Jordan, Griffey, Puckett, Carter and Detroit Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder went to one end of the clubhouse.

Jordan examined their bats.

Then Carter started to give Jordan some hitting tips, but Jordan interrupted.

"I'm not listening to you, man," Jordan said to Carter. "You haven't had one RBI in July. Oh that's right, you got one last night. I saw you on ESPN. They said if you had April, May and Junes like you had July, you wouldn't be around much longer."

Puckett gave Jordan one last bit of advice before police escorted him from the clubhouse to the field.

"Forget all of these bats. Take this one," said Puckett, lifting a bat out of John Olerud's hands. "This is the man batting .400."

Jordan, who pitched in high school in Wilmington, N.C., and was recruited to play baseball at Clemson and South Carolina, was the last batter in the contest and had to face the legendary Bob Gibson. Each batter was allowed 10 outs, gaining points and charity dollars the farther their drives landed in the outfield.

The first pitch was too inside. Jordan fouled the second, took the third and fouled the fourth, fifth and sixth. His first hit came on the 10th pitch, a 20-foot pop out. Then he smacked one about 390 feet to center.

Jordan was on now.

"I didn't know if this town would take to this celebrity contest because this is a real baseball town," said Jackson, the celebrity batting coach who jogged around the bases in vintage Jackson style and then tipped his hat after his home run.

"But they loved it and the crowd got into it. That home run was a special mark in my gun. As for Michael, he's got a lot of big-league skills. He was taking some nice swings by the time he was finished."

Gibson said: "I was a little high throwing to him. I know, how in the hell do you throw high to Michael Jordan? The guy is just a natural athlete. I was throwing him some fairly decent stuff, and he was connecting."

CELEBRITY RESULTS

Results of yesterday's Celebrity Home Run Challenge. The Upper Deck Company donated $2,000 to each celebrity's favorite charity. Players earned additional money for their charity by hitting the ball past markers on the field, ranging from $100 to $400. Tom Selleck hit the only home run, which was worth $500.

Celebrity ........ ........ Earned

Michael Jordan* ........... $3,600

Ahmad Rashad ..... ........ $3,200

Tom Selleck ...... ........ $3,100

Bill Murray ...... ........ $2,900

Florence Griffith Joyner .. $2,500

Jim Belushi ...... ........ $2,400

Patrick Ewing .... ........ $2,200

*-Because he earned the most money, Jordan had an additional $5,000 donated.

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