Jordan gets up, but fails to slam

February 16, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

SARASOTA, FLA — SARASOTA, Fla. -- Michael Jordan's first outdoor baseball exhibition met with decidedly mixed reviews here yesterday at the spring home of the Chicago White Sox.

The good news for the former NBA great was that he made contact on each of the 97 swings he took during three turns in the batting cage. The bad news was that Jordan not only didn't hit any balls over the fence, but he also was unable to reach the warning track.

Against comparable pitching, Jordan's performance was not unlike the one he put on in a celebrity home run-hitting contest during All-Star festivities at Oriole Park last summer.

Jordan was declared the winner that day on the strength of a fly ball to medium center field, as actor Tom Selleck, the only participant who hit a fair ball out of the park, made less contact overall.

As was the case last July 12 at Camden Yards, the balls Jordan hit best here yesterday off left-handed Mike Maziarka and right-handed Roly deArmas, two minor-league instructors for the White Sox, went to center field.

But none came off the bat with any ring of authority. There was a marked difference in the sound of bat meeting ball when outfielder Dan Pasqua and catcher Ron Karkovice followed Jordan in the batting cage.

Jordan's workout lasted slightly more than two hours, from 9:15 a.m. to 11:20. It was followed by a 30-minute session with about 250 members of the media, including reporters from England and France.

There were a total of 34 television cameras and 11 satellite trucks on the premises for the media's first outdoor viewing of Jordan the aspiring baseball player. His first appearance before the general public will be tomorrow, the first day of workouts for White Sox pitchers and catchers.

After the workout yesterday, Jordan expressed confidence that he was making satisfactory progress. And White Sox manager Gene Lamont indicated Jordan, who also worked out in the outfield, would not be judged without playing under game conditions.

Lamont didn't commit to Jordan's participating in exhibitions, but said he would participate in a squad game two weeks from today.

"The first time he will see what we call 'live' pitching is a week from today [yesterday], when all of our regulars report," said Lamont.

"It won't be 90 miles per hour, but it won't be 75 either. I don't know who he'll be hitting against. We'll play a squad game on the third [of March] and I would say Michael will play in that game."

Jordan was asked what his reaction would be the first time he faced a 90-mph fastball.

"If it's a ball, I'll take it," he said with a smile. "If it's a strike, I'l swing at it."

Claiming he had no control over the media hype connected to his attempted switch from basketball to baseball, Jordan did everything he could to diffuse the idea that his celebrated tryout was a marketing ploy. "It doesn't hurt to try," he said. "It's not a sideshow.

"It doesn't damage me or the White Sox or the game. If anybody thinks I'm damaging the game, I feel sorry for them. There was so much negativism I talked to Jerry [owner Reinsdorf] to make sure I was doing the right thing.

"He [Reinsdorf] asked me, 'Do you enjoy doing it?' I told him, 'Yes, it's a dream I've always had' and he said, 'Then, you're doing the right thing.'

"It wouldn't help me, the White Sox or the game of baseball if I was doing this because of my name," said Jordan. "Hopefully I'll be judged by my work ethic and what I do on the field -- and not by what you guys [the media] say."

Although the vast majority of baseball observers remain highly skeptical of Jordan's chances, Lamont and the White Sox staff are content to wait and see. "I know there'll be some distractions," said Lamont, who went through a similar experience last year when Bo Jackson made his comeback after hip replacement surgery.

"But I'm sure everybody realizes if we leave here and Michael Jordan is on the team it's because he's one of the 25 best players we have."

Few, of course, expect Jordan to step into the major leagues, and he has left the door open for possibly working his way through the White Sox minor-league system.

"That hasn't crossed my mind," he said. "That's a team decision.

"I'm willing to make things happen, wherever I'll be. But the first thing I have to do is show some skills."

At least one observer yesterday was convinced that Jordan is wasting his time. Ron Fraser, the former coach for the University of Miami and now a front-office employee of the Florida Marlins, was brought to Sarasota by a south Florida TV station to offer an evaluation.

"He should take up golf. He'd have a better chance of doing something there," said Fraser. Asked what his scouting report would be, Fraser paused, then replied: "Great body . . . great car."

That was in reference to the red Corvette Jordan has been driving around town since arriving in the middle of last week.

Jordan has been made aware of the skeptics, but shrugs off his detractors as easily as he did NBA defenders.

Reminded that he said in announcing his retirement from the Bulls that he was leaving basketball "to get away from you guys [the media] and spend more time with my family," Jordan responded with another statement he made at that time.

"When I retired, I said I could do whatever came to mind," he said. "This is what came to mind. Being retired is to do whatever you choose to do.

"I still have some youth left and I chose to chase a dream that I've always had. I could be playing golf anywhere in the world -- but I can do that when I'm 40 years old.

"Right now, I'm chasing the American dream."

How long that chase lasts will most likely be determined within the next two weeks.

That should give the White Sox and Michael Jordan enough time to decide whether the reward is worth the hunt.

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