Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona coached a lot of great players throughout his 15-year managerial career, winning two World Series with the Boston Red Sox.
But Francona’s first job after retiring from the MLB in 1991 was the manager of the White Sox’s Double-A team, the Birmingham Barons, where he managed former Bulls legend Michael Jordan for one season.
Jordan hit .202 with three home runs and 51 RBI in 497 at-bats during his 1994 minor league season, and Francona thought if Jordan kept with baseball for another two seasons, he would have eventually made it to the MLB.
I think if he was willing to invest two more full years, and by that I mean 800-900 at-bats, I really think he would have found a way to get to the major leagues. I’m not going to sit here and say he’s going to be an everyday player, but in his first year in Double-A, after not playing for 14 years, he found a way to steal 30 bases, he found a way to drive in 50 runs. And I found out if you tell him no, he will find a way to make the answer be yes — probably more than anyone I’ve been around. He had so many raw tools, he hadn’t played in so long. I thought it was actually a miracle that he did what he did, and again when he went to the fall league, he got better. I’m going to guess if he would have invested a couple more years, I bet he would have found his way to the big leagues.
Francona said he would tease Jordan about his swing all the time — striking out 114 times, and the Bulls legend “loved” being messed with.
The one thing I found out with M.J. was when you messed with him, he liked it. Like when you were able to mess with him and treat him like a normal person, he loved it. Yeah, I messed with him all the time, still do.
When Jordan first joined the Double-A team, he asked Francona if the team flies to games, and the current Indians manager laughed and said they rode the bus together, but not until Jordan invested some money into the new transportation.
When [Jordan] came to Birmingham the first year, the first question he asked me was ‘do we fly?’ and I was like ‘oh no, this is going to be rough.’ So I kind of explained to him what we were doing. And he said ‘well, what if I get us a bus?’ And now my wheels are spinning. I’m a 32-33-year-old minor league manager, and I don’t want to get fired. And the next day four buses showed up in the parking lot. And he was all proud, and we went up there. The first one was a bus for a rock group or something. And he was like ‘what do you think?’ And I was like ‘I love it, nice seats for me and you, but what about the rest of the players.’ So we had to dismiss that bus, but we ended up getting a bus that looked like the Partridge Family bus, and he signed the door and we called it the Jordan cruiser.
Francona said all the players enjoyed Jordan on the team because he bought them a bus that didn’t break down or smell bad.
Jordan left the White Sox organization and rejoined the Bulls in the 1994-95 NBA season and played in the last 17 games.