This year marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordon’s attempt to become a professional baseball player.
For those who may have been too young to know, or old enough to have forgotten, “Air Jordon” took a stab at being “Ballpark Jordon” during a stint with the Chicago White Sox Double-A affiliate Birmingham Barons.
As a 31-year-old multimillionaire with NBA titles under his belt Jordon certainly did not fit the mold of the typical Minor League Baseball player but in a gesture of good will towards his new teammates his “Airness” bought the team a new bus to travel all of the Southern League back roads on.
Throughout Jordon’s time with the Barons Ballparks across the Southern League sold out as fans crowded to see the future NBA Hall of Famer in action on the diamond.
Jordon’s time as a baseball player was also given the Hollywood treatment in the movie Space Jam.
When the Michael Jordon baseball carnival rolled into a Ballpark every media outlet in town sent a reporter and a photographer down to capture every swing of the bat and to capture the electricity in the stands.
By most accounts Jordon’s baseball career was a complete flop.
Or to put it more kindly Jordon was one of the many Minor League prospects who just don’t pan out and have to fall back on another career in order to put food on the table.
For Jordon the post baseball career included a return to the NBA and the Chicago Bulls and some more championships.
Now, 20 years after the Jordon baseball experiment another retired NBA star is set to try to find extra innings in his athletic career through Minor League baseball.
After retiring from the NBA, Tracy McGrady is trying to reinvent himself as a pitcher with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League.
While it is unknown if McGrady will earn one of the 27 roster spots available on the team his presence has already created a bit of buzz around the Skeeters facility.
At 6’8” McGrady creates a towering presence on the mound.
Teams tend to like taller pitchers as they allow the ball to have more downward movement in most cases.
So from a size and stature standpoint McGrady has the intangibles to be a successful pitcher.
From a marketing perspective the Skeeters, fresh off of an Atlantic League crown, are benefiting from the publicity that comes from a former basketball player turned pitcher.
The Skeeters are also the team who lured Roger Clemens out of retirement to make a couple of starts during their inaugural season to stir up some publicity so they know a thing or two about putting on a show.
Like Roger Clemens who had both ties to Houston and a Hall of Fame worthy career, McGrady is also quite a household name around town with the local fan base since he was a member of the Houston Rockets.
Of course as Michael Jordon showed it is not easy to switch gears late in one’s career and try something completely new.
There have certainly been successful two sport stars before but most of them played both sports at a high level throughout high school and college before going pro.
Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are perhaps the most famous two sport athletes and each played both baseball and football at a high level.
But neither Jackson nor Sanders waited until after retiring from one of the sports to pick up the other.
I think the world needs another Bo and “Prime Time” to spice things up but I also think the commitments from teams on athletes nowadays would make it difficult for a two sport star to succeed.
Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, and under contract of the Texas Rangers, is the next logical player to be a two sport star but it is unlikely that the Seahawks would want to risk their star quarterback getting injured on the baseball field.
Of course Wilson could always decide to go into baseball after his NFL career is over since baseball players on average can play longer than football players.
But that brings us back to McGrady and his attempt to turn pro in a new sport.
In order for McGrady to make the team he will need to knock one of the existing pitchers off of the roster.
Rosters will be finalized next week so it will be known at that time whether Tracy McGrady can add professional baseball player to his already impressive athletic roster.
There will be a few Spring Training games between now and the roster deadline to allow him to show his stuff on the mound and for the coaches to decide whether or not he makes the opening day roster.
If Tracy McGrady does make the roster for the Skeeters and trades jump shots for curve balls he will join a unique set of players who have enjoyed a second act with a new sport.
As another bonus should McGrady defy the odds and make the team is that his battery mate behind the plate will be Koby Clemens, son of Roger Clemens.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to watch a basketball player pitch.
Copyright 2014 R. Anderson