Rethinking Jordan's minor league baseball stint

In a chat with Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus a while back, I spotted this Q&A:

Rob (Chicago): Call me crazy, but Michael Jordan showed pretty decent numbers from a guy who was randomly stuck into AA. His OBP was almost 90 points higher than his AVG. You think he could've improved if given more time (and not, for some crazy reason, go back to being the best player in basketball?).

Kevin Goldstein: You are NOT crazy. I actually think Jordan's .202/.289/.266 line in Double-A was an incredible athletic achievement.

On average, spectators underestimate the difficulty of competing at the professional level in sports. I have some sense of how hard it is to hit major-league pitching, but only because I was a failed high school player who couldn't hit the curveball. I'll never forget the first time I faced our closer in practice. He was the tight end on the football team, someone so large (6' 4" and maybe 260) that it made you wonder how he could only be two years older.

Even at his size, his fastball "only" averaged 88, 89mph. In MLB, that's middling at best. To me, it was knee-softening and sweat-inducing. By the time I saw a blur of white of the pitch leave his hand on its way to home plate, my body couldn't fire the necessary muscles to swing the bat quickly enough to even give myself a random chance of hitting the ball by accident. One bag of baseballs, maybe 15 to 20 pitches in all, or just five minutes of futility was enough to effectively end all my dreams of playing professional baseball. This would be the case for the vast majority of human beings, 99.999% of people in the world.

So I don't think it's crazy at all to think that Jordan's performance in double-A, where most MLB teams place their star prospects (triple-A is filled with journeyman major leaguers who just can't quite crack the show and who don't have star potential), was an amazing accomplishment that will never be properly appreciated. To try and switch to playing major league baseball mid-career, with barely any practice for years and years, is crazy, especially to hit. It's one thing to try and break in as a pitcher, where you might survive just on sheer velocity as a short reliever, but hitting major league pitching may be one of the single most challenging feats in sports.

Of course, this won't change the public's mind about those two years Jordan left the NBA. And don't forget Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, who had even more success at baseball than Jordan. It feels like there's a SpikeTV reality show in this concept (Who is the World's Greatest Athlete?).