Michael Jordan: From Birmingham to Springfield
|09.11.09 at 5:34 pm ET|
On the day Michael Jordan is being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, someone else was recalling just how great he was away from the court.
That someone just happens to be Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who as most Jordan fans and followers know, managed him during his one-year flirtation with pro baseball in 1994.
But what Francona recalled some 100 miles east of Springfield on Friday, just hours before Jordan’s induction speech, was not his play with the Birmingham Barons on the diamond but rather how he handled himself off it.
“That was the best experience I could have ever had,” Francona said. “I couldn’t believe how he handled things. He was put in some horrendous situations, unfair situations and he always handled it with grace. It amazed me how he did that.”
If you think Francona just picked up the phone on Friday and gave Jordan a call, think again.
“I left him a message the other day through friend,” Francona said. “I got to see, first-hand, how his life is. I wouldn’t do that to him. I couldn’t believe how many people wanted a part of him. We have stayed in touch from time to time but it’s just too crazy.”
Jordan finished with a .202 average, driving in 51 runs and stealing 30 bases for the Barons, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
“It was tough for him,” Francona said of Jordan’s attempt to leave the NBA during his two-year hiatus and try pro baseball. “He had big, tall, lanky arms so he had to fight to keep his swing short. He’s actually a good base stealer, I think he stole 30 bases and found a way to drive in 50 runs, which in Double-A is not too bad.
“In the situation he was in you needed to be patient with him,” Francona added. “But it was easy to be patient because of the way he treated everybody else. It was a really good year. I was with him in Birmingham and then went to the (Arizona) Fall League, so basically spent a year with him and feel better off for it.”
Specifically, Francona said he credits Jordan for helping to manage the hordes of media today that cover the team.
“We went from (local media) doing the radio to Nightline so it was a good learning experience for me,” Francona said. “You learned to be organized and to deal with the media and it was probably a very good learning experience.”
Francona confirmed all the stories about Jordan’s legendary drive to win in everything he did or tried.
“He is the most competitive person you’ll ever (meet),” Francona said. “The stories you hear about his competitiveness are true.”
Asked who was the better golfer, Francona didn’t hesitate.
“He was,” said Francona, before adding, “I would say I was the better gambler.”
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