At first glance, the greatest basketball player of all-time and the Toronto Blue Jays have very little in common. But look deep enough and you’ll find some loose connections linking Michael Jordan to the Blue Jays.
ESPN’s “The Last Dance” brought these connections to light during its ten episode run. The series is a must-watch for any sports fan, but if you watch closely, there are some subtle, obscure links to the Blue Jays.
Aside from the Canadian tuxedo in the photo above, here are three vague connections between Jordan and the Toronto Blue Jays.
News of Jordan’s retirement leaks during Game 1 of the 1993 ALCS
This was pre-social media, so when major news broke, it often happened when people opened their morning newspaper. This was one case when a massive news story broke mid-game during the broadcast of a major sporting event.
After Jordan threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 1 of the Blue Jays-White Sox ALCS series in Chicago on October 5, 1993, word leaked about MJ retiring from basketball. Word travelled so fast that Jordan exited Comiskey Park during the seventh inning.
In the words of Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf from The Last Dance: “All hell broke out at the ballpark on a Tuesday night.”
The next day, Jordan announced his retirement from the NBA (for the first time). Meanwhile, White Sox ace Jack McDowell was lit up by the Blue Jays for 7 runs and 13 hits in the first postseason start of his career.
The White Sox were playing their first home playoff baseball game in almost ten years, and as the news of Jordan’s retirement preoccupied Chicago residents, White Sox manager Gene Lamont didn’t use that as an excuse.
“Michael didn’t want to rain on our parade, he felt badly about it. Jordan is not the reason we left 13 runners on base. We were overshadowed by the Blue Jays, not Michael Jordan.” (From Neil Campbell of The Globe and Mail)
MJ replaces future Lansing Lugnuts coach Charles Poe
This one is an obscure Blue Jays connection, but it’s a fascinating one. Hat tip to @hillmanchad for pointing this out, but once Jordan joined the Birmingham Barons in 1994 (the Chicago White Sox AA affiliate), the move bounced Charles Poe from the Barons roster, sending him down to single-A.
With two outfielders vying for the same job in right field, Jordan presumably took Poe’s spot on the Barons double-A roster. “It was my turn to go,” Poe told the Washington Post in August 1994. “They told me I shouldn’t have any problem making the team if I played well in spring training, which I did.”
Poe re-emerged with the Barons in 1995 and was a Southern League All-Star. He made it all the way to triple-A with the Oakland A’s organization the following season, but Poe never saw the bright lights of the big leagues.
Once his pro career concluded at the end of the 2002 campaign, the former White Sox farmhand transitioned to coaching in 2003.
To tie it back to the Blue Jays, Poe was the hitting coach for the Lansing Lugnuts from 2005 to 2007, with Lansing being the Blue Jays Single-A affiliate in Michigan. Interestingly enough, his journey came full circle in 2019 when he returned as a member of the coaching staff for the Birmingham Barons.
Jordan’s connections with Blue Jays draftee Scott Burrell
Blue Jays pitching prospect Scott Burrell has opted to leave baseball, and instead join the NBA. Burrell, one of the Blue Jays' top pitching prospects over the past couple seasons, was drafted 20th by the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA Draft. pic.twitter.com/Pq9c3MNNis
— 1993 Jays In Real Time (@RealTime93Jays) July 4, 2018
Scott Burrell became the second Blue Jays draftee to abandon baseball for the bright lights of the NBA (Danny Ainge was the first in 1981). Burrell has the distinction of being the first American athlete drafted in the first round by two professional sports leagues; as a draftee of both the Blue Jays and the Charlotte Hornets.
The Hornets drafted Burrell 20th overall in the 1993 NBA draft and he found his way to the 1997-1998 Bulls and played alongside Jordan during his final season with the Bulls.
Burrell drew the ire of Jordan during Episode 7 of The Last Dance as MJ employed his “tough love” strategy on his teammates. Burrell took the brunt of Jordan’s jabs. As Steve Kerr said: “Michael would just bludgeon everybody around him.”
Michael Jordan vs Scott Burrell, the greatest hits pic.twitter.com/tQvudoZEav
— Rob Lopez (@r0bato) May 11, 2020
Huck Flener was the first Blue Jay to face MJ
Nothing could have prepared baseball players for the media circus that accompanied Jordan on his journey through spring training in 1994. Nobody wanted to be “that guy” who gave up a hit to the NBA legend-suddenly turned baseball player.
Toronto Blue Jays players got their first taste of Jordan in a White Sox uniform during a spring training contest in mid-March 1994. Huck Flener struck out Jordan on three straight pitches, but Aaron Small wasn’t as fortunate, surrendering a single to Jordan.
After the game, Small was in good spirits after letting the then three-time NBA champion reach base. Here’s what Small told Allan Ryan of the Toronto Star:
“I guess it’s something I can tell my kids one day. For sure I am going to hear it from my friends back home. Maybe I should have stopped and had him sign it, but honestly, I never thought about it being Jordan until he got around to third. I was looking right at him and thought: ‘Geez, that’s Michael Jordan.'”