Michael Jordan’s exploits in baseball were the focus of Episode 7 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary, and included the famous (or infamous) Sports Illustrated cover that exhorted Jordan to end his “embarrassing” baseball career.
The exact words were actually “Bag It, Michael,” with the subhead “Jordan and The White Sox Are Embarrassing Baseball.” Not exactly subtle. Jordan was so angered by the cover that he’s refused to talk to Sports Illustrated since that issue was released 26 years ago.
The author of that cover story, Steve Wulf, didn’t write either of those cover lines, but the story was definitely critical of Jordan’s “delusional” quest to become a professional baseball player. In a conversation with NBC Sports, Wulf admitted that he came down hard on Jordan.
“Going back and reading my original story, it was snarky. And I was pretty hard on him. But it certainly didn’t match the headline that Sports Illustrated put on the cover,” Wulf said. “I did acknowledge in the story that he was working hard and that he was willing to go from being ‘The Guy’ to being one of the guys. He was pursuing a dream, which was great. But at the time, I didn’t see any real natural ability. That’s basically the story I wrote.”
Wulf went even farther on the ESPN Daily Podcast with Mina Kimes, saying that Jordan was right to feel the way he did when the story came out.
“I think he was rightly insulted. He wasn’t out to embarrass baseball. He was out to pursue a dream that we thought at the time was delusional, but we should not have come down on him that hard.”
Wulf’s story appeared in the March 14, 1994, edition of Sports Illustrated, and Jordan hasn’t granted a single interview to SI since. Wulf himself has apologized several times since that cover story, in a mea culpa he wrote for ESPN The Magazine in 2001, and again in 2019 when he wrote up the expansive “true story” of Jordan’s career — and potential — in baseball.
Wulf told NBC Sports that he wrote a follow-up to his original SI article later in 1994 after he noticed how much Jordan had improved. He even traveled to Birmingham, where Jordan was playing with the Double-A Birmingham Barons, so he could see firsthand how much better Jordan had gotten. Unfortunately, Sports Illustrated wasn’t interested in the story and never published it. But Wulf told NBC Sports that he was genuinely impressed with Jordan’s progress.
“I was blown away by how much he had improved. He had become a legitimate baseball player. He was totally willing to become just one of the guys in the clubhouse. He really was interested in becoming a better baseball player. And he worked really hard at it.”
While it wasn’t apparent to everyone at the time, Wulf believes that Jordan would have made it to the majors if he’d stuck with baseball. Sadly for baseball fans, Jordan sticking in baseball wasn’t meant to be, and luckily for the NBA and the Chicago Bulls, MLB players went on strike and Jordan returned to basketball in March 1995.
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