Former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona appeared in “The Last Dance” documentary to discuss the time he managed Michael Jordan.
“The Last Dance” documentary airing on ESPN over the last few weeks has captivated an audience starved for sports content. The 10-part series follows the legendary NBA career of Michael Jordan from his early years through the end of his tenure with the Chicago Bulls and the second three-peat that gave him his sixth championship. The series features interviews from not only Jordan himself, but several of his former teammates, opponents, and coaches. That includes former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who had a brief connection to Jordan.
As the documentary explains, Jordan hit a crossroads in his career after winning his third straight championship with the Bulls in 1993. He was worn out from the three consecutive deep playoff runs and playing for the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics. The tragic loss of his father that summer weighed heavily on Jordan and influenced his decision to step away from the game of basketball.
The conspiracy theories about the NBA suspending Jordan for his gambling habits may never completely fade away but he had plenty of legitimate reasons for taking a break from basketball when he was at the peak of his career. He had always loved baseball and reveals in the documentary that he had conversations with his father before his untimely death about switching sports. At that point in his life, Jordan was ready for a new challenge and wanted to give baseball a shot.
In the spring of 1994, Jordan signed with the Chicago White Sox, a franchise owned by Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf. He was assigned to the Double-A Birmingham Barons, a team that was managed by Francona at the time.
Francona’s brief segment in the documentary reflects on meeting Jordan for the first time. Here was the most popular athlete on the planet being approached by a humble minor league baseball manager. Francona recalls welcoming the rookie by saying, “Hi, I’m Terry. I guess I’ll be your manager.”
More from Red Sox News
- Red Sox Nation deserves far more from Fenway Sports Group
- Bizarre trade deadline comes back to haunt Red Sox after Nathan Eovaldi departure
- Red Sox’ Moneyball-style offseason continues with Corey Kluber contract
- Rich Hill’s Red Sox departure puts him within striking distance of unique MLB record
- Red Sox offseason takes another nasty hit with Nathan Eovaldi departure
Jordan’s struggles in minor league baseball are well documented but hardly surprising. It turns out that baseball is an extremely hard game to play, especially for someone over 30 years old who hadn’t played the game since high school. It doesn’t matter how great an athlete you are, there’s going to be a learning curve.
Most players are sent to rookie ball or low A-ball when they are first starting out professionally. Jordan was thrown into the fire out of the gate in Double-A simply because the lower levels couldn’t accommodate the swarms of media covering his games. It was a bit unfair for him to be facing that level of competition without an opportunity to work his way up.
Producing a batting average over .200 was impressive under those circumstances, as far as Francona was concerned. The manager praised Jordan for his work ethic and stated that he may eventually have made it to the majors if he had enough time to work at his craft.
Jordan would inevitably abandon his baseball experiment and return to the Bulls at the tail end of the 1994-95 season. He would bring Chicago three more championships before retiring for a second time following the 1997-98 season, which is also referred to as “The Last Dance.”
We can all agree to forget that those final years with the Washington Wizards never happened, right?
While his baseball career was short-lived, Jordan still managed to make quite an impression. Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal recently asked Francona about watching this episode of “The Last Dance” and managing Jordan for his baseball career.
"“I mean, what are the odds? It wasn’t because I was this super hot-shot manager prospect,” said Francona. “It’s because Jerry Reinsdorf owned both the Bulls and the White Sox and they deemed that he should play in Birmingham and I just happened to be there. It was the greatest learning experience you could ever be thrust into. I didn’t know it at the time; I was just trying to survive.”"
Francona was in his fourth year as a minor league manager at the time. The attention that Jordan drew to Barons games helped Francona get noticed and he believes the experience was crucial to getting hired as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997.
The Phillies owned a losing record in all four seasons that Francona managed in Philadelphia but getting his feet wet as a big league manager would eventually pay off.
The Red Sox hired Francona to be their new manager in 2004 and he immediately led the club to their first World Series title in 86 years. Boston won again in 2007, making Francona only the second manager in franchise history with multiple championships.
Boston cut ties with Francona following a historic September collapse in 2011. He moved on to the Cleveland Indians where he has managed for the past seven seasons.
Francona was surrounded by talent during his time in Boston. He managed some of the all-time greats, including David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Pedro Martinez. There was plenty of star power in the Red Sox clubhouse but there isn’t a more iconic athlete who Francona had the honor of managing than an over-matched rookie outfielder in Double-A named Michael Jordan.