Okay, so this is something I get asked a lot. Who’s the better two-sport athlete: Michael Jordan or Tim Tebow? My answer is always Bo Jackson is a two-sport athlete, sometimes depending on how I’m feeling it’s Deion Sanders. Those two men are two-sport athletes, becoming prominent in two separate leagues and having successful careers.
Michael Jordan and Tim Tebow are not two-sport athletes, or in Tebow’s case, not yet. Instead, Tebow and Michael are one-sport athletes who tried their hand at another. Nothing less, nothing more. “To say that one of these men is better than the other is completely beside the point, and it’s not even a question. The question is – are their attempts at playing baseball comparable to each other?”
But can you compare them to each other? Aren’t Jordan and Tebow’s experimental baseball careers the same thing?
No, and… actually no. That’s two no’s. You can’t compare them and they’re not the same thing. Here’s why.
Baseball, as we know it today, is completely different than it was back in the mid-90s. Now we’re talking about launch angles, three true outcomes, and bat speed. That’s the world that Tebow’s playing in now. Michael’s MLB was one that separated speed and power, that favored players who could do two things well. This is the era of Pirates MVP Barry Bonds, not Giants MVP Barry Bonds.
What does that mean? Well, it’s all in the impact a certain kind of player can make. Michael Jordan was an outfielder who couldn’t hit for power, had decent hands, and didn’t get on-base enough to be a base-stealing threat. So where do you play him? That’s a trick question. You don’t.
But that’s because basketball doesn’t value the same kind of physicality as baseball. Basketball is all about being vertically dynamic. Getting up to rebound, lowering your shoulders to drive the lane, shot posture, etc. The list goes on. Baseball is all about compacting your power in a swing, pulling your hands in as you field a ground ball, exploding towards the plate, distributing weight in your stance. They are on opposite sides of the world.
Football is not as far away from baseball as you’d think. Every time a ball is hit in the air, every outfielder does a one-step drop and then turns on a dime to catch up to it. It’s a cut-route every time. It’s a stillness to impact in an instant. Football is about compacting your power into a throw, a tackle, or a kick. Tebow has the advantage, especially as a power-hitting outfielder.
This one might be a weird bit to mention, but trust me, it’s important.
Tim Tebow began his professional baseball career in the Arizona Fall League. From there, he rose in the Mets farm system, playing Single-A ball all year, ending in Port St. Lucie. A-Ball, as it’s commonly referred to, is where players can freely develop their skills. The games don’t count, the competition is almost nonexistent and the stakes for the organization are low. If a player can’t make the Single-A ball club, he can’t make it as a professional. Easy as that.
It’s in Double-A that things get interesting. Foolish Baseball put it best by saying that, “the move to Double-A is considered the most difficult promotion in the Minors, and teams would like to have players take their time and hone their skills at that particular level.” Why is that?
Hardball Times lays it out, stating that Double-A “is where hitters and pitchers begin to have a plan. This is where pitchers can’t get by without a decent off-speed pitch and the hitters who can’t hit them are exposed. The competition is good, as evidenced by the fact that we see players jump from Double-A to the majors with relative frequency. Each organization has its own philosophy on doing so, but it does happen often because of the advanced level of competition. There aren’t as many players in Double-A with major league experience as there are in Triple-A, but one could argue that the pure talent level is actually higher because players are heading in an upward direction as opposed to the stagnation that tends to take place with some Triple-A players.”
Tim Tebow had a year’s worth of development in the lower Minors before heading to Binghamton. Michael Jordan had ZERO years of development, but he did have three NBA Championship rings. However, you also cannot deny that this is also true:
Which brings us to this fun bit.
Double-A Stats and Slashlines
Tim Tebow: 84 games for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies – 74 hits, 14 2Bs, 6 HRs, 36 RBIs, 1 SB, 103 strikeouts. – .273/.336/.399, 734 OPS.
Michael Jordan: 127 games for the Birmingham Barons – 88 hits, 17 2Bs, 3 HRs, 51 RBIs, 30 SBs, 114 strikeouts, – .202/.289/.266, 556 OPS.
Interesting to look at them side-by-side.
Okay, so this one is a little bit biased. Tim Tebow is more of a circus trick than a ballplayer, and all of us Mets fans know it. It’s tough to know that Football Jesus is just a breath away from playing outfield at Citi Field. However, for all the freak show nonsense surrounding him, you can’t admit that he’s exceeding expectations. Yes, the bar was set extremely low for Tebow from the jump, but no one expected him to hit .273 in Double-A. Tim Tebow is doing the damn thing, you can’t say he’s not.
On the other side, if Michael Jordan had made it to the MLB, won the AL MVP, and led the Chicago White Sox to the World Series, he’d still be looked at as an outsider of the game. Jordan as the hottest athlete on the planet, with controversy following him everywhere, most of it created by the media. Was he ever going to be accepted by baseball? No. And his landing spot in Birmingham is a perfect example of why.
By placing Jordan at the Double-A level, the White Sox were able to benefit from the publicity without actually wanting this to work out. Michael should have gone to Single-A first and then landed in Triple-A. Yes, that jump seems like a big one to make, but when your Triple-A team is a lot of fringe major league players, that’s the spot for Jordan. Double-A was always going to be a challenge, but Double-A keeps him away from the majors. And that’s the most important piece of this. Michael Jordan was never going to get the chance to play at Comiskey, but they wanted it to appear like he had the chance.
Were Tim Tebow and Michael Jordan two-sport athletes? By definition, maybe. Jordan was never going to be elevated to the level of Sanders and Jackson, and never got the chance. Tebow needs to be in an American League system where he can become a DH, but right now, he’s blocked in a Mets organization that has an outfield problem. But are they comparable in their careers?
No, they are not. The only thing Tim Tebow and Michael Jordan have in common is that they both played Double-A baseball, aside from that they could not be more different.
But they are comparable in that they tried something that seemed so foreign to all of us, that we chose to point and laugh at instead of giving them a fair shot. Does baseball ruin Jordan’s legend NBA status as the GOAT? No, absolutely it does not. Does Tebow’s second-chance at the pros in a different sport tarnish his reputation as a cult football hero? No. Playing for the Jets does.
These men went out and did something I and the majority of the people in this world will never be able to do. That’s something they both did. That’s something that you can compare them with.
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