One of the main talking points from Episode 7 of ESPN’s documentary series “The Last Dance” was Michael Jordan’s time playing baseball.
A real “wow” moment came when a Sports Illustrated cover was featured in the documentary. The cover read “Bag It, Michael! Jordan and the White Sox are embarrassing baseball.” The headline was extremely harsh, and upset Jordan to the point that he never talked to Sports Illustrated again.
The article was written by author Steve Wulf with the editorial headline being “Err Jordan.” You can read the full 1994 column via the SI archives. Throughout, Wulf calls Jordan’s dream of playing baseball a “delusion” and blames the White Sox for their “exploitation of his quest” to play the sport.
Jordan was clearly frustrated by Wulf’s words. He was asked by “The Last Dance” producers, “Did you feel betrayed by that SI cover?” Jordan replied, “Definitely.”
“I never was interviewed for that,” Jordan says in the documentary. “They came out to critique me. Without understanding what my passion was at the time. If you had a question, ask. And then if you want to write it, then you write it. That’s fine, no problem, that’s your opinion. But I can care less what people do. This is what I want to do. I’m not doing what they think I should be doing. My father already told me I was doing the right thing, and I did it.”
Wulf was eventually hired by ESPN, and he’s since talked about that cover and his column on Jordan. In 2001, Wulf wrote a column for ESPN titled, “Bag it, skeptics” (a play on the SI cover). In there, he said he wrote an apology for Jordan in Sports Illustrated, but they didn’t publish it.
I was working for Sports Illustrated back in ’94, and that spring I was asked to do a quickie story on Michael’s attempt to become a baseball player. I fell in step with all the skeptics in Florida, baseball people who thought it was a folly that was depriving some legitimate prospect of a chance to show what he could do.
I had nothing to do with the incendiary Bag It, Michael cover billing, but my name was on the story, and I became persona non grata in Chicago, in the Bulls and White Sox camps, in MJ’s circle.
When I went down to Orlando later that summer, I knew he wasn’t going to talk to me, but I had to see for myself. And I was at once mortified and exhilarated. He was a ballplayer. His manager, Terry Francona, thought so, and he wasn’t blowing smoke. I actually wrote a piece apologizing for my premature judgment, but SI chose not to run it.
Wulf even added, “I’m convinced that with just a little more time, he could’ve made the majors on merit.”
The author discussed the article in more detail in the ESPN Daily podcast with Mina Kimes. He again took issue with the headline created by editors.
“The minute I saw that headline, I realized I’d probably be doing a podcast about it 21 years later,” Wulf joked. “I still cringe every time I see it, and I see it often. I wish they had run the headline by me.”
Wulf also understands why Jordan was so frustrated.
“I think he was rightly insulted,” Wulf told Kimes. “He wasn’t out to embarass 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.”