Tim Kurkjian's baseball fix: When Michael Jordan went to the minors and cheated at Yahtzee

Kurkjian recalls MJ, Francona's friendship and Yahtzee rivalry (1:02)

March 31 is the anniversary of Michael Jordan signing with the Birmingham Barons, which prompts Tim Kurkjian to recount MJ's friendship with Terry Francona. (1:02)

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we'll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1994, Michael Jordan was assigned to the Double-A Birmingham Barons.

This began a fascinating year in baseball and a lifelong relationship with manager Terry Francona.

History tells us that Jordan failed at baseball. Quite the contrary. He was an average high school player who spent 16 years away from the hardest game to play, then tried to play it at the Double-A level.

The full "On this date ..." archive

I quoted more than one major league player who thought Jordan would hit .050 at Double-A. Instead, he willed himself to hit .203 with 51 RBIs and 30 steals. When he went back to basketball after one season, he acknowledged that every player on his team was stronger from the tip of the fingers to the elbow -- that's baseball strength -- than he was.

"No one was more competitive,'' Francona said. "So we come home from a road trip and we park next to a basketball court, and a bunch of guys start hooting at Michael to play. Finally, he'd had enough. He told four of his coaches, including me, 'We're playing!' I said no. I was in charge of him, I couldn't let him get hurt. They would have fired me if he got hurt. So the first time down the court, I set a pick for him. He screams at me, 'Get the hell out of the way! I don't need a pick!' Then he goes and dunks on this guy. Another guy starts chirping. Michael dunks on him too and literally bends the rim. Then he stands over the top of him, screaming at him. I jumped in. 'OK, that's it, this game is over!'''

Francona continued: "We'd play Yahtzee on every road trip on the bus [the Jordan Cruiser]. He's the richest man in America, the best basketball player ever, and I'm making $29,000 a year. And he's cheating at Yahtzee to take my money because he just can't bear to lose.''

Other baseball notes from March 31

  • In 1982, I saw Al Oliver, a great hitter, at the All-Star Game in Montreal. He was hitting .321 with a .919 OPS at the break. I asked him how the first half had gone. "I've had 75 line drives caught,'' he said.

  • In 2008, a statue of Cubs great Ernie Banks was displayed outside Wrigley Field. The sculptor wrote on the statue "Lets Play Two" instead of "Let's Play Two."

  • In 1998, Craig Biggio grounded into a double play in his second at-bat of the season. The previous season, he became the only player to qualify for the batting title and not ground into a double play all season.

  • In 2014, coach Don Baylor, one of the strongest men ever to play, broke his femur after moving awkwardly while catching a ceremonial first pitch. Baylor was hit by a pitch 267 times in his career. I asked him which one hurt the most. He said: "None of them.''