It was the winter of 1993. Bill Melton - who played for the White Sox from 1968 to 1975 - was living in Chicago and working as a Sox ambassador. One day, out of nowhere, he got a request from the team's general manager. It was a request that would put him at the center of the biggest secret in sports.
"Ron Schueler came up to me and said we want you to work with somebody," Melton remembered. "I said, 'Yeah, that's fine'."
That somebody? Only the greatest basketball player of all-time. Months earlier, Michael Jordan had led the Bulls to their third-straight NBA championship before retiring from basketball. Now, he wanted to chase his dream of playing professional baseball, and the White Sox were going to give him a shot. But before the world knew about it, Melton spent months doing undercover work with Jordan on his swing.
"All during the winter, for about five months, he was coming down the freeway and went into the doors underneath the ballpark," Melton said. "Nobody knew he was coming in."
Melton remembers MJ as being a diligent worker who was willing to listen and who wanted nothing more than to get better.
"He was all ears," said Melton. "He really, really wanted to do this. He was driven. You know how driven he is – he was driven to do this."
Melton believes Jordan had one goal in mind as he worked in the batting cages of what's now called Guaranteed Rate Field.
"His intent was to be a major league baseball player, period," Melton said confidently.
Fast forward a few months. Jordan participated in spring training with the White Sox before the organization decided to send him to play for their Double-A affiliate, the Birmingham Barons. On March 31, just days before the 1994 Barons season was scheduled to start, the team found out MJ was headed to their way.
"My real thoughts can’t be said without a censor," Barons play-by-play announcer Curt Bloom remembers with a smile. "I was in total shock. Disbelief. I kept telling myself this is not going to happen, somebody’s going to pull the plug."
At the time, Bloom was entering his third season calling Barons games. He says Jordan's summer with the team was unlike any he'd seen before, and it's unlike anything he's seen in 26 years since.
"That buzz was enormous," Bloom said. "It was one of those where you felt like you cut through it like a saw."
Jordan played in 128 games for the Barons that summer, and hit .202 with three homers and 51 RBI. But it's not the numbers that Bloom will always remember. It's the way the most famous athlete on the planet treated everyone around the team.
"You can’t wait to talk enough good things about him," said Bloom. "This was a guy, in those rare, rare, rare moments, when it was just you and him, or just in the locker room and he didn’t have to be MJ, and he didn’t have to be 'Air,' he was just a normal guy," he added.
Still to this day, more than a quarter century later, Bloom and Melton strongly believe Jordan would have accomplished his goal of making the big leagues if he stuck with baseball.
"Could he have been a major league ballplayer? I don’t put anything against him evolving into a major league baseball player, because he had all the tools," said Melton.
"We really believed that he was going to go to Triple-A the next year and then the Big Leagues as an outfielder," Bloom said.
Would Jordan have eventually cracked the White Sox roster? It's impossible to know. But one thing is certain: neither of the two men will ever forget their up-close and personal time with Michael the baseball player.
"There’s a group of us – players, coaches, managers, and front office – when we see each other now, there’s this look in our eye that, 'You were there, I was there,' and it was something that’s irreplaceable," Bloom said.
"I look back and go, ‘That was a pretty unique experience right there,'" said Melton. "I’ve been to Frank Sinatra’s 50th birthday party at Bob Hope’s house. All these people you run into, and this guy stands above them all."