The Real Story Behind That Game-Used Michael Jordan Bat That's Now Up for Auction
This is a story about a 1966 Pontiac LeMans convertible, Michael Jordan’s game-used baseball bat and an actor who played Mickey Scales in the movie “Little Big League.”
Let’s start with the bat. It’s a Louisville Slugger model C271. It’s 34” in length and weighs exactly 32.3 ounces. Nothing sexy in the description until you find out that the man who used it was none other than NBA legend turned MLB hopeful Michael Jordan.
In the fall of 1994, Jordan was playing in the Arizona Fall League for the Scottsdale Scorpions following a season with the Chicago White Sox minor-league affiliate Birmingham Barons.
One fine autumn day, Jordan collected two hits on that very Louisville Slugger. And instead of throwing it back into the bat rack, he signed it and gave it to someone he was overjoyed to meet at the time. And the person receiving the bat was astonished at the kind gesture.
Nearly 26 years later and that bat is now being auctioned off, its owner hoping it finds someone who will cherish it for a lifetime.
That’s just one part of the story. To get the full breadth of the bat’s journey you have to take a ride in one hell of a car.
Soaking up sunset just off the beach in Santa Monica is an underrated experience as soul-satisfying pastimes go. It ranks right up there with walking barefoot on freshly mowed grass on the list of things that will put your spirit at ease.
You have to have a certain perspective on life to truly appreciate such tranquility amid the frantic pace of life just a couple of blocks over.
Tony Todd has made it a weekly ritual to head down to the beach in his baby, a tricked-out Pontiac LeMans convertible, as he revels in the simplicity of life.
As the sun continues to set, the orange tinge of the beachside landscape kisses off the deep blue of this classic automobile and it’s hard to decide what’s more beautiful.
What many people don’t realize, as Wild Cherry bumps from the sound system, is that this car was, for about 15 years, the world’s greatest bat rack.
Michael Jordan and the Gift of a Lifetime
Todd is an actor, stunt man and all-around good guy. He’s known for his turns in “Little Big League” on the show “Anger Management” and had most recently performed stunt work on the film “Black Panther.”
If you’ve ever met him, the stories you inevitably tell about Tony always start the same way, with a smile. One of those stories involves former NFL player William Fuller, who invited Todd to go see Jordan play baseball for the Scorpions.
Todd, who was a high school standout in both football and baseball, jumped at the chance. He would later discover that Jordan was just as excited to meet the man who played Mickey Scales and immediately gave the actor a piece of history.
“And then after the game, Mike invited us to the locker room, and he offered up his game bat to me,” Todd tells En Fuego. “And I still have it to this day, 26 years later.”
The bat didn’t end up in his car right away. It made a quick trip to Todd’s house and into his closet for safekeeping. It wasn’t until 2006 that Todd decided there was a far better place to keep it.
And that’s where we get to Charlie Sheen, a car heist and a beautiful gesture.
Love at first sight happens in the craziest of places. For Tony Todd, he fell in love with his baby back in the early 1990s while cruising around Lincoln and Broadway in Santa Monica. Across the street from the beloved Bay Cities Deli was a gorgeous sight with classic lines.
He absolutely had to have this Pontiac and purchased it on the spot. It wasn’t until 2006 that he would experience the lows of having that car stolen and the highs of discovering it was all for a great cause.
You see, Todd is a fan of the show “Overhaulin,” and particularly fond of automotive designer Chip Foose. He also has some friends who wanted to show for once how much he has meant to them. The two things coalesced when those close to him hatched a prank that featured on the second season of the show.
The ruse was beautifully executed thanks in large part to Tony’s mother and his longtime friend and fellow actor Charlie Sheen.
The Pontiac was being kept at Todd’s mother’s house as it was about to be sold. Showrunners took the car and went through great pains to make it look like a classic smash and grab operation.
“When I found out the car was gone, I was just mostly shocked,” Todd said. And that’s certainly one emotion you get from the episode. There is also frustration and a hint of anger as the show’s actors do up the prank beautifully.
But the episode’s levity is but a backdrop to the finale when Todd discovers that his car was taken so that the crew could give it all the detail and love the actor desired And it was a gesture that turned an automobile into a family heirloom of which Todd will never let go.
“The only thing that I’ve ever gotten in my life was a birthday cake,” Todd said. But to have something that symbolizes how much his friends care for him makes an already stunning car priceless.
“Besides my family and friends, that car is the closest thing to me, you know? And I will cherish it for life. I will cherish that car for life, but I will cherish more the fact that my friends, you know, made that happen for me.”
Into the Trunk
When the ESPN documentary series “The Last Dance” aired earlier this summer, a fan asked Todd on social media if he still had the Michael Jordan bat.
It had been some time since he had thought about the lumber and he went through his house looking for it. But then he quickly remembered the one place it could be.
He went to his car, popped the trunk, and there it was. I like to think that there was a golden glow of realization not unlike what we see in the movie “Pulp Fiction” anytime Marcellus Wallace’s suitcase is opened.
And it’s absurdly simple to say that Todd kept the bat in the trunk of his car. It conjures thoughts of this valuable bat, tinged with the hint of pine tar and wearing the scars of two Jordan hits, sharing space with gym bags and whatever else someone might keep in their trunk.
But that’s the hypothetical boot of a regular automobile, the kind of trunk you have for your everyday car.
This is Todd’s treasure. And you have to remember that the crew from “Overhaulin’” spared no detail to every inch of that car.
“That’s the reason I put it back there,” Todd explained. “I have this nice, classy, car I want to put this nice, classy bat right there in the back.”
Pop the trunk and the inside is flawless, right at the top is a rack to display one bat. It originally held a Rawlings model to coincide with the custom-made Rawlings luggage that accompanied the overhaul.
For over a decade, it was a shrine to a beautiful moment in Scottsdale.
Dan Wulkan of Memory Lane Inc. explains to me that the bat reminds him of another person who had a piece of baseball history hiding in their midst.
“We acquired a bat a long time ago that was game used by Lou Gehrig. And it's the only Lou Gehrig game-used (bat) that is photo matched that actually shows it has like impeccable, impeccable provenance,” Wulkan said.
“As I'm dealing with the Jordan bat, it brought me back to the memories of the Gehrig bat because it separates itself from all the other bats that are out there.”
That previous Gehrig bat was owned by someone who knew the Gehrigs and kept the bat around simply for protection.
“She just kept it there if an intruder broke in she at least had the bat. So it’s really, really cool that it ends up going for over $600,000 back then. And now it's a multi-million-dollar bat.”
Todd’s bat has gone through inspection and comes bearing just a really cool story of two guys appreciating one another.
“With this bat, it's so incredible and it's such a rare situation that you have the provenance between Tony and Michael Jordan appreciating Tony's work in “Little Big League” and him handing Tony a bat,” Wulkan continued. “So, I think there was a real nice mutual respect.”
Todd puts more emphasis on relationships than material things. That doesn’t mean tangible possessions don’t hold tremendous meaning to him and only increase with the passage of time.
As for the bat, it’s time for it to move on and live on someone else’s newfangled bat rack. It belongs perhaps in someone else’s family, being passed down from one generation to the next.
“I just want it to go to a good, good person,” Todd said. “A good person who is going to cherish this bat.”
A lot has been made of Todd finding this bat in the trunk of a car as if it were an afterthought. That’s completely missing the point.
Todd kept Michael Jordan’s bat in the one thing that means the most to him. This car that he barely drives, a classic that symbolizes not only friendship but hard work.
“I’ll tell you a story,” Todd begins. “You know, the reason why I got into classic cars because I had asked, rest in peace, my uncle Richie, back in the day he had a '69 Camaro, and I wanted to take it to my prom. He refused. He said no.”
Todd remembers taking the answer and channeling it into clarity and determination, “But it just drove me to work harder to get what I want.”
The car is still with Todd as it will be for the foreseeable future. He only ever drives it on special occasions, once every couple of months. Sometimes down the street to see the sunset over the Pacific.
The car turns heads because of its beauty, but its value can only ever be measured by Tony Todd. He worked hard enough to purchase it with his own money. His decades of friendship can now be seen in the pristine overhaul it received.
It might not display Jordan’s bat as it once did. But it has yet another great story to go along with its miles. And that’s just fine with Todd.