Bo Jackson was a two-sport star, baseball superhero
Bo Jackson, as exciting a football player as he was before a hip injury changed his history in two sports, never reached the Super Bowl when he was running back with the Raiders of Los Angeles. The only postseason game he played was in January 1990, the AFC Divisional Round against the Bengals in Los Angeles. He was injured late in that 20-10 win over Cincinnati, then the Bills crushed the Raiders, 51-3, the following week in the AFC. Championship Game, and that was as close as Bo has ever come to the Super Bowl on Sunday. A year later, he was permanently expelled from the National Football League.
Even though he won a Heisman Trophy at Auburn, and even though he once ran a 40-yard dash in 4.12 seconds for the scouts while weighing nearly 230 pounds, he was more memorable for all eight seasons he played baseball, not for the four he played in the NFL. It was in baseball that Jackson sometimes channeled a comic book superhero.
There was the All-Star Game in 1989, for which he was voted MVP. He made a great running catch early in the game to save some points. Then, leading to the bottom of the first, he hit a monstrous 448-foot homer against Rick Reuschel. When the ball was in the air, the great Vin Scully said, “Look at that one! Bo Jackson says hello!
And there was the night at Yankee Stadium where he hit three home runs his first three times before injuring his shoulder in the outfield trying to dive on a fly ball hit by Deion Sanders. Deion turned it into a home run inside the park when the ball rolled to the wall.
There was another time he tried to call time. It was not awarded by the plate umpire. Bo still managed to hit a home run on the next pitch, despite only having one hand on his bat when he first returned to the batting box.
Jackson won Sporting News’ AL Comeback Player of the Year award in 1993 after recovering from hip replacement surgery. By then he had left the Royals, his original major league team, for the White Sox. But even with his replacement hip, he hit 16 home runs for the White Sox in 85 games, after not playing baseball for two years. He finally retired after the shortened 1994 season with a .250 lifetime average, 141 home runs, 415 RBIs and .474 hitting percentage.
His best season was his 1989 All-Star season with the Royals, when he hit 32 homers, hit 105 and showed you all his possibilities whether or not he continued to be a two-sport guy. He didn’t turn 27 until the end of this season.
There will always be assumptions for him in football and baseball. Assumptions are more important in baseball because of what we saw of him before avascular necrosis robbed him of much of his power and speed.
Why are assumptions more important in baseball? Because we saw what he could accomplish even with an artificial hip, which is why.
Back when he had his speed, when we thought everything was still ahead of him, there was a Wednesday night in Baltimore on July 11, 1990, when the Royals played the Orioles. I was working on this game for ESPN when it really became a comic book hero. In this case, it was Spider-Man.
It was also the night Curt Schilling came out of the bullpen to earn his first Major League victory for the Orioles. The night wasn’t about that. The night was about Bo doing something only he could do.
Joe Orsulak hit one the other way for the Orioles, and it looked like extra bases when he came off his bat, at least until you quickly remembered the man chasing the ball at center left was Bo Jackson, who made a terrific backhand catch run just short of the warning track.
The night was not there either. It was about what happened next.
Instead of running into the wall, Bo ran at the top this.
One step, then another, then a third, almost to the top of the center left wall. There’s a video of the take on YouTube, and one of the comments is from a guy named Guy Sherf:
“I’m just saying no one has seen Bo and Spiderman together in the same place.”
“Only Bo did it without special effects,” my friend said.
It’s because Bo, when he was young, has been special effects. Moreover? This was his explanation of why he did what he did later, to writer Brandon Marcello:
“At the corner where I was running, if I had hit the wall, I probably would have injured my shoulder again. So instead of crashing into it, I just decided to do what I was doing when I was a kid, and just running up the wall and back down seems easier and more logical to me.
It made perfect sense to him. Once again, the rest of us couldn’t believe our eyes. It is worth recalling again, on the eve of the Super Bowl, what a wonder Bo was on a football field. But he was even more of a baseball marvel. He didn’t just hit balls over the wall. He climbed the wall.