Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bo Jackson: Best Athlete Ever

1987 Topps rc
1988 Topps rc

ESPN's latest 30 for 30 documentary (tonight 9 pm EST) tells the story of former NFL and Major League baseball star Bo Jackson.  For those who are not familiar with Jackson, he was a cultural phenomenon in the 1980s and early 1990s while playing both professional football and baseball at an all star level.
Jackson rose to national fame when he won the Heisman trophy in 1985 while at Auburn University and was certain to be the No.1 pick the following year in the NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He eventually spurned Tampa Bay after the draft to sign with the Kansas City Royals when he became unhappy with Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse.  Jackson, back in the NFL draft the following year and was picked by Los Angeles Raiders. He ended up playing with Raiders as a "hobby". Jackson became the only player in history to play in both a MLB All Star game and a NFL Pro Bowl. Nike used this opportunity use Jackson in a very popular advertisement campaign.

Since this is a baseball sight, I will concentrate on the baseball side of his career.  The Royals became the beneficiary of the Jackson/Culverhouse riff after drafting Jackson in the fourth round in the 1986 MLB draft. He did play some baseball while at Auburn but never was taken seriously as a player by MLB. Everyone considered him a lock to play NFL and when Jackson ended up signing with Kansas City Royals, he shocked the sporting world.
He had unlimited skills as a baseball player, but were very raw. Jackson was described has having the power of Mickey Mantle, speed of Willie Wilson and the arm of Roberto Clemente. He did not disappoint. He showed off those skills at various times early in his career. Whether it was his first major league home run-a 475 foot moonshot, gunning down Seattle speedster Harold Reynolds at home on a throw from the outfield warning track, or just beating out a routine grounder from shortstop to 1st base. After his first two full seasons, Jackson was able to coral his natural abilities into a 1989 MLB All Star game appearance. Of course in typical Bo Jackson fashion, he took advantage of the opportunity and was named the game's MVP. He lead the game off with home run to dead centerfield off of Rick Reuschel and after getting on base in his second at bat, Jackson stole a base. He became the just second player in major league history to both accomplish both during one all star game.

But unfortunately, just as he was beginning to master the strike zone and develop into a better overall hitter, Jackson sustained a hip injury while playing in a NFL playoff game. He had to have a hip replacement surgery which ended his football career. He made a brief comeback in baseball playing for both Chicago White Sox and California Angels, but was only a shell of his former self.
Much like many others who watched him play, I wonder what kind of pro ballplayer Jackson could have been if he quit football and worked on his game during the off season. Also, if he had a full baseball career, what kind of career stats would he have put up.. 500/500? 500 career home runs/500 stolen bases. Those are big numbers, but with his abilities it was possible. How many all star games would he have played in? how many MVPs would he have won? and for the Kansas City Royals, more playoff or World Series appearances? Of course, know one truly knows but for a short time he was considered the best athlete, possibly ever.
For the younger generation who never saw Bo Jackson in his prime, I would recommend the latest 30 for 30 by ESPN. Here is a preview:

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