Thursday, December 1, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #98 Bo Jackson

Continuing the series of my top 100 favorite ballplayers of all-time. This is not a ranking of what I consider "the best" players in the history of baseball... this is simply my list of players I have admired at some point and contributed to my love of the game.

There is no doubt in my mind, Bo Jackson was absolutely the best athlete of my generation. No one else is even close.

Like most, my awareness of this guy started with his exploits as Auburn football star. He was a beast, every bit as dominate as Herschel Walker. I was crushed when my Michigan Wolverines held him to "only" 130 yards and the Auburn offense out of the end-zone during the 1984 Sugar Bowl, only to lose the game 9-7 in the final seconds with their third field goal.

In addition to being the best football player in the country, he was also one of the best baseball players around. He was drafted in the second round by the Yankees in 1981 out of high school, but didn't sign. After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1985 he hit .401 with 17 home runs and 43 RBI as a member of the Tiger baseball team. One game at Georgia, Bo went 4-for-5 with three home runs and a double.

He was the #1 overall draft pick in the 1986 NFL draft, but had no interest in playing for the Tampa Bay Bucs. Instead he chose the Kansas City Royals. I think he may be the only minor leaguer to make the cover of Sports Illustrated. After a September '86 call up, Bo started playing regularly in the Royals outfield in 1987.

My most vivid memory of Bo Jackson is from the 1989 All Star Game. For some reason, despite hitting 5th or 6th all season for the Royals, he was put in the lead off spot by American League Manager Tony LaRussa. After making a nice catch in the top of the first to save a couple of runs he led off the bottom of the inning (his first All-star AB) with a monstrous 448-foot home run off Rick Reuschel. At the time, I routinely recorded All Star games on VHS tape and I must have watched this blast 1000 times. Combined with the "Bo Knows" advertising campaign launched by Nike the same night, the legend was off and running.

After not signing with the Bucs, the LA Raiders selected Jackson in the 7th round of the 1987 NFL draft. Raiders owner Al Davis supported his baseball career and convinced him to sign a contract by offering him a salary of a full-time starting running back, only after the baseball season ended. Everyone remembers when Brian Bosworth discovered Bo was a pretty good NFL back.

It all came crashing down during the 1990 NFL playoffs. While he was running down the sidelines Bo was tackled by the Bengals Kevin Walker, causing a serious hip injury. His NFL career was over.

The Royals cut him assuming his baseball career was over too. Ultimately he needed to get his hip replaced, but he vowed to return to baseball, and did so with the Chicago White Sox in 1993. In his first at-bat he crushed a pinch hit homerun against the Yankees on his first swing.

Bo knew.


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