"It is true," says Royals manager Dick Howser, "that the only thing we're overlooking is he hasn't played a lot." But co-owner Avron Fogelman says hopefully, "He apparently likes baseball." Fogelman became so carried away when Bo hit a batting practice homer 470 feet in Royals Stadium that he asked for the ball.
Why, exactly, has baseball gone so nutty over Jackson?
Speed and power and natural ability. That's it. He does have world-class speed and arms stronger than most people's legs. Gonzales' scouting report ranked his potential at 71.0, on a system where anything over 70.0 is superstar. The Major League Scouting Bureau put him at an incredible 75.5. On a scale that ranks 8.0 as best, Bo received 8.0's from the conservative Gonzales on power, speed and fielding. And a 7.0 for the strength of his arm.
But can he hit? The scouting report says 6.0. Hitting is always the great imponderable. More precisely, can he hit a breaking ball? Many big leaguers can't and they muddle on, but Jackson must master the curve. "I will," he says simply. But what if baseball doesn't work out, Bo? "It will work out."
Still, baseball people are beside themselves at having signed a player seemingly sewn up by the NFL. And with the promise and natural athletic ability that Jackson oozes (like Herschel Walker, Bo has a body that never required any work with weights), they are certain he can pick up their game. Says Stewart, "Only the Lord knows how good he will be."
But there remains the question of why Jackson chose baseball. Is it really as simple as Bo says, that he has always loved the game? Not quite. While at McAdory High School in McCalla, Ala., he told football and track coach Dick Atchison that he loved track first, football second, baseball third. Not long ago he told his agent, Richard Woods, "What I really love the most is hunting and fishing." Any pro hunting or fishing franchises, please take note.
To understand Bo's surprising choice, it is necessary to understand his sometimes contrary nature. Jackson does enjoy moving counter to the herd, and this instinct has gone unbridled because few people exercise influence over him.
Jackson bristles at criticism. When the subject of his thin skin was brought up the other day, he snapped: "I can take criticism. I'm a tough guy."
On arriving in Memphis, Jackson said, "I'd rather be here than in Triple A. In Double A, there is more competition." Why would he say that, especially since he had asked to be sent to Triple A Omaha? Then he said, "Baseball is a mental game. All mental." If true, speed and power and natural ability don't really count, and the Royals would have signed A. Bartlett Giamatti.
That same contrary nature spills over when he talks about the highly plausible reason for turning down football: fear of injury. Jackson dismisses that, lest he confess to a chink in the macho armor, though it was the prime reason former Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill left football for baseball this year (see box). He may also be defensive about criticism that he wouldn't play with pain at Auburn. Yet he often returns to the theme of "not having been under the scalpel" and how his knees are "my bread and butter." In short he seems as confused as anyone over his choice.