When it's time to knock someone down, "I'll run 'em over. I can't hurt my hip any worse."
It was hard not to stare in amazement at Bo Jackson last week when he went through his first taxing workouts at the Chicago White Sox training camp in Sarasota, Fla. Less than 11 months after having hip-replacement surgery, Jackson looked much like the vibrant, sculpted specimen we were used to seeing before he fractured his left hip socket, shearing cartilage and cutting off the blood supply to the top of the thigh bone, while being tackled in an NFL playoff game on Jan. 13, 1991.
Jackson was running without the painful and exaggerated limp that saddened all who watched him try to play last spring. Running mostly on his toes now, to reduce the pounding on the artificial hip, Jackson was moving with only a slight hitch—and he still kicked into a higher gear as he rounded first base. But the world-class speed was clearly gone. Now he has just average speed for a major leaguer, although few other 230-pound men are going to beat him in a footrace.
Taking ground balls at first base, Jackson was hardly graceful, but he dived for one ball, stretched and leaped for others, and made most of the plays. (Before the injury, remember, Jackson was rarely smooth or instinctive in the outfield; he just outran fly balls.) He was throwing as he always had: somewhat awkwardly but with great velocity even when he was off balance. At the plate he looked significantly different—and better—than a year ago. Instead of swinging only with his arms and pulling off at contact with the ball, he was now throwing his hips and body into the pitch and finishing his swing. It was just batting practice, 65-mph stuff, but balls were jumping off his bat, which had GO BO engraved on the barrel.
Earlier this winter the White Sox were impressed by Jackson's workouts at an indoor facility in Chicago, where he was timed running from home plate to first base in 4.27 seconds (4.3 is considered average for a righthanded hitter). But after watching him last week, the White Sox were even more encouraged.
Herm Schneider, the White Sox trainer, who doubles as Jackson's personal conditioner, says the progress Bo has made since the hip surgery last April 4 "has been textbook. Bo's happier than a baby pig in mud."
When Jackson stumbled on a grounder, he laughed at himself and said, "It must be these Nike cleats." After shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who is making a comeback of his own from major knee surgery last April, made a halfhearted, headfirst slide into third base, Jackson made fun of him and imitated Guillen by lying spread-eagle on the dirt.
But the fact is, the White Sox are anxious to see how Bo's hip holds up when he attempts his first slides—or collides with a teammate, or is drilled in the left hip by a fastball, or has to make an awkward move on the base paths. Doctors and trainers have said that a jarring of the artificial hip could tear it out of its socket, causing more severe damage to the left leg than the original injury did.
"We'll wait on sliding," says Chicago manager Gene Lamont. "We'll probably just have him slide on one side [the right side]. That's what everyone teaches today anyway."
Schneider says he and Jackson understand that the hip "could be fine for five years or it could go tomorrow. Who knows?" But Jackson is approaching the comeback without fear. Ask him, "How's the hip?" and he says, "What hip? I don't even know it was hurt." He says when it's time to slide, "I'm sliding." When it's time to knock someone down, "I'll run 'em over. I can't hurt my hip any worse."