Running up the leftfield wall. Bowling over the Boz. Blasting three home runs in a row.
The images of Bo Jackson seemed to keep coming, week after week, 10 months a year, in two very different sports. For almost five years now the Royal-Raider has been a human highlight film, a god-given gift to the bedtime sportscasters. Although Jackson's exploits were beamed into millions of homes, they were really being shown on one big screen for the American sporting public. Breaking bats over his knee or, sometimes, his head. Breaking tackles en route to another touchdown. Throwing out a runner trying to score from third on a single to left.
Then the film snapped, just like that. The Kansas City Royals, unwilling to pay Jackson $2,375,000 this season as he tries to rehabilitate the left hip he hurt while running for the Los Angeles Raiders, released him. The audience groaned, the lights came on in the theater, and everybody turned toward the projection booth. What happened? Who's responsible? When is the movie coming back on?
The irony of last week's installment of the Bo Knows saga was that nobody seemed to know. The contradictions came fast and furiously.
•The Royals announced, on March 18 at their spring training camp, in Haines City, Fla., that they were putting Jackson on waivers because they thought he would not be able to play at all this season on his injured hip. However, in a press conference earlier that afternoon in Birmingham, James Andrews, a noted orthopedic surgeon who is treating Jackson, maintained that Bo could return as early as the All-Star break. On an easel behind Andrews was the message BO KNOWS—I'LL BE BACK.
•On March 19, while cleaning out his locker, a smiling Jackson said, "I hope to come back to Royals Stadium and knock down the new scoreboard in leftfield." But that same day, a more subdued Jackson offered this scenario: "If worse was to come to worst, I'd go back to Alabama and buy me a small farm—300, 400, 500 acres—build a home, put my kids through school and buy a couple of buffaloes." You didn't know Bo knew buffaloes, did you?
•His Kansas City teammates were bereft. Said George Brett, "I once vowed I would never miss a Bo Jackson at bat. I would never be caught in the clubhouse changing my sweatshirt, getting a new bat, cap or glove, going to the bathroom, because whenever he bats, you never know what you're going to see that you've never seen before." On the other hand, some baseball experts offered the opinion that the Royals won't miss Jackson at all. Said one American League West executive, "I think they'll be a better club without him, I really do. I think he—and his football and everything—was a distraction."
•Marketing analysts evaluated the effects of the injury on Jackson's worth as a pitchman, another role in which he has excelled. Mike Vineyard, president of Cramer Products, a Kansas company that makes the Bo Med line of sports-medicine products, put a positive spin on the situation: "Bo can transcend all of this a little easier than most athletes. He has a very strong personality that goes beyond his performance on the athletic field. He will survive and prosper even if he never steps on the field again." Nevertheless, maneuvering to protect Jackson's interests began. Gene Orza, associate counsel for the Baseball Players Association, questioned the details of Kansas City's release of Jackson and said he would ask the club for the player's medical records.
•In its March 22 edition, USA Today reported that the New York Yankees, who had first shot at Jackson by virtue of having had the worst record in the American League last year, would definitely claim him on waivers that day. That day's 2 p.m. deadline for claiming Jackson on waivers then passed without the Yankees or any other team anteing up the $1 fee. Well, that's not strictly true. The Live Oak (Fla.) Gray Ghosts, a Little League team in need of power, scraped together the dollar. But even they had a condition for Jackson. "Practice is on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays," said Gray Ghost coach Daniel McKeever, "and a missed practice means he will not start in Saturday's game."
How the mighty has fallen. Actually, he was tackled—in an NFL playoff game back on Jan. 13 by Cincinnati Bengal linebacker Kevin Walker. At first Jackson's injury was considered by the Raiders to be minor. However, when the condition did not improve during rehabilitation, Jackson was examined by the Royals' doctor, Steve Joyce, on Feb. 14. He found 1) a small fracture in the back of the hip socket, 2) a loss of blood supply to the head of the femur—interpreted by some as avascular necrosis—which can weaken that portion of the bone, and 3) a loss of cartilage in the joint.