Bo deserved more from Royals

John Steadman

March 19, 1991|By John Steadman

Respect for the professional sports industry, specifically baseball, was thrown for an incalculable loss when the Kansas City Royals showed an injured Bo Jackson a quick way to the exit. He's on crutches so, hopefully, they were at least accommodating enough to hold the door.

Jackson was given an outright release because, in the opinion of the team doctor, he can't be of any value to them this season and possibly years to come because of what has been diagnosed as a debilitating hip problem.

What the Royals are doing by this cold, crass dismissal is confirming to every baseball player that when you can't contribute, even if you are only 28 years of age, you are dispatched to the scrap heap. Horses are humanely destroyed but Jackson suffers.

The Royals' own stupidity shows through. They put themselves in this difficult position and then embarrassed themselves the way they handled it. Jackson had been signed in mid-February, after he had been injured playing football for the Los Angeles Raiders, his other sport.

He was damaged goods. It should have been a case of "buyer beware" but, no, the club provided a contract calling for $2,375,000. Instead of going on to fulfill the agreement, the Royals waived Jackson through the American League office and then waved him goodbye.

Just a "piece of meat," which is not an endearing term but is what ballplayers always used to tell each other when discussing how they thought management perceived them. What happened to Jackson was not all that unusual because owners and general managers of sports franchises look for any kind of an escape when and where the payment of money is involved.

Jackson has a physical difficulty that may have occurred when he was tackled rather routinely in the Raiders' playoff with the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 13. It wasn't a violent hit. He dropped to the ground with more of a wrenching action. Since the ailment was sustained in a non-related baseball activity, the Royals aren't legally responsible. See you later, Bo.

They get out from under the obligation by paying the injured employee one-sixth of what he was supposed to earn on the contract. Then the Royals turn their backs and walk away. Considering the money the Royals have thrown away on ineffective free agents, they now show their true colors in the rude manner Jackson was treated.

Here was a talented athlete who contributed everything he could from the standpoint of performance. He played pro football in what normally would have been the offseason for a baseball player. His speed, power and acceleration allowed him to win the Heisman Trophy when he was at Auburn and to contribute impressively as a ball carrier with the Raiders.

Royals general manager Herk Robinson tried to say all the right things when he broke the news, wishing Jackson the best of luck, but explained, "We got nearly $2.5 million involved in a situation like this; finances do enter into a situation like this."

The reason there's a players' union is because club owners 40 years ago thought they could treat the hired hands as day-laborers, just the way the Royals' organization is rejecting Jackson. The Kansas City club is relying on the judgment of its team physician, Dr. Steve Joyce, but a specialist, Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, has a different view.

Andrews, while calling it a "significant injury," didn't eliminate the possibility Jackson would be playing football again for the Raiders. And Jackson himself said, "Don't count me out. I know deep down I'll be back playing baseball this year."

There has been speculation Jackson is suffering from a severe condition known as avascular necrosis, which apparently doesn't just happen but develops over a period of time.

The action by the Royals provides graphic notice to players that when you are physically able to contribute the club owner will pay the going rate but if something happens untoward that prevents performance then "see you later."

The Royals, by their stance, confirmed what a tough and unfair business baseball can be for an individual, even those gifted with extraordinary abilities. Example again: Bo Jackson.

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