With questions about his health and athletic future still unanswered, Bo Jackson made a rapid return to baseball employment yesterday, signing a one-year contract with the Chicago White Sox in which both sides will share the economic risk of the unknown.
Jackson, whose stardom in baseball and football is unprecedented, could earn $8.15 million over three years (not counting potential bonuses for various awards), but the White Sox have guaranteed only $700,000 as his salary for this season.
Jackson, who had a $2,375,000 salary from the Kansas City Royals until the team released him 16 days ago because of a football injury to his hip, chose the White Sox, expressing his preference for the team, its new stadium, its medical staff and the city of Chicago.
The White Sox contract does not prohibit Jackson from playing football, but a Jackson associate, who insisted on anonymity, said that Jackson knows that even if he plays baseball again, he will not be able to continue his National Football League career with the Los Angeles Raiders.
"Bo is well aware of the fact that he won't play football again," the associate said. "He has been told that's a risk he can't take. They'll deny it, but he knows it. He knows baseball is his life now."
Jackson, 28, has become a worldwide celebrity through his two-sport feats and the resulting television commercials and endorsements that bring him more money than he earns in his sports salaries. Some estimates have put his off-field income at $5 million a year.
The White Sox contract calls for a guaranteed salary of $700,000 this year, whether or not Jackson plays, and two option years.
By earning bonuses of $10,000 a game -- with a different maximum number of games each year -- Jackson could earn as much as $1.5 million this year, $2.9 million next year and $3.75 million in 1993. Those totals do not include bonuses he could earn (a maximum of $500,000 each year) for a variety of awards.
The contract, with the option years, would take Jackson one year past the time he would be eligible to become a free agent. He will be on the disabled list until he can play.
Explaining his decision to sign Jackson, Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox co-owner, said it was not "a marketing thing because we're going to have an enormous ticket sale this year with the new stadium."
"In making the business decision," Reinsdorf continued, "I assume he will not play this year. If he does, it will be a big bonus. But considering the total dollars he could potentially earn, compared with what we have to pay if he never plays, 90 percent is based on his ability to play. Considering that the financial risk is one we can afford to take, when you look at the risk-reward ratio, it's tremendous. The potential upside is tremendous. We're risking what is a substantial amount of money; it's not chopped liver. But it's certainly a reasonable amount."
If Jackson comes back this year, he would earn $10,000 for each game he is available to play up to 80 games. If he is available for 40 games, including 30 after Aug. 31, the option for 1992 would be automatically exercised.
Then, next season his base salary would be the salary he earned in 1991 less $100,000, and he could earn $10,000 a game up to 150 games. If he were available for 125 games in 1992, the 1993 option would automatically vest.
His 1993 base salary would be equal to the salary he earned in 1992, and he could again earn $10,000 a game.
Speaking at a news conference at the club's spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla., Dr. James Boscardin, the White Sox orthopedist, said the club initially thought Jackson's hip injury was "worse than it actually is from the media reports and such."
"We believe there's a very good chance Bo can become a productive member of the White Sox," he said
Ron Schueler, the White Sox general manager, said a reasonable expectation was that Jackson would return in 1992. If he doesn't play this year but the White Sox exercise the option for 1992, his base salary would be $600,000.
The injury Jackson suffered to his left hip in an NFL playoff game Jan. 13 jeopardized his dual sports career and his dynamic commercial career. The Royals concluded, based on a report by their orthopedist, Dr. Steve Joyce, that Jackson would most likely not be able to play this year and perhaps never again. Rather than pay him his entire 1991 salary of $2,375,000, they decided to release him and give him the required 30 days' termination pay, which amounts to $391,484.
The other 25 teams could have claimed him on waivers for $1, but all passed, put off by the risk of paying his entire salary but knowing if he could play.
The White Sox were among the clubs who decided to pursue the outfielder as a free agent, and Jackson quickly decided they were his first choice.
"Right now, I feel like a caged animal," Jackson, who is spending 10 hours a day in rehabilitation, said at the news conference. "I can't wait for them to open the chutes and let me go and do what I've been doing my whole life, and that's running."