CHICAGO -- Count on it. Bo Jackson will play baseball for the Chicago White Sox again this year.
At least in spring training.
Maybe all year, he says.
Jackson, the one-time two-sport superstar who had his hip replaced with a plastic and metal prosthesis less than 10 months ago, was back yesterday fielding ground balls, hitting in the batting cage and running sprints without sign of pain or a limp.
"I'm living my life right now as if I never had an injury," said Jackson. "There's no limp, no pain. The difference from last year is night and day. Everything feels great."
Jackson was all but crippled by a hip injury that ended his professional football career on Jan. 13, 1991. He was left with severe pain and a prominent limp that appeared to doom his baseball career, too.
After struggling through just 23 games with the White Sox in 1991 and three doleful performances during spring training last year, Jackson decided to undergo radical hip replacement surgery.
TC The primary purpose was to enable Jackson to live a normal life, without a limp and pain. But with that goal apparently achieved, Jackson says he hopes to go one step farther and play professional baseball again.
"Before my mother passed away this past April, I promised her two things" Jackson said. "I promised her that I would get back on the baseball field and play ball and get my college degree."
Jackson said he needs one class for his degree in human sciences at Auburn University and he is closer than ever to getting back on the baseball field.
"Things have been happening for Bo Jackson in a positive way," Jackson told reporters after his workout. "I really don't see anything right now that I won't be able to do."
The White Sox are hopeful -- if not wholly optimistic -- that Jackson can play again.
General manager Ron Schueler said Jackson had made "unbelievable" progress since the hip replacement last April 5. But Schueler repeated earlier guarded statements about Jackson's future.
"I have to prepare this club without Bo, and whatever he adds will be special," said Schueler.
But Schueler made it clear that if Jackson is able, he will be given the chance to play in spring training.
"I want to see Bo play one day," said Schueler. "Just to prove to himself -- not so much for the organization -- but to see the [rewards for the] time and effort he's put into this thing.
"The first time he runs onto the field it'll be special. Whether he can give us 10, 20 or 120 [games], nobody knows for sure until we get down to Sarasota."
White Sox trainer Herm Schneider said: "If the hip comes loose or the femur fractures, then we'd put in another hip and let him lead a normal life. It's a one-shot thing."
Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to begin spring training in Sarasota on Feb. 19. Jackson said he planned to be there before that to continue his private workouts. Jackson has signed a contract for the 1993 season, but Schueler said the White Sox have until March 15 to decide whether to honor it or buy it out.
"Right now, I couldn't make that decision," said Schueler. "We've got to get down there and see what he looks like on a daily basis."
Schueler said the March 15 deadline for deciding Jackson's fate might be too soon. He said he hoped if it became necessary, Jackson and his agent would agree to amend the contract and extend the deadline.
Regardless of whether Jackson makes the team this year, the White Sox are hoping to cash in on his comeback effort. Beginning today, they are launching a television, radio and billboard advertising campaign called the "Hip Season Ticket Plan."
The campaign, designed to promote a mini-season ticket plan of 20 games for $160, will feature Jackson and his injured hip. The TV ads show him lying on his side with an X-ray machine revealing plastic ducks and gears where his hip should be.