Determined Bo presses on, loses the limp Speed returning with rebuilt hip

February 14, 1993|By Newsday

CHICAGO -- At 8:15 every weekday morning, Bo Jackson leaves his suburban Burr Ridge home and boards his Chevy truck or Mercedes for mostly empty Comiskey Park, at which he endures a daily workout that is grueling, lengthy and often monotonous. Jackson likens the remodeled, elegant and almost-new ballpark to a "ghost town" in its winter quiet. If Jackson can still hear the crowd's roar, it's in the distance.

These days, Jackson works without fans or fanfare. His days are spent in the stadium's poorly lighted basement corridor or its weight room, or a half-mile away in the tiny and dank Illinois Institute of Technology gymnasium, working in a strange place at a strange position -- first base.

Except for the few days he updates Chicago's media on the remarkable progress of his rebuilt left hip, most of Jackson's time is spent working with affable but hard-driving trainer Herm Schneider, the overseer of the potentially history-making comeback.

So far, this journey is marked mostly by its length. Yet Jackson marches on, determined to play his first regular-season major-league baseball game since 1991, determined to become the first man to play baseball with a hip held together by metal and plastic and luck. He plans to attend spring training, and his goal is to be on the White Sox roster on opening day.

The progress has been remarkable lately, though sometimes it's difficult to see the final reward. "Coming here to this empty ballpark when it's 15 degrees can be depressing as hell," Jackson said after an impressive workout Monday that included batting and fielding practice, exercises and some hellacious wind sprints without any noticeable limp. He isn't back to world-class speed yet, but he's still a mite faster than teammate Ozzie Guillen, another rehabilitating Sox player sprinting through Comiskey's halls.

Jackson looked as if he could line up behind Jay Schroeder in the Los Angeles Raiders' backfield again. Wearing a black Nike jacket, purple spandex shorts and some droopy black socks even the class nerd would reject, Jackson powered along the corridor's carpet path, impressing witnesses who might not comprehend the enormity of his task. That glaring limp that made last spring so painful was absent.

Schneider had Jackson running sprints of 90, 180 and 270 feet to simulate singles, doubles and triples. "Right here, right here," encouraged the trainer, pointing to the finish line. This day, Schneider's enthusiasm far outstripped Jackson's; the former two-sport star had returned at 5:15 that morning on a red-eye flight from California and the Super Bowl.

After one particularly impressive Jackson jaunt, Ellis Burks, another of the many White Sox players embarking on a comeback, chided Jackson. Burks said, "What was that, the home run [trot]?" A puffing Jackson responded, "Triple," without humor, and kept moving.

Jackson has been running limp-free here for a month. Schneider stepped up the pace Monday but still isn't pressing Jackson to go full bore.

For him, half the fun is in proving people wrong. Once his goals were mammoth. Now he wants a roster spot. "I'll be happy to put on a uniform, whether it be to sit on the bench or DH," said Jackson, whose hip was damaged Jan. 13, 1991, in a football playoff game.

Not everyone is certain he can make it. Not everyone who witnessed Jackson hobble last spring -- "He was a 29-year-old walking like a 60-year-old," Schneider said -- can wipe that memory away.

Not everyone believes Jackson's April 4 hip-replacement surgery will hold up under baseball's rigors. "If he gets on the field one day, that would

be fantastic. And if he decides to leave tomorrow, that would be fine, too," White Sox general manager Ron Schueler said. "If you're talking about any other person, he would have long been written off. But he's proven a lot of people wrong. Forty thousand orthopedic surgeons are shaking their heads."

One key date could be March 15. According to Jackson's contract, the White Sox must decide that day whether to keep him for $910,000. If he can hold up physically, they'll assuredly keep him because the high price tag will be worth the time invested and marketing upside. Their new promotion, "A Season Ticket Plan," would not make sense without him. While the White Sox have a full-time DH, George Bell, and a full-time first baseman, Frank Thomas, there is only one Bo Jackson.

Claiming to be unworried about that March 15 date, Jackson said defiantly, "I have never doubted myself about anything. End of story."

And so Jackson presses on, looking for progress and not records. Schneider said they are striving to avoid "peaks and valleys."

Jackson has a need to compete. Schneider set goals of five seconds for 90 feet, 10 seconds for 180 and 15 for 270, and Jackson beat them all handily.

"Three point eight," Schneider yelled after one speedy 90-foot --.

"That's faster than most of the guys in the league right now," Jackson said happily. "I mean, that's not slow-poking around."

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