For once, Bo, just don't do it

KEN ROSENTHAL

February 21, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Another day, another first. Bo Jackson touches first base, rounds second, then becomes the first man with an artificial hip to slide headfirst, hurling his body into third.

A half-dozen Chicago White Sox shout with joy.

Fifty fans cheer.

"He's in there!" White Sox coach Eddie Brinkman cries.

Jackson pops up immediately and raises his right hand, as if calling for time.

"He looks proud," someone says.

"He should be proud," White Sox trainer Herm Schneider replies. "Everyone in the world thinks he can't do it."

Actually, most medical experts believe the greatest athlete of our time can play baseball with a hip socket made of plastic and steel. What they question is the wisdom of attempting such a feat.

Jackson, 30, has a wife and three children, ages 2, 4 and 6. It would be a terrible shame if he spends the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Yet, that's the risk he's taking, for no apparent reason but to satisfy his own ego.

Make no mistake, this is the quintessential case of an athlete believing he is immortal. If Jackson shatters his left hip, it can't be repaired as easily as, say, a broken leg. Doctors describe the procedure as infinitely more difficult each time.

Of course, Jackson has his own view.

"Screw the doctors," he says after his workout. "I talk to my own doctors. You tell the doctors when they can find a cure for the common cold, they can come talk to me."

Put that on a Nike billboard.

Not that this is anything new. You say, "Bo can't do it." He says, "Yes, Bo can." Such is the conceit that enabled him to play two sports in the first place. But so often, the quality that defines a star athlete is also his Achilles' heel.

So, here's Jackson, like Icarus, flying too close to the sun. Most hip replacements are performed on the elderly, so they can function without a limp or pain. Many can play golf or ride bicycles. But each is urged to refrain from strenuous activity.

Jackson, though, wants to return to the highest level of competition, consequences be damned. "Anything that's man-made isn't going to last forever," he concedes. "But whether it lasts one more day or 20 years, it doesn't matter."

According to Schneider, Jackson told him, "I understand the risk, but if I feel I can do it, I'll try. It's my hip and I'll do what I want to do." He is not proceeding ignorantly. "He can give a dissertation on the downside to it all," Schneider says.

As always, he wants only to play. He isn't hurting anyone with his arrogance, like Mike Tyson. In fact, watching him perform his daily routine -- diving for balls, running on his toes, sliding on his right side -- is downright inspiring.

Jackson arrives at the White Sox training facility between 8 and 8:30 a.m. for a grueling series of flexibility and range-of-motion exercises. He takes the field at 10, and on this day begins by taking 15 minutes of grounders at first base.

His position would be an issue if his comeback is successful -- Jackson's hip can't endure outfield play, and the White Sox already feature George Bell and Frank Thomas, two slugging DHs. But that's a worry for another time.

A coach hits a sharp one-hopper to first.

"Bring it on, baby," Jackson shouts, "Bring it on!"

The coach rips a line drive over his head.

"I'll get that on game day," Jackson yells.

He looks surprisingly fluid at first, and only the slightest limp is evident when he starts running out bunts.

"Stay tall!" Schneider shouts. "Stay tall!"

Schneider picks the big moment for Jackson to slide, giving him the surprise order as he rounds first base.

Jackson executes his new technique so flawlessly, only the right side of his uniform gets dirty, meaning he protected his left hip.

Later, he challenges a writer to run the bases.

"I've got change in my pocket," the writer says.

"I've got change in my hip," Jackson replies.

And so it goes the entire morning. For the record, Jackson states this actually wasn't his first slide. "I've got some rough kids at home," he says. "We slide up and down the stairs."

Then, examining his body, he says, "I've got my first bruises. Get me a bottle of champagne."

If only there was reason to celebrate.

The man is flirting with disaster.

$ Say it ain't so, Bo.

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