Vintage Bo: He only does the impossible


April 21, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

Finished with his stretching exercises, finished with his jogging, finished with his game of soft toss, Bo Jackson headed for the dugout. A battery of notebooks and minicams followed, gathering in a knot around Bo as he took a seat on the bench.

This is how Bo wants it as he makes his first tour around the American League as the medical miracle: a quick group interview before the first game in a new town, the assumption being that he will be left alone after that.

Left alone to be just another ballplayer, which he wants to be and never will.

"Five minutes, people," a White Sox official shouted after everyone had jostled into position.

There was an awkward moment of silence waiting for someone to volunteer the first question. Bo finally spoke up.

"No, no, no, no, yes, no, yes, yes, no," he said.

He knew all the answers. Knew all the questions. Knew them before they were asked. How could he not? The questions don't change from city to city. How's the hip feel, Bo? Any pain, Bo? How hard d'you work, Bo? How'd you do it, Bo? Really, how?

It's funny. He's a bit player on a talented young club with several major stars, and baseball's code of conduct frowns on such reservists stealing much pub. But baseball's code of conduct never counted on an artificial hip making the ballclub.

Bo was a scene-stealer long before this, of course. You know the deal. He was the Heisman Trophy outfielder. The home run halfback. A two-sport super nova turned cross-training pop hero. Maybe it's true he should have picked one sport, but he was never anything less than a thrill in both. A 450-foot homer leading off the All-Star Game. A 90-yard sideline sprint on "Monday Night Football." Two stars, one person.

He thrived on a single sentence: "You can't do that." Can't play two sports. Can't have your cake and eat it, too. Can't start ringing up 100-yard games after skipping the first half of the season. Can't spend the baseball winter in shoulder pads instead of in a batting cage looking at curveballs.

To all that skepticism, Jackson offered performances and accomplishments that said simply: "Yes I can."

But then he got hurt and contracted a bone disease and wound up with an artificial left hip, and it turns out all that other stuff was just the opening act. There had been other two-sport stars, after all. Bo wasn't the original. But a major-leaguer with an artificial hip? Get serious. All together now: You can't do that.

"Have you set any goals for the season?" someone asked him yesterday in the batting practice shadows.

"I have reached the goal that I had set," Bo said.

He has proved everyone wrong. Doctors. Therapists. General XTC managers. Sportswriters. The war is over. Bo has won. He has made it back to the majors with a plastic hip. He has quashed the notion that there is anything in the world, anything, that he can't do. What if he said he could fly? Wouldn't you hesitate before you said no?

"How hard did you work to make it back?" someone asked.

"If you combined all the years that I'd been playing sports," Bo said, "and compacted it into a year, that's it. Twenty-three years compacted into one. That's how hard I worked."

It was a 24-hour job. There was a certain way he had to sleep. A certain way he had to walk. A certain way he had to take a shower. A certain way he had to get in a car. When it rained or snowed, he couldn't go outside. Then there were hundreds of hours of therapy and workouts, building up muscles, developing coordination, a solitary obsession.

"I always knew I could make it back," he said. "I knew it even before the operation. And I especially knew after the operation, when my kids started using me as a human sled."

Now the circumstances are turned around. Now everyone else is obsessed with his hip, and he's on to the next item on his agenda, whatever that may be. He's finished with the hip. He has made it back. He has hit the fairy-tale homer in his first at-bat. He still has to work out every day, but he did that, anyway. The hip? It's fine. And yours?

"Maybe it's amazing to some people, but not to me," he said. "I don't even think about it. I can slide on it. Whatever. I can't run as fast as I used to, but I can still outrun anyone standing here with a microphone. It's just not that difficult."

There was a time when he wanted to be the biggest and fastest and strongest man in two uniforms. Now he's happy just to be wearing one. Just another ballplayer. Yet so much more than that.

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