Once two-sport superstar, Bo now part-time oddity

May 28, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

CHICAGO -- They had come early, and it was a good thing. They got to watch Bo Jackson take batting practice, sweeping at baseballs as if he were holding a broom, not a bat, then making the ball fly out of sight.

The two little boys couldn't stay still because they wanted to sneak under the railing and ask Bo about his shoes and what Bo knows and will he ever play football again.

"Bo's the guy with the fake hip, you know," one little boy said to the other. "It's all metal and stuff and if he slides wrong that thing might break all apart and come through his skin and stuff. That's what my dad said."

Bo Jackson, once a two-sport superstar, has now become a part-time oddity. Football is over. The famous fractured hip that was replaced with synthetics ended that. Baseball was almost over, too. He didn't play last year, but Jackson kept trying and somehow made the Chicago White Sox in spring training. Mostly he's playing against left-handers. Sometimes he spends entire games on the bench, dressed up like an athlete but acting as nothing more than a fidgety cheerleader.

You pay your money now and see the rare and sometimes sullen struggle of a used-to-be superstar trying to be average. And hoping for an occasional moment of brilliance.

"He's taking this real good, like a pro," White Sox manager Gene Lamont said. "Bo does what's best for the team and we use him when it's best for the team. It's an adjustment, of course. This is a guy who never rested before. But now he's a fabulous athlete who must make adjustments. And he's making them."

On this particular afternoon, with the White Sox in first and the Oakland A's in town and the Chicago Bulls all over the radio talk shows and news racks and sportscasts, the two little boys saw Bo take batting practice and nothing else.

Jackson didn't play in Chicago's 6-4 loss to the A's. He sat in the dugout with his knees crossed tightly, his face in a scowl. He watched and he tapped his feet. Sometimes he paced. Sometimes he turned away. "Got nothing to say," Jackson said after the game. "Talk to the guys who played."

Sometimes Jackson does play. He had three home runs in six games two weeks ago. Sometimes he plays in the field, too, chasing down fly balls in that funny, stiff-legged way he runs now.

He won't admit it, won't talk about it, even turns away when it's mentioned, but the little boys are right. Some day that synthetic hip may break apart like his real one did.

That's something else Jackson won't talk about.

"Don't be talking to me about medical stuff," Jackson said. "I'm just a baseball player now. Nothing special. It bugs me when I don't play. It bugs me when I play bad. I don't like to be bugged."

Jackson, 30, is hitting .313 with four homers and eight RBI. He has played in 21 games, sometimes in right field, sometimes in left.

"I'll be a contributor this year, not the star," Jackson said. "I want to do whatever I can to help the rest of these guys. I think about that a lot and I'm comfortable with it."

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