Monday, January 31, 2011
Bo knows Amazing
As you know, I've been writing about the Wing of Amazing (italicized because it's just that awesome), with three nominations so far: Omar Vizquel, Jamie Moyer, and Jim Abbott. Additionally, a blogger nominated Billy Wagner (I'm sympathetic, but not convinced).
Sometimes you're too close to something to remember it, and that's what happened with me and Bo Jackson.
When Bo ... for a few years, "Bo" was all you needed to say ... when Bo debuted in 1986, there might not have been a more passionate Royals fan in Kansas than yours truly. And while I was smart enough to separate the hype from the performance, it was impossible to not be utterly captivated by the things that he did.
Bo Jackson was the Babe Ruth of our time. Bo didn't know enough to know you weren't supposed to do those things ... so he did them. He didn't know you weren't supposed to run up the outfield wall, so he did it. He didn't know you weren't supposed to routinely snap baseball bats like toothpicks, so he did it. He didn't know you weren't supposed to throw out speedy runners like Harold Reynolds from the warning track, so he did it. He didn't know you weren't supposed to excel at the highest levels of both baseball and football, so he did it. He didn't know you weren't supposed to hit a bunch of home runs with an artificial hip, so he did it.
There were so many things. As a fan, though, there will always be one game for me. In Bo's first two full seasons, 1987 and '88, he did plenty of amazing things but wasn't much of a baseball player. In 1989, though, he broke through: 32 home runs -- plus another to lead off the All-Star Game -- and 105 RBI, even got a few points in the MVP balloting. He might have been the most famous American athlete before, but now it looked like he might become a superstar by the numbers, too.
Would he improve again in 1990?
He would. And there was one particular game in 1990 that captured everything that Bo was about. It was the 17th of July, and the Royals were visiting Yankee Stadium. Bo was in center field for the Royals. Deion Sanders was in center field for the Yankees. Bo had been the first player to try his hand at the NFL and Major League Baseball; Sanders was the second. Bo didn't like to talk much; you couldn't get "Neon Deion" to shut up.
In the first inning, Bo hit a home run over Deion's head.
In the third inning, Bo hit a home run over Deion's head.
In the fifth inning, Bo went the other way with a home run in the right-field stands.
The Royals were up 8-4 after five innings, and Bo had knocked in seven runs. Deion had batted three times. The first two times, he'd been out on fly balls to Bo in center field. His third time up, he gave up on trying to get one past Bo and dragged a bunt single.
In the bottom of the sixth, Deion came up with two outs and a runner on third base. He wasn't bunting this time. Mel Stottlemyre (Jr.) got too much of the plate, and Deion laced a line drive toward the gap in right-center field. Bo didn't know you weren't supposed to fly, so he did it. The problem was the landing. Bo couldn't reach Sanders' drive, and he couldn't stick the landing. Instead, he separated his shoulder, Deion circled the bases, and Bo spent the next six weeks on the DL.
And his first at-bat upon returning to the lineup? A fourth straight home run. And two more in the next three games. Bo actually hit better after the injury than he had before. I won't suggest that Bo was heading for the Hall of Fame, but then again I don't know that I would have bet against him. The more he figured out the things you were supposed to do in baseball, the better he got.
Of course, that didn't happen. Football killed Bo's baseball career, as it's killed so many football careers (including his). We'll never know what he might have done.
Last week, I sort of wondered to myself if Jim Abbott should have been the first nominee for the Wing of Amazing, but now I'm wondering if it should have been Bo Jackson. Vizquel's amazing for his longevity, and Moyer too. Abbott's amazing because he was able to thrive for a few years despite having just the one hand. In a sense, each of those players is sort of singularly amazing. But Bo Jackson was all-around amazing, to the point where his amazing-ness seemed almost normal.
It wasn't. It wasn't normal at all. We'd never seen anyone like him before, we haven't seen anyone like him since, and I suspect we'll never see anyone like him again. And if you didn't get to see him, I feel sorry for you. Because you would have been amazed, again and again.
Postscript: Oh, right. This is the YouTube Era. Here. Be amazed. You're welcome.
A Quick Programming Note ...
Fifteen years ago, I moved to Seattle to work for a company called Starwave. The company did a lot of things, but I was hired -- and this might surprise you -- mostly to edit fantasy-related content for a website called ESPNet.SportsZone.com; a few years later, we became the ESPN.com that everyone knows and loves so well.
Frankly, it's a minor miracle that I've been here ever since. I was the new guy, didn't know how I was supposed to behave, and somewhat routinely ran afoul of my bosses and their bosses. I owe a great deal to their good graces, and I'm sorry I can't thank everyone who's allowed me to do what I love for so long. I will toss extra hosannas to Geoff Reiss, David Schoenfield, and David Kull, for reasons they know only too well. Collectively, they're No. 2 on the all-time list.
You're No. 1.
Whether you've been reading my ramblings since 1996 or just since last week, you have my profound, impossible-to-express-in-words gratitude. There is not a working writer on Earth who's more grateful than I for his readers. Without you, I would have nothing.
Today, I hand off this space to whoever's next. I don't know yet who is next, but I'm highly confident that this blog and the SweetSpot Network will soon be in excellent hands.
Meanwhile, I'll be around. The kids tell me it's all about search these days. You won't have to search real hard to find me, if you want.
Happy trails, until we meet again.