I Can’t Believe What I Just Saw!: Bo Jackson Knew Baseball

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Baseball produces more unique moments than any other sport. Whether it is the ball disappearing into the catcher’s equipment, a throw from right field that seemingly defies physics, or one of the premier athletes in the history of the sport running up a wall – baseball delivers the moments that have fans yelling “I can’t believe what I just saw!” Dave McCullough brings us back in time and shows that Bo Jackson knew baseball as he performed one of the most impressive athletic feats ever seen on a baseball field.

Ichiro’s laser throw – we might see someone else make a great throw from right field to nab a baserunner at third, but we won’t see exactly that: the slow roll, the graceful charge, the wind-up, the unbelievably straight line of a fastball with almost perfect backspin lancing through the air, so fast it seems to arrive by teleportation. Amazing happens all the time in baseball – and whether it is seven hits in one game,  a ball getting caught inside the catcher’s chest protector, or a fastball that seems to violate the laws of physics, every night something incredible happens.

One of baseball’s legendary makers of magic moments was Bo Jackson, the dual-sport athlete who re-defined the word “athletic” with his exploits on the football field and baseball diamond. Nike built an advertising campaign based on the idea that Bo could do anything:

The campaign was credible only because Jackson seemed like he actually could do anything. His exploits in college as a running back at Auburn were the stuff legends are made of: He won the Heisman trophy in 1985 and was the first overall pick in the 1986 NFL draft. However, he refused to play for the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and instead embarked on a professional baseball career in the Kansas City Royals organization.

Making his major league debut in 1986, Jackson was never a superstar quality baseball player: He hit just .250/.309/.474 in an injury-shortened eight-year career. However, he did have one or two baseball skills:

Yes, he tries to call timeout, is denied, re-sets his hands and then crushes the pitch into the bleachers with a swing that looks easy as Sunday morning. Recently, Chris Coghlan of the Cubs tried to call time, was refused, and then stroked a single to right field. That’s something normal human beings who play baseball can do. Bo was not a normal human being.

He was an immensely powerful player, which also manifested itself in frustration when Bo chased another slider off the plate for a swinging strike three and then reacted like this:

Finally, we come to the most unbelievable thing Bo did on the diamond. One of his supreme athletic gifts was speed – he was fast enough to run away from an entire NFL defense and, apparently out of the stadium – he possessed the kind of second gear that only a blessed few have. He played a good defensive centerfield, using his speed to track balls down in the alleys with the best of them.

On a July night in Baltimore, a ball was driven deep into the left center field gap and something special happened… Bo began sprinting after it and snagged it going full speed just in front of the warning track. Rather than try to arrest his momentum like a normal human being, he did this:

Yep, he ran up the wall like that is something people can do. That is most emphatically not something people can do – some can, but no one has made it look this easy, before or since. The incredible Bo Jackson was never much of a baseball player, but he was an incredible athlete who happened to play baseball – and fans are richer for it.


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Featured image courtesy of Otto Gruele Jr.

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