He sits on a bookshelf, in between Tom Seaver and Ryne Sandberg, just in front of a brick from Wrigley Field and my first ever catcher’s mitt, autographed by Ted Simmons. A Bo Jackson Donruss baseball card, dated 1988, with edges as crisp as fresh cut steel, with a blue and red border that still shows the dust from the bubble gum that came in the pack, crisp, chalky, it probably gave off a crack when you snapped it and put it in your lip as you took center field, ready to rob a home run when the clean up batter stepped up to the plate. Crouched down, your hand and glove placed on your knees as you guard your field, aware, diligent, immersed in the game and ready to settle the score.
A similar crack is what Buck O’Neil heard when he watched Bo hit. A crack he said he had only heard from two other bats in his entire life: Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson. Bo swung with such force and speed, the same force and speed that ended his career. When Bo dislocated his hip and broke a blood vessel, he was running and was stopped dead in his tracks by a lucky Cincinnati Bengal tackle. Dr. James Andrews said if Bo were any other athlete, he gets up after the tackle, heads to the huddle, and takes another handoff. But Bo ran with such sheer power and velocity, vicious strength that was god-like, that when he was stopped mid-run, his power basically broke his body. He was Achilles on a playing field, not a mere mortal, but another entity not of this world that moved with grace and ferocity, beauty and brutality, and it was this deistic destruction that made him and ended him. He ran over Brian Bosworth one week and gunned down Harold Reynolds from the warning track the next. He jumped over Volkswagens and killed boars with rocks, did backflips in waist deep water and dunked sticks. He’s the greatest athlete we’ve ever seen and could do things we’ve never seen.
Happy Birthday Bo Jackson. The greatest athlete that ever lived.