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Bo Jackson, The Baseball Reality

By Mike Silva ~ December 9th, 2012. Filed under: MLB, NFL.

According to Bo Jackson, football was just a hobby he did in the offseason. In reality, it was baseball that should have been a hobby.

Jackson was featured last night on the latest ESPN “30 for 30″ called “You Don’t Know Bo.” It took me down memory lane as I saw clips of the famous “Bo Knows” Nike commercial, his 1989 All-Star Game home run and even his exploits in the old Tecmo Bowl video game.

There were many highlights in both Jackson’s baseball and football career. He was an athlete above all else, one which featured beating Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide in the Iron Bowl, running over Brian Bosworth during Monday Night Football, the aforementioned All-Star homer, his throw from the outfield wall in Seattle and the freak injury during a Raiders’’ playoff game that ended his football career. The piece also highlighted how Bo, along with Michael Jordan, was one of the pioneers of Nike’s marketing and branding through commercials that focused on his unique personality. What you didn’t see was that Jackson probably picked the wrong sport. Although he was, at times, a borderline All-Star in baseball, he would have best been served at being a full-time football player.

For as much of a specimen Jackson was on the baseball field, he was a high-strikeout, low average home run hitter. His best season, 1989, saw him strikeout 172 times to just 39 walks.  Today, his career .309 OBP would overshadow any of his muscles or athletic plays on the field. From 1986-1990, there were 141 players with a higher Wins Above Replacement than Jackson. Among them were Brett Butler, Mike Greenwell and current Mets third base coach Tim Teufel. None of those individuals had national commercials or an ESPN documentary made about them.

Remember, we were in the infancy of cable television. Anecdotal stories were still the main thesis of sports reporting for both the electronic and print media. Bill James and his advanced stats were better known amongst Strat-O-Matic players. Today, he might be called one of the most overrated players of that time period. Breaking bats over your knee or climbing the outfield wall like Spiderman is nice, but doesn’t mean you an All-Star, much less on track for the Hall-of-Famer. It certainly doesn’t justify the big commercials and being among the highest paid players in the game.

On the football side Jackson was far more impressive. He was twelfth in rushing during his brief four-year career. When you average yards-per-game Jackson raises all the way up to fourth, averaging 73.  With that said, Jackson never played a full NFL season thanks to baseball, thus his highest rushing total was 950 yards in 1989. If he chose football, It is far more likely he could have had a career like Barry Sanders. In baseball he profiles more like Mark Reynolds with speed, which is a far cry from the hype he was given during that time. He chose the wrong sport, and probably for the wrong reasons, as he was angry at the Tampa Bay Bucs for their role in this NCAA violation that made him ineligible to play college baseball his senior year.

When it is all said and done, Jackson was an outstanding college football player that came into the sports scene during a commercial explosion. We have seen others like Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan attempt to play in the NFL and MLB, with both ultimately choosing the sport they were better suited to play. You can’t deny the difficulty in making it to the highest level of competition in any sport. Making it in multiple sports is rare indeed. His popularity was more about his athleticism than anything he accomplished during either professional career.

I am not trying to smear Jackson, as we probably will never again see someone win the Heisman Trophy, All-Star Game MVP and perform as an elite NFL running back. That doesn’t mean the legacy of said player should be accentuated. Bo never mastered either sport since he admittedly told WFAN earlier this year that he viewed sports as a job. That mentality probably held him back from being an all-time great.

Bo Jackson could have been a Hall-of-Fame NFL running back. In baseball, he was nothing more than another high-strikeout power hitter in an era full of them. If we had the knowledge of what makes a good ballplayer courtesy of some modern day statistical theories and common sense, Bo Jackson probably would be treated with as much skepticism as another Kansas City Royals outfielder – Jeff Francoeur.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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