How good was Bo Jackson in his prime?

I didn’t grow up watching Bo Jackson play in his prime. For those who did, how good was he? I know I could just watch a video of his highlights, but it’s not the same as actually watching him perform live on TV or in person.

He was great and if he had stayed healthy and dropped football could have been on his way to the Hall of Fame.

I was in my 20s when he was playing, and watched him frequently, in both sports.

He was better in football, IMO, at least from what we saw before his injury. As a running back, he had a ridiculous combination of speed, strength, and moves. He could make people miss, run over them, or just flat-out outrun them. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry, in a league where a 5.0 average is exceptional.

In baseball, he was a massively strong hitter, though he also struck out a lot, and didn’t hit for a big average (lifetime .250 hitter). His speed made him dangerous on the basepaths, and gave him excellent range in the outfield. I think that, as @What_Exit notes, he could have been even more productive had he focused on baseball, and not spent part of the year training for (and playing) football. More training in baseball likely could have helped him to improve his batting average, and cut down on the strikeouts.

Also to note: he played part-time in the major leagues for three seasons after suffering the devastating hip injury in an NFL playoff game in early 1991. In '91, he played in 23 games for the White Sox, essentially on one leg, and had his hip replaced after that season. After taking a year to rehabilitate from that surgery, he played in 160 games across '93 and '94, despite playing on an artificial hip, and hit 29 home runs across those seasons.

Nobody in MLB struck out more than him in '89 and, AFICT, only six players on the all-time single season list struck out more before that season – with one tie.

He also inspired one of Nike’s greatest commercials.

He had excellent PR that’s for sure! I was a tween during his heyday and he owned the marketing world with his ad campaigns. He also owned the pages of Sports Illustrated Kids, to which I had a subscription. He was really marketed to kids - I am a huge Cleveland baseball fan and Bo is the only player I’ve ever had a poster of!

I actually enjoyed him more as a football player than baseball. I just loved to watch him plow through other players! Probably why my favorite Browns players have always been running backs.

Really Bo Jackson was like the biggest star of the late 80s. I didn’t even know how good he was, he was just fun. And, thankfully, he is an upstanding citizen!

But one thing for sure, he didn’t know Diddley.

Jeff Pearlman, an excellent sportswriter, has just finished writing a biography of Jackson. I think it’s scheduled for release in the fall, which is coming up fast. I haven’t read it, but I’ve read several others by Pearlman, and they’re all terrific.

Um, I posted that a half hour previously. #ninjaclaim

I remember him frequently breaking the bat over his knee after striking out, and thinking “That can’t be good for your legs.”

I was lucky enough to see him play in one of his first games with the Kansas City Royals, and he crushed a foul ball way up into the upper deck. If it had been a little straighter, he would have hit it out of the park. The next night he did just that.


And this.

As a Royals fan, I watched Bo as much as possible. The guy was absolutely phenomenal in all facets of the game. He was so damn fast that any infield ground ball was a potential base hit. As a Royals fan, I hated Bo playing for the Raiders.

As a Chiefs fan, I hated Bo playing for the Raiders. Of course, the Chiefs weren’t very good when Bo was playing, so it didn’t much matter.

My all-time favorite play by Mr. Jackson. This is one of the best outfield throws you’ll ever see. (And, yes, the runner was out at the plate, even if there was no umpire close enough to see it.)

Dude absolutely crushed it at Tecmo Bowl.

I saw him play left field for the Royals. He had excellent speed and a tremendous throwing arm–I swear he launched a throw from the warning track to home plate.

It was pretty clear that Willie Wilson hated him–Wilson called Bo off every fly ball and critiqued Jackson’s outfield play with gestures and facial expressions that were obvious from the cheap seats.

ETA: Ninja’d somewhat by Railer13

My favorite play by Bo is this:

Bo was UNREAL in his prime. It must have been a real treat to watch him back in the day.

I loved the Bo Diddley ad, but always wondered how many of his viewers actually to the pun or knew who Bo Diddley was?

Bo, as spectacular a player as he was, had no real chance of going to the baseball Hall, in this timeline at least, with his late start and lack of fundamental polish. Despite his speed and arm he was a net negative in the field and only broke even on the basepaths. Hitting-wise his on-base percentage was very low-until his final pre-injury season. He had no real chance at reaching any career milestones.

Now, if he had gone through amateur and minor-league ball* like most typical players do, and got started at age 20-21 with a lot more seasoning yeah he would definitely have had a shot, and we all would have likely been awestruck at what he would have done. In this timeline the football Hall was much more realistic (if he had stuck with the gridiron full-time of course).

As Bill James (Royals fan) once observed about him, baseball isn’t a spectacle, like say pro wrestling.

[*If so he probably would have skipped the minors Dave Winfield style tho.]

But Bo don’t know THAT!

Bo Jackson was such a tremendous athlete he could and would make extraordinary plays every game. On the other hand, he made fundamental mistakes in the field, on the basepaths, and in the batters box and was a wild swinger, to put it mildly. He didn’t seem to have a feel for the game.

Football was really his game.

The fact that he was able to play in the MLB means that he was still pretty good at baseball.

I have no doubt if he had been playing baseball since he was a kid, he would have absolutely excelled at it.

I’m a bit confused with these two statements.

According to the Wikipedia page on Bo, he played baseball in both high school and college. Presumably, then, he played baseball as a child. It’s not like he started playing baseball when he was drafted by the Royals. He played 2+ seasons for Auburn; he was injured one year and then declared ineligible halfway through his senior season. There are a number of professional players who played college ball and then went pro, spending a short time in the minors before being called up.

Granted, he was also playing football during his amateur career, and it certainly would have made a huge difference if he had chosen one sport over the other.

BTW, that Wiki page also described his performance in the decathlon while in high school:

Both times that he was the decathlon state champion, he built up such a commanding points lead before the 1500 meters that he never competed in that event.