Bo Jackson was one of the most electrifying athletes of the 1980s. How much of a gamble was he for the KC Royals to take?
Watching Bo Jackson play was a treat for both football and baseball fans in the mid-to-late 1980s, and even into the 1990s (although his prime was behind him). In addition to clobbering 109 home runs in five seasons with the KC Royals, Jackson scored 18 total touchdowns as a running back throughout four partial seasons in the NFL. He was a rare breed: a true two-sport athlete.
While Jackson’s career accomplishments in either league may look underwhelming to the naked eye, the fact that he was able to play both sports at the highest level is remarkable. Plenty of NFL players have been drafted to the MLB, but the list of those to actually reach the major leagues is relatively brief. Jackson’s journey with the Royals started in 1986, but it didn’t come without some risk-taking on behalf of the team.
MLB.com recently published an article featuring 10 scouting reports that seemingly predicted the future. Jackson had already been drafted by two teams in the past and still loved football, so it wasn’t certain that he’d commit to baseball and the Royals. Matt Kelly had some high praise for Jackson, noting that although he was a fourth-round pick, he very well could’ve gone higher under different circumstances:
"“Had Jackson never played on the gridiron, he might have been the choice for No. 1 overall. But of course, that was the whole thing that made Bo special. Royals scout Ken Gonzales was effusive in his April 1986 report on Jackson, labeling the Heisman Trophy Award winner the ‘greatest pure athlete in [A]merica today’ and a ‘franchise-type player’ who ‘can do it all.'”"
Gonzales’ scouting report gave Jackson a 7-rating, classified as “very good,” in three different categories: power, running speed and range. That seemed consistent with what we saw with the KC Royals, as he averaged 27 home runs per season between 1987-1990. Jackson also swiped 78 bags during that span and made numerous highlight plays in the outfield. His arm strength was rated a 6 at the time of the report, but highlighted as a potential 7 in the future. We all know how that story ended:
The report carried a positive undertone overall, but Gonzales covered his bases. He alluded to Jackson possibly not fully committing to baseball and said, “He is a real GAMBLE.” At a fourth-round draft slot, it’s safe to say the gamble paid off for the most part in the form of some of the most entertaining baseball the KC Royals have seen in their history.
Bo Jackson wasn’t just a player — he was an experience. He made up the best power-hitting outfield duo in franchise history. His highlight plays made national news. While the hip injury he suffered as a member of the Raiders may have derailed his athletic career, he still managed to leave his mark beforehand. There will never be another athlete exactly like him.
Bo knows. Now you do, too.