Monday, June 6, 2011

Bo Jackson, who could have been the greatest baseball player ever.

Bo Jackson, who won a Heisman Trophy while playing football at Auburn, was a 4th-round selection by the Kansas City Royals in 1986.
"Back before I injured my hip, I thought going to the gym was for wimps."
Bo Jackson

"He hit the ball so hard, I couldn't even turn around in time to see it go over the fence."
Roger Clemens after Bo Jackson hit his 93 MPH fast ball over the right center field fence for his first home run of the 1989 season.

Art Stewart, who became a baseball scout in 1953, still has one of the sharpest minds in the game today.
The former Kansas City Royals scouting chief can easily recite backstories of draft picks of long ago, right down to which scouts were on the trail and to what lengths they went.

One of his favorite memories happened 25 years ago, and Stewart thinks about it every year when the Major League Baseball amateur draft rolls around, as it will tonight in New York City.
And it all began with a phone call from an agent -- two hours before the 1986 draft was to get under way.
"The guy said, 'This is Richard Woods,'" Stewart recalled, "and he said, 'If Bo plays baseball, he wants to sign with the Kansas City Royals.'"
That would be Bo Jackson, who could have been the greatest baseball player ever.
But that's not why Stewart likes to tell this.
To him, it's a scouting story. A tribute, really.
That is, to those who spend more time traveling the back roads than sitting at the family dinner table and size up high school and college players, all in an effort to make their front-office executives well-prepared for draft day.
The Royals, of course, eventually signed the two-sport star to a $1 million contract, but only after drafting Bo in the fourth round.
Most adults over the age of 35 know the rest well: He made his big-league debut three months later, touching off a career in which Bo cracked bats over his massive thighs when he wasn't hitting tape-measure home runs -- or running up outfield walls as if he was Spider-Man -- and was the first athlete to be named an all-star in two major sports, Major League Baseball and the NFL.
If only a hip injury while playing in the NFL playoffs in 1990 hadn't cut short his career ...
But Bo made almost all of those highlights in a Royals uniform, thanks to Stewart believing in one of his scouts and selling the idea to a skeptical boss, general manager John Schuerholz.
"I said, 'I know, John,'" said Stewart, now a senior adviser to the team's latest GM, Dayton Moore. "But I kept telling him, 'Kenny Gonzales has spent seven years getting to know Bo and his mom. They've got to be telling him the truth.'"

The scout

Royals scout Kenny Gonzales was responsible for several southern states, including Alabama.
He was 41 and a father of three who had grown up in East St. Louis, Ill., and then climbed the small-college coaching ladder before becoming a scout in 1979.
"He was the first one who found Bo when he was a freshman in high school," Stewart said.
Naturally, Stewart is proud of this, since he himself got his start as territorial scout in 1953 for the New York Yankees before joining Kansas City in 1969.
"Kenny found out that Bo's mom worked at the Ramada Inn (in Bessemer, Ala.), and he stayed there all the time," Stewart said "He found out when she took her coffee breaks."
Gonzales shared the story with his sons before he died in 1994. He had gotten a tip from Bo's high school coach before Jackson's freshman year.
"He went the extra mile to get to know Bo," said Colin Gonzales, 27, a Royals scout himself. "He was like that. He would leave Kansas City and stop at every barbecue stand in every town and sit down with their baseball coach."
Said Stewart, "He got to know (Bo's mom) well. And he was getting important information -- and the truth."
The truth was that Jackson's mom wanted Bo to become the first of her eight children to go to college and earn a degree, as the Royals came to learn.
The family held firm, despite the Yankees drafting Bo in the second round in 1982 and again in 1985 after the then-California Angels made him a 20th-round selection.
But even in 1986, no scouting department truly knew Bo's intentions and did not want to burn a high draft selection.
Bo had won the Heisman Trophy in the fall semester at Auburn University, only to be drafted by the NFL's lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Besides that, Bo had not played baseball since late March after the NCAA rule him ineligible for accepting an extra benefit, a ride on the private jet of Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse.
"Bo was pretty much untouchable," said Marty Maier, a former Cardinals scout who also covered the South in the 1980s. "Trying to get a word with him or trying to get information" was difficult.

Draft room

Nevertheless, Stewart was uneasy after the phone call, and for several reasons.
For instance:
» Eight of the first 103 selections belonged to the division rival Angels, with the Royals' fourth selection not until No. 105.
» Stewart also learned the Angels had dispatched future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson to Alabama to make a sales pitch.
» Plus, Bo had been non-committal after Stewart dropped him off at his hotel following a workout weeks earlier in Kansas City.
"Woods said, 'We appreciate everything,'" Stewart said. "But that was it. He didn't even say, 'You'll hear from us.'"
The first three rounds came and went, and Bo remained on the board.
In the fourth round, the Angels selected Paul Sorrento at No. 103 and the Cardinals took left-hander Mark Guthrie at No. 104.
"I finally said to my people," Stewart said, "'You know, if we blow the fourth-round pick, the franchise isn't going to fold.'
"And so I announced that, 'The Royals take Vincent Edward Jackson, otherwise known as Bo Jackson.' You could've heard a pin drop."
Bo was introduced at a news conference on June 21, and the team also flew in Gonzales.
Owner Ewing Kauffman and his wife were there, and so too was co-owner Avron Fogelman.
When Gonzales entered the room ...
"Bo's mom burst out of the line and wrapped her arms around him. Kenny was 6-1, 190 pounds, and she lifted him off the floor and gave him a big hug," Stewart said. "That's when Fogelman leaned over to Kauffman and said, 'That's what scouting's all about, isn't it?'"


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