It’s hard to imagine a more perfect athlete than Bo Jackson.
He was an All-Pro running back in the NFL. He was an all-star baseball outfielder. Athletics may actually have been his best sport. It could, yes, do a double front flip dive alongside some of Auburn’s best colleges. It was as if he had been created in an underground sports lab, mixing and matching every single skill to dominate the rest of the sports world.
And those qualities were present even in his teenage years at McAdory High in Alabama. He was a winning decathlete, he ran for more than 1,000 yards during his senior dash and then hit a record 20 home runs in 25 games during his senior spring.
Bo Jackson tried to steal 91 bases in high school… but could only steal 90.
He was caught stealing. How did someone catch Bo Jackson stealing? Who would ever dare catch Bo stealing? What man, what superman, could have mustered the incredible courage and strength to accomplish such a feat?
“It had to be perfect,” Sam Doss, a former Jess Lanier High School catcher, said in a call. “Otherwise you wouldn’t get him. The ball hit Darrell McKinney’s glove and he slipped inside.”
Growing up near Bo, Alabama, Sam Doss had plenty of experience watching and playing with the multisport star. They were on a summer ball team together – Bo played shortstop and Doss played center. But when Bo went on the pitch, the coach got Doss to catch, perhaps because he was “just good at catching the ball.”
“He might throw it,” Doss recalled. “Sometimes he threw it over the fence because it slipped out of his hands. He could catch a ball in the middle, take a step and throw it to first base at 100 miles per hour. He was just such a good athlete.”
Doss had even once seen his friend somehow sneak home when the catcher had the ball and Bo was still halfway down the third baseline.
“I’ve never seen anyone that fast,” Doss said.
Of course, Bo wasn’t just showing off his skills at baseball.
Doss played Bo in football and said he might be a bit difficult to cram. He ran in one direction, stopped, and then ran in a completely different direction. Jackson was also a track star with McAdory, winning two state titles in the decathlon. Doss says Bo used to run the 50m, 100m and 220m successively, and win every single one. The way he describes his speed is like something out of a fairy tale.
“You could hear the wind as he ran,” Doss told me. “You know, like when you’re in a car. He was that fast. I think he would have given [Usain] Bolt a run for his money. I honestly believe that.”
Well, that’s what Doss had to try and throw at the bases that day in 1981: a man of a speed and skill you might see once in a lifetime.
When Bo drew a walk that day in 1981, Doss knew Bo would walk because “he swiped on the first seat every time.” The former catcher described everything as if it happened yesterday.
“I went upstairs [pitcher] Gary Gilmore and said, ‘Keep it low and I’ll get her,'” Doss recalled. “I had thrown pretty well and felt pretty good. He took off the first pitch and I just threw it down there and boom.”
Doss said Bo wasn’t too angry or down about it. The McAdory runabout just laughed at that and headed back to the dugout. But Bo might have saved that anger and vengefulness for his next punch.
“Yeah, the next ball we threw him he hit about 475 feet,” laughed Doss.
At Roosevelt Park, where the two teams competed, there were two large oak trees behind the center field fence. Bo hit it past these, a place where balls rarely traveled. It kinda sounds like Bo’s first-ever homer in the majors. This one also went 475 feet. But this, back in ’81, Bo did when he was 17.
“It was an unbeatable ball,” said Doss. “He was in the back of the box and it was low and out. Gary threw it perfectly. But he took two little stuttering steps and *whack* to midfield.”
Doss said Bo was a friendly, quiet guy back then, but as he crossed home plate after the homer, to compare all Superstars, the future Superstar gave his opponent a small smile and nod before walking back his side of the field.
Doss let out a reply that most people who’ve ever watched Bo do anything in the next 20 years have probably uttered countless times.