For Pete's Sake

Thirty years ago, Bo Jackson hit an All-Star Game home run that captivated the nation

Bo Jackson’s favorite moment in sports was striking out

Former Kansas City Royals outfielder Bo Jackson's favorite moment in his sports career was striking out as a member of Royals and being ejected from the game, on the day his daughter was born.
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Former Kansas City Royals outfielder Bo Jackson's favorite moment in his sports career was striking out as a member of Royals and being ejected from the game, on the day his daughter was born.

After a dispiriting top of the first inning at the 1989 All-Star Game, the American League players were greeted in the dugout by Royals pitcher Mark Gubicza.

The National League had jumped to a 2-0 lead in the game, which was played 30 years ago Thursday, but Gubicza assured everyone that his KC teammate Bo Jackson was just the guy to get them back in the game.

As Jack Etkin recounted in his story for the Kansas City Star, Gubicza pointed out Jackson was a great low-ball hitter and NL starter Rick Reuschel relied heavily on his sinkerball.

The AL players were skeptical, but in his first All-Star Game at-bat, Jackson made believers of them when he led off with a booming home run to straight-away center field.

“It was unbelievable,” San Diego Padres star Tony Gwynn said after the game. “Sinker down and in, running in on his hands. He inside-outs it 460 feet. Who else in this league can do that? Who else in baseball can do that? Who else on this earth could do that?”

Former president Ronald Reagan had joined Vin Scully in the broadcast booth and both were astonished to see the ball land on tarp well beyond the center field wall.

This was Jackson’s first and only All-Star Game appearance and he was the leading vote getter as fans wanted a look at the budding legend.

Jackson had made headlines for his play with the Los Angeles Raiders the previous two seasons, including bulldozing Brian Bosworth on a “Monday Night Football” game. Jackson also had started his Royals career by dazzling fans with his ability to, well, do it all.

At that time, however, few had seen Jackson on a regular basis.

Today, fans watch big moments on social media just after they happen, and nearly every NFL and MLB game is available through a cable network or streaming service.

But in 1989, much of the nation didn’t have regular access to Jackson’s two-sport highlights. ESPN first acquired the rights to broadcast Major League Baseball in 1989 and wouldn’t start its “Baseball Tonight” highlight show until a year later.

“Sunday Night Football” and “Thursday Night Football” were years away from being part of the NFL’s schedule.

Cable television was just beginning to represent “a threat to the broadcast networks’ traditional dominance of the industry,” as the New York Times wrote two days before that All-Star Game.

On July 11, 1989, nearly 26 million people tuned to the game (compared with 7 million this year) and saw just what Bo could do.

“After seeing him tonight, now I know what I’ve got to do,” Pirates third baseman Bobby Bonilla told the Los Angeles Times after the game. “I’ve got to go home this winter and put a Nautilus machine in my backyard.”

Dodgers reliever Jay Howell said: “I was literally shell-shocked when I saw that ball go out. I just couldn’t believe he hit it that far.”

And in what may have been the best-time commercial ever, Nike’s iconic “Bo Knows” spot ran during the game. It showed Jackson playing baseball, football, cycling, tennis, lifting weights and ... playing guitar poorly as Bo Diddley shook his head.

The combination of the booming home run and the “Bo Knows” ad helped transform Jackson from a two-sport curiosity into a pop-culture icon in one night.

Jackson did more than power up in the All-Star Game. He later made a dazzling catch and swiped second, the first All-Star to steal a base and hit a homer since Willie Mays in 1962. Not bad for a guy who would rush for 950 yards in just 11 games that fall with the Raiders.

‘’You mean he only does this half a year? What can he do when he goes beyond just sheer talent?’‘ asked Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski, the AL’s honorary captain, in a Chicago Tribune column with the headline, “Question: What Can’t Bo Do?”

The Tribune wasn’t alone in focusing on Jackson. The Dallas Morning News, Washington Post, Hartford Courant, New York Times and Orange County Register all wrote about Jackson that night as the American League rallied for a 5-3 win.

Steve Bisheff of the Register summed up the Bo Jackson Show: “Say hey, Bo. And tell your friend, the other Bo named Diddley, to yuk it up all he wants in that new Nike TV commercial.

“Because the legend keeps growing.

“It’s one thing to make a bunch of flashy runs, then bowl over Brian Bosworth in Seattle. It’s another to walk up to the plate in your first All-Star Game and deposit the second pitch 448 feet away in the center-field bleachers.

“America’s most amazing athlete, the man with Carl Lewis-type speed and Hulk Hogan-like arms, grabbed the 60th version of the midsummer classic by the throat in the early twilight, and he and his American League buddies never let it go.”

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