KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just wait.
That’s what former Royals general manager John Schuerholz told anyone and everyone around baseball in the weeks leading up to the 1989 All-Star Game.
Just wait until you see what Bo Jackson can do.
Certainly, Jackson had gained attention as a star running back with the Oakland Raiders and as a Royals outfielder. Kansas City saw his amazing athleticism, so it was no surprise when Jackson was voted as a starter for the ’89 All-Star Game in Anaheim.
But this was in the days before YouTube, “Baseball Tonight” and instant highlights on your phone, so the nation didn’t really know about the Jackson phenomenon.
“I remember talking to my friends and associates throughout the industry who had seen some highlights of Bo,” Schuerholz said. “I said, ‘Just watch batting practice.’ And if he happens to turn around and bat left-handed, watch what he can do.”
Jackson didn’t disappoint.
The National League had scored twice in the first inning and was threatening for more when Jackson showed off his blazing speed in tracking down a Pedro Guerrero liner that would have brought in two more runs.
In the bottom of the first, Jackson flexed his muscle.
Oakland manager Tony La Russa had installed Jackson as the leadoff hitter, and he crushed a pitch from Giants starter Rick Reuschel an estimated 448 feet to center field.
“It was a Bo Jackson home run,” Schuerholz said. “It had distance, it had height, it had carry, it had drama, it had sound. It had all of that, that Bo’s home runs seemed to have when he hit them. They were meaningful, they were jaw-dropping. They were astounding in their shape and their form and their distance. That’s what he did.”
Many of the participants that day remember what they heard as much as what they saw.
“I thought the ball sounded like it was hit like a golf ball,” former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda told ESPN two years ago. “That thing went way out to deep center field, like it was shot out of a cannon.”
Boston’s Wade Boggs followed with another home run, and the game was tied 2-2. Fittingly, as fans buzzed about Jackson’s moon shot, Nike’s “Bo Knows” advertisement with musician Bo Diddley aired during the commercial break.
There was more to come.
In the bottom of the second, Jackson came to the plate with runners on the corners and one out.
Facing the Braves’ John Smoltz, Jackson grounded to short. The National League tried turning a double play, but Jackson beat the throw to first and a run scored to make it 3-2. Jackson then stole second base and moved to third when Benito Santiago’s throw was off the mark. Jackson was stranded at third when Wade Boggs popped out.
In the fourth inning, Jackson singled, which is noteworthy because it was the last hit by a Royals player in an All-Star Game. Jackson struck out in the sixth, but it didn’t diminish his amazing game for which he won the MVP award.
“Those are moments that stand out, that you remember,” recalled former Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, who was on the National League squad. “For the people of Kansas City, you’re always cheering for your player to do well, and when they are fortunate to do well, it’s a big moment, it’s a big moment for the city, because everyone feels a part of it.”
After that game, Jackson became a household name.
Former Royals pitcher Mark Gubicza told ESPN he remembered flying to New York with Jackson after the All-Star Game to meet up with the rest of the team. Gubicza was stunned when the pilot left the cockpit for an autograph from Jackson.
The Bo Jackson Show was underway.
“People following the game already knew what he could do,” former All-Star second baseman Harold Reynolds told USA Today in 2010, “but that was a coming-out party for the rest of the world. He did things no one has ever seen before. We talk about Stephen Strasburg and LeBron James and all of the hype with those guys. Can you imagine if Bo Jackson played now what the hype would be?”
It was the only All-Star Game of Jackson’s career, but it was one of the most memorable performances of a remarkable career. As is often the case, broadcaster Vin Scully got it just right with his description of Jackson’s first-inning home run: “Look at that one! Bo Jackson says hello!”
Hello to the country, which quickly fell in love with Jackson, the two-sport star who could do anything — if you believe the commercials.
Of course, everyone in Kansas City already knew what Jackson could do.
“I was happy to show the world what he could do on that stage and glad for us and proud that he represented us,” Schuerholz said. “He was a Royal and I still say he was a Hall of Famer.
“He’s the best athlete I’ve ever seen in my 47 years of professional baseball in a major-league baseball uniform.”
“People following the game already knew what he could do, but that was a coming-out party for the rest of the world. He did things no one has ever seen before.”