Yesterday – the same day Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski revisited his list of the Twenty Greatest Home Runs Ever Hit – an Auburn coed walked up to the “Turn Your Back on Crack” poster I hung up in The Gnu’s Room and asked “why is Bo Jackson wearing a baseball uniform?”
Date: Sometime in 1985
Hitter: Bo Jackson
Why it was great: My good friend Tommy Tomlinson tells it best — he was there. He says that there was a big crowd of Georgia fans at Foley Field, there to mock Bo Jackson for playing baseball. They brought out footballs, they were signaling football penalties, they were laughing at Bo. As we’ve pointed out here, you don’t mock Bo. His first time up, first pitch, Bo hit a home run that — well, even years later, Bo would say that for one only two times in his life he was so locked in he actually saw the stitches on the ball clearly enough to count them.
Tommy says there is no way to describe just how hard he hit that ball. The best he could do is say that as soon as Bo hit it, there was an instant sound in the crowd that was like “OOF” — something like that sound you hear on television shows when someone gets hit in the stomach. And then there was silence. Dead silence. Crickets stopped chirping. Birds stopped singing. It was so quiet, you could hit Bo’s spikes scraping dirt. It was like the silence at the end of the movie ‘Babe.” And then, suddenly, everybody in Georgia just started cheering and bowing to the man.
Bo hit two more home runs that day.
Between the post and the comments, Bo’s name comes up six times in Posnanski’s list.
Here’s the full-bodied version of the Athens sonic boom from the fantastic Bo chapter of Posnanski’s The Soul of Baseball*:
The Georgia crowd hooted and taunted Bo Jackson as he stood in the batter’s box, looking all out of place. You have to understand that there is plenty of bad blood between the kids at Georgia and the kids at Auburn. They are not rivals, exactly – Auburn already has Alabama and/or Tennessee, Georgia already has Florida and/or Georgia Tech. But one good thing about Southern football schools – the fans have plenty of animosity to spread around, and there’s more passion in Georgia-Auburn than there is in most rivalries across America.
“Wrong field, Bo!” a few Georgia fans taunted … this was the perfect time and place to get in a few shots at Bo. Nobody messed with Bo on the football field. He was a phenomenon there – he was bigger, stronger, faster than anyone. He averaged 7.7 yards per carry as a sophomore, and later, in his Heisman Trophy senior season, he once gained 100-plus yards in a game when he had two broken ribs. Georgia fans may not like Auburn any more than Auburn fans like Georgia – but both sides respect football greatness when they see it.
But this was Bo on the baseball field, and that was a different thing. The fans hooted and mocked – a couple had brought footballs they waved. Bo never looked particularly at ease in the batter’s box; his batting stance was always a jangle of nerves. The first pitch, Bo swung and missed by three feet, and that taunting went up another level, laughter mixed in, poor Bo, poor misplaced Bo, what was he doing out there?
Bo Jackson hit the next pitch 550 feet.
Actually, nobody knows exactly how far Bo hit it – they only know it was the longest ball ever hit at the University of Georgia. It might have been 500 feet, it might have been 4000 feet, but the distance didn’t matter. Bo Jackson hit the longest home run any of those kids had ever seen.
And there was silence. Eerie, stunned, pitch silence. Bo ran around the bases in that silence. By the time he reached third base, the college had snapped out of their state of shock and they finally reacted. They started cheering and bowing to Bo Jackson.
“Because he was also a really good baseball player,” said the math major next to her, who looking at the poster an hour earlier had asked me “yeah, he played here, didn’t he?”
*Was this the game that Bo actually smashed a ball into the lights a la Roy Hobbes in The Natural? I can’t remember…