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Bo Bits, 7/12 – Homer for the Gipper

"Mom! Mom!!!"

I’ve watched one MLB All-Star Game in my life. Apparently, it was the best ever, or at least one would think judging by all the press it has received in the weeks leading up to this year’s game, the first played in Anaheim since the day my 10-year-old jaw dropped back in 1989.

I was just so damn proud.

Here’s what the fine folks in Kansas City were saying leading up to the game:

Of all the and-then-there-was-the-times comprising the lore of Bo the Professional, his lead-off home run in that year’s All-Star Game is, if not the most impressive, than arguably the most (distinctly) memorable (neck and neck with the ruination of Bosworth). It came at the apex of his monopoly on professional sports, and helped seal his reputation as the sports icon of his too-short generation. Nike’s “Bo Knows” campaign? It actually started that night, not much later into the broadcast (the “Bo Knows What?” sign seen waving in the stands after the hit was either a clairvoyant fan or a Nike employee).

He was that year’s top vote-getter. He was chosen to lead off for the American League. Who’s calling the game?


(I just blacked out from nostalgia, I’m back).

He destroys the second pitch thrown his way. It’s a home run. He hits a home run… oh man… while the Great Communicator is saying, to the best I can make out “I just don’t know if there’s ever been another one like him.”

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall... or Bo Jackson will kill you."

He’s in the locker room after the game. He’s got the MVP trophy. He’s just become only the second player to hit a home run and steal a base (he beat out a double play throw to first, and then stole second) in the All-Star game (Willie Mays was the other).

“How would you describe yourself, Bo?”

“In one word: hustler.”

Let us look back…

And also listen. Orange County Register columnist Mark Whicker dedicated an entire column just to the sound of the hit.

A few selections:

The 1989 game, in the old football-damaged configuration of Anaheim Stadium, will be remembered by its players for a sound that still reverberates.

… He took a mighty swat and people came to attention, as if they’d heard gunshots.

“I still remember that sound,” said Mike Scioscia, a Dodger All-Star then.

… There was a canopy in center-field then. Jackson’s home run landed in the center of it. It was announced to have traveled at 448 feet.

“I think they needed some new batteries in whatever machine they used to measure that one,” Scioscia said. “It was a lot longer than that.”

… Today’s players have their own songs, blaring through the loudspeakers. Bo had his own sounds.

… “I just remember how his head came right down to his shoulders, with no neck,” said Don Mattingly, the former Yankees first baseman who is now the Dodgers’ batting coach. “I’d be at first base and he’d just round it harder than anybody else, kicking up these big chunks. It was an amazing sound.”

I also enjoyed this anecdote from former Royals / Angels pitcher Mike Gubicza:

“If he liked you he was your best friend, but if he didn’t, he didn’t really have any time for you,” Gubicza said.

“You didn’t mess with him. When he first came into the clubhouse we threw a football at him and then tackled him. Suddenly he’s got me in one hand and Bret Saberhagen in the other and he’s lifting us up in the air. We’re thinking, maybe that’s the last time we do that.

To Bo-ldly go where no man has gone before. I’m copying that from the title of one of the subheads in this great MLB.com piece on All-Star Game memories. The Bo stuff (including more from Gubicza on the The Sound):

Tony La Russa, A’s and AL manager, spent the short flight from Oakland to Orange County trying to cull a starting lineup from a roster replete with middle-of-the-order types: “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

Dave Duncan, La Russa’s pitching coach, sitting in the adjoining seat: “I wouldn’t want to face [Bo Jackson] leading off a game. He can hit the ball out of the ballpark, get on base, steal a base, hit a double, hit a triple. He seemed like the perfect guy.”

“It made a lot of sense,” La Russa said. “The pitcher’s trying to figure out what he’s got, and all of a sudden, he makes a mistake, it can be more than a single. [Bo was the] most explosive talent playing at the time.”

The pregame buzz was deafening over the choice to lead off with the Royals’ Jackson, who showed up in Anaheim with 21 homers and 23 steals a few months after having rushed for 580 yards for the Raiders.

Kansas City pitcher Mark Gubicza accompanied by his teammate to his second consecutive All-Star appearance: “Oh, yes. The Bo Show. The greatest athlete I’ve seen, bar none. This was in the midst of the whole ‘Bo Knows’ campaign, and he was as big at the time as Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods — anybody we have now.”

But, before the game, a little fun. Workout Day had become an attraction, climaxed by a skills competition among All-Stars showing off arms, legs and bat-control.

Barry Larkin, the Reds’ 25-year-old shortstop leading the Majors with a .342 average at the break, turned to make a throw as the middle-man on the NL relays team: “I remember hearing something pop like a gun-shot or firecracker when I threw the baseball in the relay race. After a few more throws, I felt swelling and I eventually tore my ulnar collateral ligament. I couldn’t throw the ball more than 15 feet.

“At the time, I didn’t know the severity of the injury, but unfortunately, it really came at a very inopportune time. It was so disappointing. I was playing well at the time and everything was really coming together. In 1989, I began to really establish myself and things were taking off for me personally. I was on fire, but before you know, it was over.”

The Show must go on. Soon after Doc Severinsen and his Tonight Show Band performed the last non-vocal rendition of the national anthem prior to an All-Star Game, the NL jumped out to a 2-0 lead on first-inning RBI singles by Kevin Mitchell and Howard Johnson off Dave Stewart. The bottom of the first brought Rick Reuschel to the mound and Bo Jackson to the plate.

“I was all pumped up, sitting in the bullpen talking Nolan Ryan’s ear off,” said Gubicza. “I was saying, ‘This is not a good matchup for Rick Reuschel. He’s a sinkerball pitcher, and Bo loves the ball down.’ Most right-handed hitters like it high, but Bo loved to go down and get it.”

Vin Scully, behind the NBC mike next to former broadcaster Ronald Reagan: “Jackson does baseball and football, and you did football … ”

“Yes, I played the Gipper,” Reagan said. “But before that, I also played football. Bo down there, that’s a pretty interesting hobby he has for his vacation … when baseball ends, he winds up playing football.”

“He’s remarkable … and look at that one!” Scully responded. “Bo Jackson says hello!”

“Where the bullpens were located back then, you could hear the crack of the bat,” Gubicza said. “Bo had a unique sound when he got into one, and I recognized it. Then you could hear the crowd make this sound that was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ Nobody moved. Everybody just watched it keep going, thinking, ‘This thing is gargantuan.'”

“I thought I made a good pitch,” Reuschel said. “He just went down and got it. I heard about his power and strength — and I saw it first-hand.”

Mike Scioscia, warming up to go behind the plate in his first NL All-Star appearance: “I was down in the bullpen, getting ready to go in the game, when Bo hit that ball about 8,000 feet. It was incredible. It just seemed to travel forever.”

Larkin watched laid up in his hotel room: “I just remember it being a bomb and wasn’t too caught up in the hype around the home run. … I remember saying to myself that was ‘one of the farthest balls I’d ever seen hit.'”

“It landed over where the trees are now, way out there,” Gubicza said. “It still had some distance to go when it landed. It was awesome to see. Playing with Bo, I was used to him doing incredible things. But that was amazing, even for Bo.”

Mark McGwire, the AL’s young starting first baseman: “The one thing I do remember is that Bo Jackson was the star of the show. He was a stud.”

“Bo can do anything. It’s scary, it’s scary…” And it don’t stop. Here’s how the L.A. Times described Bo’s first at bat in the ’89 game (excerpted from a post at Misc. Baseball that also includes the Austin American-Statesman’s preview of the game):

Bo looked at one pitch from National League starter Rick Reuschel.

He swung at the next.

By the time the baseball prepared for re-entry, its shadow could be seen some 448 feet from home plate. The ball didn’t just clear the center-field fence. It landed halfway up the green tarpaulin leading to Tunnel 70, which serves as a viewing backdrop for hitters at Anaheim Stadium.

Once again, Bo had gone where few ever thought to tread. His monstrous blast, the first leadoff home run in an All-Star game since 1977, was immediately followed by a home run from Wade Boggs and, just that fast, the American Leaguers had tied the game and were on their way to a 5-3 victory in the 60th All-Star game.

The home run was estimated at 448 feet, but that’s only because Jackson hit it nearly as high as he did far. Official records aren’t kept, but that may have been the longest pop fly in Anaheim Stadium history.

“When the ball hit the bat,” NL Manager Tom Lasorda said, “it sounded like he hit a golf ball.”

It took off like one, too, drawing such a gasp from the crowd of 64,036 that Texas’ Nolan Ryan stopped warming up in the AL bullpen and hunted down a TV monitor.

“I didn’t know what happened,” Ryan said. “I had to catch it on the replay.”

Reuschel said: “I rarely turn and watch a home run. There was one other time – and that was in spring training – and I watched because I was so sure it was going out.”

Jackson’s was the first leadoff home run in All-Star competition since Cincinnati’s Joe Morgan did it 12 years ago. It also, apparently, was inspirational because Boggs, baseball’s pre-eminent spray hitter, followed him six pitches later with a rare home run, this one traveling a mortal-sized distance of 398 feet.

The back-to-back home runs were the first since Dodgers Steve Garvey and Jimmy Wynn turned the feat in the 1975 All-Star game.

Firsts, firsts. Before the night was through, Bo would lead the world in firsts.

With his next at-bat, coming in the second inning, Jackson hit a routine double-play grounder to shortstop but outran pivot man Ryne Sandberg’s throw to first. In so doing, Jackson prolonged the inning and earned a run batted in, with Ruben Sierra scoring from third on the play.

Then Jackson stole second base, becoming the first All-Star to hit a home run and steal a base in the same game since a fellow named Willie Mays did it in 1962.

Jackson added a single and a strikeout in his last two at-bats before turning left field over to Boston’s Mike Greenwell in the top of the seventh. Not a bad six innings’ work: four at-bats, two hits, two runs batted in, a stolen base and a home run that had the best players in the sport raving and running out of superlatives.

As a runaway choice, Jackson was voted the game’s most valuable player.

“I’m a believer,” NL outfielder Tony Gwynn announced. “Bo can do anything. It’s scary, it’s scary…

“He changes the way people think about the game. He’s redefining the game as we speak.”

“I had butterflies when I was in the on-deck circle,” Jackson said. “But when I got to the plate, I put tunnel vision on the pitcher and decided to just do what comes natural.”

“It wasn’t a strike. The ball I hit, I swung like I swing a golf club. Luckily, I got a piece of it.”

Smoltz Schmaltz. Our Bo has confounded the hopes and dreams of many all-stars. I never knew we could count among them John Smoltz, who had the unenviable task of replacing Rick Reuschel on the mound. In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution piece on Braves vets and their All-Star memories, he recalls it thusly:

Tommy Lasorda told me I was pitching second, so I was trying to get guys to take me to the bullpen before the start of the game. They all wanted to watch the first inning in the dugout. They said, ‘We’ll just take you back after the top of the first.’ Well, Rick Reuschel is pitching and it doesn’t look like he’s going to get out of the top of the first. He gives up a home run, a home run and a single, and it’s like, ‘Uh oh.’ So Lasorda gets on the phone and says ‘Hey, get Smoltzie up,’ and I’m right there. I’m 10 feet from him and I’m panicking. I get that white chill feeling. And he goes ‘Oh kid, how long is it going to take you to get ready? We need you to get down there fast.’ So I had to go in the hallway in my spikes on the cement. (After) like eight, nine pitches, I was in my first All-Star game. If there was any chance to get nervous it was gone, because it was like panic. So it’s first and third, one out and I get a routine double play Bo Jackson hit, I (should be) out of the inning and he beat it out, and I lost the game. … Nolan Ryan (became) the oldest pitcher ever to get the win; I was the youngest pitcher ever to get the loss.

Return to Anaheim. Bo dream-teamed it with the likes of Dave Winfield, Andy Richter, MC Hammer, Rickey Henderson, Mario Lopez and Jon Hamm (it could have been with Jenna Fischer had he played last year) in yesterday’s Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game, held annually just before the big game.

Send in your captions.

Bo spent the 21st anniversary of the hit flirting with Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Marisa Miller at first base (“You know, Bo Jackson told me I could lead off, which I thought didn’t right, but he kept telling me to lead off, so he tried to get me out. He’s sneaky, so I gotta stay on my toes”) and Jennie Finch, pitcher for the US National Softball Team, at the plate; after hitting what appeared to be the longest home runs of the night (“You don’t have to worry about that one, John”), Bo told reporter Tara Gore “It was all luck. I talked to Jennie and told her to give me something to hit and she felt sorry for me, so yeah… I probably gotta buy her dinner later.”

Marisa Miller is safe at first. For now.

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