The only man to throw out Bo Jackson stealing in high school
Bo had 90 steals in 91 attempts, so 'it had to be perfect'
It's hard to think of a more perfect athlete than Bo Jackson.
He was an All-Pro running back in the NFL. He was an All-Star outfielder in baseball. Track and field may actually have been his best sport. He could dive, yes, like double-front-flip dive, alongside some of the best collegians at Auburn. It was like he was created in some underground sports lab, mixing and matching every single skillset to dominate the rest of the athletic world.
And those characteristics were even there way back in his teenage years at McAdory High in Bessemer, Ala. He was an award-winning decathlete, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards during his senior fall and then hit a record 20 homers in 25 games during his senior spring.
But he did have one tiny, little blip in his McAdory career. One stat that stands out -- seemingly a typo, but surreally real from Jeff Pearlman's new book, "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson."
Bo Jackson attempted to steal 91 bases in high school ... but was able to steal only 90.
He was caught stealing. How did somebody catch Bo Jackson stealing? Who would ever dare catch Bo stealing? What man, what superhuman, could have conjured up the unbelievable courage and strength to accomplish such a feat?
"It had to be perfect," former Jess Lanier High School catcher Sam Doss said in a call. "You wouldn't get him otherwise. The ball hit Darrell McKinney's mitt, and he slid into it."
Growing up near Bo in Alabama, Sam Doss had plenty of experience watching and playing alongside the multi-sport star. They were on a summer-ball team together -- Bo played shortstop and Doss played center. But when Bo went in to pitch, the coach made Doss, maybe because he was "just good at catching the ball," catch.
"He could throw it," Doss remembered. "Sometimes he'd throw it over the backstop because it slipped out of his hands. He could catch a ball up the middle, step and throw it 100 mph to first base. He was just that good of an athlete."
Doss had even seen his friend once somehow steal home when the catcher had the ball and Bo was still halfway down the third-base line.
"I'd never seen anybody that fast," Doss said.
Of course, it wasn't just baseball where Bo showed his prowess.
Doss played against Bo in football, saying he could be a bit tough to corral. He'd run one way, stop, and then run an entirely different way. Jackson was also a track star at McAdory, winning two state titles in the decathlon. Doss says Bo used to run the 50-meter, 100-meter and 220-meter races in succession, and win every single one. The way he describes his speed is like something out of a tall tale.
"When he ran, you could hear the wind moving," Doss told me. "You know, like when you're in a car. That's how fast he was. I think he would've given [Usain] Bolt a run for his money. I honestly believe that."
So, that's who Doss was tasked with trying to throw out on the bases on that day in 1981: A man possessing a speed and skillset maybe seen once in a lifetime.
As soon as Bo drew a walk that day in 1981, Doss knew Bo would be going because, well, "he stole on the first pitch every time." The former catcher described it all like it happened yesterday.
"I went up to [pitcher] Gary Gilmore and said, 'Keep it down low, and I'll get 'em,'" Doss recalled. "I'd been throwing pretty good, and I felt pretty good. He took off the first pitch, and I just snap-threw it down there and boom."
Doss said Bo didn't seem too angry or down about it. The McAdory speedster just laughed it off and went back to the dugout. But Bo might've been saving that anger and vengefulness for his next at-bat.
"Yeah, the next ball we threw to him, he hit it about 475 feet," Doss laughed.
Roosevelt Park, where the two teams were squaring off, had two big oak trees beyond the center-field fence. Bo hit it past those, a place balls rarely traveled. It sounds kind of like Bo's first homer in the Majors. That one also went 475 feet. But this one, back in '81, Bo did as a 17-year-old.
"It was an unhittable ball," Doss said. "He would stand in the back of the box and it was low and outside. Gary threw it perfect. But he took like two little stutter steps and *whack* to center field."
Doss said Bo was a friendly, soft-spoken guy back then, but when he crossed home plate after the homer, the future superstar-to-compare-all-superstars-to gave a little smile and nod to his opponent before walking back to his side of the field.
Doss let out a retort that most people, who ever watched Bo do anything over the next 20 years, probably let out countless times.
Thanks again to Jeff Pearlman. Go get his new Bo book here to read more stories like this one.