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#TBT: Bo Jackson misses a full season, homers in first at-bat

Bo knows. You can bet he does. There's no way Bo Jackson can look back at April 9, 1993, and not consider it the most special day of his storied athletic career.

Jackson strode to the plate, pinch-hitting for White Sox left fielder Dan Pasqua, in the bottom of the sixth inning of the Sox home opener against the Yankees. He took lefty Neal Heaton's first offering for a strike. Jackson drove the next pitch over the 347-foot mark of the fence in right field at the new Comiskey Park (present day U.S. Cellular Field), deep into the right-field bleachers. He circled the bases to a thunderous standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 42,775. The fans knew, too, what a momentous occasion it was for Jackson. He hadn't played in a game that mattered in more than a year. He hadn't homered since Sept. 21, 1991. And he was rounding those bags on an artificial hip.

Everyone remembers Bo Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn University who went on to become the only athlete to be named an All-Star in two major American sports, the NFL and MLB.

Yes, Jackson did a lot of amazing things. There was the time he literally ran through Seattle Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth on Monday Night Football. And there was that mammoth 448-foot home run he hit in the first inning of the 1989 All-Star Game in Anaheim. But neither moment comes close to the significance of what he pulled off in that home opener in '93.

On Jan. 13, 1991, during a Los Angeles Raiders playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Jackson was tackled by linebacker Kevin Walker. His hip subluxated, and it would never be the same. The injury resulted in a loss of blood flow to Jackson's hip joint, causing a condition called avascular necrosis. Jackson missed all of the 1992 season after doctors replaced his hip with an artificial joint.

"Surgery was simple, rehab was a beast," Jackson says. "I told myself if I rehabbed well enough to where I could come back and give baseball another shot, I would, but I was rehabbing for the simple reason that I wanted to be well enough and fit enough to do things with my kids. And fortunately, we rehabbed to the point where I said, 'Maybe I should give this one more shot, I think I have a little bit left in the tank.'"

And Jackson's "a little bit" is way more than that of most people.

"I didn't feel any different," he says. "I just knew at the time that I wasn't going to be the fastest guy on the field, like I had been used to all of my life."

One year prior to his return to baseball, Jackson lost his mother, Florence, to cancer. Prior to her passing, she had asked him if he was going to try to make a comeback.

"I told her if I did, my first hit was going to be for her," Jackson recalls. "So my goal was to get a hit. It could have been a blooper over the second baseman's head, just as long as I accomplished what I promised my mother. Lucky for me, and unfortunately for the pitcher, I hit a home run. But that hit meant more to me than anything, because I kept my word, my promise, to my mom. I could have retired that night."

Stadium security guards located 16-year-old Greg Ourednik, who had caught Jackson's home run ball. Once Jackson told Ourednik about the promise he made to his mother, Ourednik knew he couldn't keep the ball. So they bartered. Jackson signed a new ball, along with a jersey and bat, in exchange for his prize.

"I cried when he hit it," says White Sox TV broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson. "I've never seen a guy [rehab like that]. He and [White Sox head athletic trainer Herm Schneider], I mean they were working eight, 10 hours a day. I've never seen that. And pain. So he comes back and he says this homer is going to be for his mom. I'm a momma's boy, too. When he hit it, just tears were streaming down my face. It's one of the most emotional home runs I've ever called."

Jackson couldn't have scripted that day any better, though he is quick to point out that he may not have even been playing had Sox regular left fielder Tim Raines not hurt his thumb sliding into second base earlier in the game. Raines was replaced by Pasqua.

"I'm a firm believer in that things work out for a reason," Jackson says. "I guess it was just meant to be."

Current White Sox manager Robin Ventura was in the lineup that day, playing third base for Chicago.

"Bo was in the stadium all the time working out, and when he finally made it back and was on the field, we were all so happy for him," Ventura says. "He has always had a flair for the dramatic, and baseball was no different. He always seemed to come up big in big situations. But that home run. I remember thinking, 'Geez, Bo, that's a bit much.' But it was vintage Bo."

Bo batted .232 and hit 16 home runs for the White Sox in 1993. He was having a stellar year with the Angels in 1994, hitting .279 with 13 home runs in 201 at-bats, when the season was brought to a halt by a players strike. When Jackson officially retired prior to the start of the 1995 baseball season, doctors said he had already put 20 to 25 years of wear-and-tear on his 3-year-old replacement joint.

No one can say how Jackson's career would have gone had he not injured his hip.

Not even Bo knows that. 

Lindsay Berra is a columnist for reporter Scott Merkin contributed to this report.