Former MLB, NFL star providing guidance to White Sox players in Spring Training
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's going on 20 years since Bo Jackson last played in a Major League game, and even longer since he carried a football in the NFL. And as he's gotten to know some of the young White Sox players this week in camp, that's become quite apparent.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time, and the only to ever be an All-Star in two professional sports, Jackson has taken a week away from the blustery winter in Chicago -- where he's lived quietly for nearly 23 years -- to lend a hand as a special instructor at Camelback Ranch.
"A few of them do," Jackson said when asked if any of the White Sox players he's met remember his time as a player. "I noticed some guys were on their iPad Googling or on their phone Googling, then they find out my history, and they come back and, 'Can you sign this for me? Can you sign my baseball or my jersey?'
"Even footballs. There's footballs in Spring Training."
There ought to be when Jackson drops in. The former Auburn running back won the Heisman Trophy in 1985, then was drafted No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following year, but was also taken in the fourth round of the '86 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Royals. He played baseball in '86 and was selected by the Los Angeles Raiders in the seventh round of the NFL Draft in '87.
From 1987 through '90, he balanced both sports and earned his reputation as one of the world's most elite athletes. Still, he says he "probably couldn't" accomplish the feat as an athlete today and had this advice for athletes who try to dabble in more than one sport:
"Stick to what got him in the headlines, not baseball. Because, now, the talent -- and I preach this to kids who come to my sports complex -- you've got parents that are pushing their kids in baseball, they're pushing their kids in basketball, pushing that same kid in football. … Let their kid do one sport. Concentrate on one sport.
"... If you like all those sports, you do it. But let your kid pick one sport for this simple reason: Twenty-five or 30 years ago when I did it -- I'm not trying to say anything negative about other athletes, but the talent pool wasn't that deep. In this day and age, with all the high-tech training, computer-engineered workouts and the proper food and diet, if you try to concentrate on two sports, I guarantee you're going to ride the bench in both, because the talent is that deep. Stick to whatever sport you're comfortable with and let everything else go."
After five seasons with the Royals -- he was an All-Star in 1989, hitting 32 homers and driving in 105 runs -- Jackson signed with the White Sox as a free agent. He played 108 games between the 1991 and '93 seasons with the Sox, before finishing his career in 1994 with the Angels.
Because he's so long removed from the organization now, Jackson only knows a handful of faces around camp. That includes executive vice president Kenny Williams, bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen, veterans Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, assistant hitting coach Harold Baines and manager Robin Ventura.
"We're old teammates," Jackson said of Ventura. "I'm a little bit older than Robin, but because Robin's the manager, Robin looks a little bit older than me."
Jackson said his job this week is "to walk around and mess with people," but he's been primarily interacting with young players in Glendale. He spotted outfielder Avisail Garcia -- "he looks more like an NFL defensive end than a right fielder," Jackson said -- and noted that talent "oozes from his pores."
And Jackson made clear that the White Sox are his sole focus in Chicago. When asked about the Cubs, he said: "What's a Cub? I don't venture on the North Side. I don't know anything about the North Side. I don't venture there."
Jackson said he doesn't miss putting on a uniform, but does miss the camaraderie of being around a team. Now, he says, he's focused on his sports complex in Lockport, Ill. So he'll spend the next few days in the Arizona sun and then head back north.
"Anything is fun when you're not in Chicago shoveling snow," Jackson said. "So, yes, it is a fun week."