The day the White Sox took a chance on Bo Jackson Chicago signed injured two-sport star to a one-year deal after others passed on him
On Jan. 13, 1991, the Los Angeles Raiders running back injured his left hip in an AFC divisional playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The injury was later complicated by avascular necrosis, which impedes blood flow and destroys bone cells and cartilage.
The Kansas City Royals released the 28-year-old outfielder on March 18, 1991, before the beginning of the Major League Baseball season. After no team claimed Jackson off waivers, the White Sox signed him as a free agent on April 3, 1991.
The deal, which guaranteed $700,000 for the 1991 season, included option years for 1992 and 1993 and the potential to balloon to $8.15 million.
“Right now, I feel like a caged animal,” Jackson said during his introductory news conference. “I can’t wait for them to open the chutes and let me go and do what I’ve been doing my whole life, and that’s running.”
Other teams were scared off by the injury, but White Sox co-owner Jerry Reinsdorf saw a reward if things panned out.
“In making the business decision,” Reinsdorf said, “I assume he will not play this year. If he does, it will be a big bonus. But considering the total dollars he could potentially earn, compared with what we have to pay if he never plays, 90 percent is based on his ability to play. Considering that the financial risk is one we can afford to take, when you look at the risk-reward ratio, it’s tremendous. The potential upside is tremendous. We’re risking what is a substantial amount of money; it’s not chopped liver. But it’s certainly a reasonable amount.
“It’s like life insurance. You pay the premium, the premium is gone. But if it turns out you die, your family is very happy you had the insurance. We can afford the premium. If he comes back, we’ll be thrilled with the results.”
Although Jackson’s contract with the White Sox didn’t prohibit him from playing football, that Cincinnati playoff game would be the last time the football legend played a professional game.
“Bo is well-aware of the fact that he won’t play football again,” said an associate who spoke to The New York Times anonymously. “He has been told that’s a risk he can’t take. They’ll deny it, but he knows it. He knows baseball is his life now.”
If Jackson were able to participate in 40 games with the White Sox, including 30 after Aug. 31, 1991, the 1992 option automatically went into effect, and if the same were true for 125 games in 1992, then the 1993 option would be exercised. Jackson started on the disabled list.
“We believe there’s a very good chance Bo can become a productive member of the White Sox,” Dr. James Boscardin, the White Sox orthopedist, said during the news conference.
Jackson played in 23 games in 1991. He sat out 1992 after having hip replacement surgery, then returned for 85 games in 1993. He finished his career with California in 1994, playing in 75 of the Angels’ 115 games during the strike-shortened season.