When it's time to knock someone down, "I'll run 'em over. I can't hurt my hip any worse."
It was hard not to stare in amazement at Bo Jackson last week when he went through his first taxing workouts at the Chicago White Sox training camp in Sarasota, Fla. Less than 11 months after having hip-replacement surgery, Jackson looked much like the vibrant, sculpted specimen we were used to seeing before he fractured his left hip socket, shearing cartilage and cutting off the blood supply to the top of the thigh bone, while being tackled in an NFL playoff game on Jan. 13, 1991.
Jackson was running without the painful and exaggerated limp that saddened all who watched him try to play last spring. Running mostly on his toes now, to reduce the pounding on the artificial hip, Jackson was moving with only a slight hitch—and he still kicked into a higher gear as he rounded first base. But the world-class speed was clearly gone. Now he has just average speed for a major leaguer, although few other 230-pound men are going to beat him in a footrace.
Taking ground balls at first base, Jackson was hardly graceful, but he dived for one ball, stretched and leaped for others, and made most of the plays. (Before the injury, remember, Jackson was rarely smooth or instinctive in the outfield; he just outran fly balls.) He was throwing as he always had: somewhat awkwardly but with great velocity even when he was off balance. At the plate he looked significantly different—and better—than a year ago. Instead of swinging only with his arms and pulling off at contact with the ball, he was now throwing his hips and body into the pitch and finishing his swing. It was just batting practice, 65-mph stuff, but balls were jumping off his bat, which had GO BO engraved on the barrel.
March 1, 1993
Earlier this winter the White Sox were impressed by Jackson's workouts at an indoor facility in Chicago, where he was timed running from home plate to first base in 4.27 seconds (4.3 is considered average for a righthanded hitter). But after watching him last week, the White Sox were even more encouraged.
Herm Schneider, the White Sox trainer, who doubles as Jackson's personal conditioner, says the progress Bo has made since the hip surgery last April 4 "has been textbook. Bo's happier than a baby pig in mud."
When Jackson stumbled on a grounder, he laughed at himself and said, "It must be these Nike cleats." After shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who is making a comeback of his own from major knee surgery last April, made a halfhearted, headfirst slide into third base, Jackson made fun of him and imitated Guillen by lying spread-eagle on the dirt.
But the fact is, the White Sox are anxious to see how Bo's hip holds up when he attempts his first slides—or collides with a teammate, or is drilled in the left hip by a fastball, or has to make an awkward move on the base paths. Doctors and trainers have said that a jarring of the artificial hip could tear it out of its socket, causing more severe damage to the left leg than the original injury did.
"We'll wait on sliding," says Chicago manager Gene Lamont. "We'll probably just have him slide on one side [the right side]. That's what everyone teaches today anyway."
Schneider says he and Jackson understand that the hip "could be fine for five years or it could go tomorrow. Who knows?" But Jackson is approaching the comeback without fear. Ask him, "How's the hip?" and he says, "What hip? I don't even know it was hurt." He says when it's time to slide, "I'm sliding." When it's time to knock someone down, "I'll run 'em over. I can't hurt my hip any worse."
The White Sox would like to determine Jackson's playing status by March 15, because under the terms of his contract that's the date they must either buy out his contract for $150,000 or pick up the option year for $910,000.
Until then speculation will run rampant. "He'll never make it; no one [with his injury] could," says an American League team executive. "They've got so much p.r. tied up in him [the White Sox are pushing a Hip Ticket Plan this year], they're just keeping it alive. He might gimp along for two years, but Bo wouldn't want that."
"Our guys respect Bo for what he has gone through, the pain," says Chicago vice-president of major league operations Ron Schueler. "They're pulling for him."
2. Are Astro fans overly excited about their team?
Who would ever have thought that question would come up? "We've been on the front page in the middle of the winter," says Houston manager Art Howe. "That's unheard-of around here." With the signings of free-agent pitchers Greg Swindell and Doug Drabek, the Astros are the most-improved team in the major leagues.
"We're not in a rebuilding stage anymore," says Howe. "We're in competition for a division title." But it's going to take 100 victories to win the NL West, and the Astros, 81-81 last year, aren't that good yet—not with a shortstop (Andujar Cedeno) who spent half of last season in the minors, a leftfielder (Luis Gonzalez) who hit only .243 and a catcher (Eddie Taubensee) who has played in just 130 major league games.
3. Who is going to replace Barry Bonds in leftfield for the Pirates?
How about Al Martin, nephew of former Los Angeles Raider linebacker Rod Martin? Scouts first discovered Al when they went to Rowland High in West Covina, Calif., to watch his teammate Dave Hansen, now a third baseman with the Dodgers. College-football coaches already knew about Martin, but he gave up a football scholarship to Southern Cal in order to sign with the Atlanta Braves in 1985.
After a slow climb to the Triple A level, Martin was left unprotected by Atlanta after the 1991 season without ever having played in the majors. But Pittsburgh signed him, and Martin had his best season last year with Triple A Buffalo. Though still lacking discipline at the plate, Martin displayed extra-base power, hitting 16 doubles, 15 triples and 20 home runs to bolster his .305 average. A lefthanded hitter, Martin, 25, is expected to platoon with veteran Lonnie Smith, who was picked up from the Braves during the off-season.
4. Can Barry Bonds play the Giant outfield all by himself?
Bonds, the best player in baseball the past three years, hit .311 with 34 home runs and 103 RBIs in '92. The other top seven outfielders whom San Francisco has in camp combined to average .257 with three home runs and 22 RBIs last season.
5. How much will the Blue Jays miss Tom Henke?
The No. 1 reason why Toronto won the '92 World Series and why the Blue Jays have the longest string of consecutive .500-plus seasons (10) in baseball is the bullpen—specifically Henke and Duane Ward in recent years. Both players reached double figures in saves each of the last five seasons; no other relief tandem has done it more than three straight years since the save rule was adopted in '69. But with Henke (34 saves) having taken the free-agent route to Texas, Ward (7-4, 1.95, 12 saves), the premier setup man in baseball, becomes the closer—a far more pressurized job. Mike Timlin (0-2, 4.12) inherits Ward's role, but it's hard to imagine him doing it as well.
6. Has a 38-year-old outfielder with bad knees ever been asked to do more for a team?
Andre Dawson of the Red Sox, in his first spring with an American League team, is being trusted to play rightfield regularly, give power to an outfield that hit .246 with 31 home runs last year, add professionalism and class to a clubhouse lacking in both, and serve as a lightning rod in altering perceptions that Boston is a racist city.
Dawson can do all those things—he's that good an athlete and human being. What he can't do, however, is play the infield (the Red Sox have the worst infield in the AL East); be the third starter, behind Roger Clemens and Frank Viola; or save manager Butch Hobson's job if the Red Sox set off to a slow start.
7. Is there a more unlikely looking first baseman than the Cardinals' Gregg Jefferies?
At 5'10" and 200 pounds, Jefferies was known as Pugsly in Kansas City last season. Traded to St. Louis two weeks ago, he will play his fourth infield position since being drafted by the New York Mets in 1985, and it's doubtful he can be worse defensively at first base than he was at second, third or shortstop. He also can't be any worse than Pedro Guerrero, the Cardinal first baseman for most of the last four years. But Jefferies can hit (.285, 36 doubles, 75 RBIs last year), and St. Louis first basemen got only 66 RBIs last year.
8. Is the NL East so weak that even the Phillies have a chance to contend?
Amazingly, yes. But only it centerfielder Lenny Dykstra, the most indispensable player in the division, can avoid injury. In the last two years the Phillies were 76-71 with Dykstra in the lineup; they were 72-105 when he was hurt and unable to play.
9. Who is the best pitching coach in the American League?
It had better be the Athletics' Dave Duncan. Oakland lost Dave Stewart and Mike Moore to free agency, leaving the aging Bob Welch and Ron Darling as the only dependable starters. Duncan must find three more starters from, among others, Storm Davis, Bobby Witt, Bob Milacki and Shawn Hillegas. The biggest challenge will be harnessing the excruciatingly erratic ex-Ranger Witt, who has the highest ERA (4.57) of any active pitcher with 1,000-plus innings.
10. How serious is Glenn Davis about being a big-time slugger for the Orioles?
Very serious, it appears. The oft-injured first baseman spent the off-season in a special program to strengthen the muscles in his neck, the source of the physical problems that limited him to a total of 23 home runs and 76 RBIs the past two years. Baltimore needs the 29 homers and 89 RBIs he averaged for the Astros from 1986 to '90. Davis got all the incentive he needed last June when one of his teammates aired him out in the dugout during a game, telling him that if he wasn't well enough to play, he should go on the disabled list.
11. What could be better than Nolan Ryan pitching in the World Series this year?
Nothing. It's a stretch, but the Rangers' improved defense (newcomers Billy Ripken at second base and Manuel Lee at shortstop together mishandled two ground balls last year) and upgraded pitching give Texas its best shot ever. A lot depends on Ryan himself. When healthy he's still dominant, but he has been disabled four times in the last three years.
Ryan, 46, admits that he hasn't worked out as intensively this winter, partly be cause his friend and catcher, Harry Spilman, moved away from Texas. So Ryan's wife, Ruth, filled in on occasion. She's some athlete, but she can't catch his curveballs (who can?) or fastballs over 70 mph.
12. How bad will baseball be in Southern California this year?
Real bad. But unlike the Dodgers and the Padres, the Angels will at least lose with young players. The development of rightfielder Tim Salmon, centerfielder Chad Curtis, second baseman Damion Easley and first baseman J.T. Snow is going to be fun to watch.
13. Where will Shawon Dunston of the Cubs be playing on Opening Day: shortstop, the outfield or in Toronto?
After Dunston missed 144 games last year because of back surgery, there's no guarantee he will be 100% healthy (some Cubs have questioned how hard he worked to get in shape this winter) and no guarantee that he will beat out shortstop Rey Sanchez, who impressed the Cubs in Dunston's absence last year. There's a slim chance that Dunston will be moved to the outfield, but he doesn't want to play there; and if the Cubs want to trade him, they will have to show other teams that he can still play short.
The Blue Jays have shown some interest in acquiring Dunston just in case their new shortstop, Dick Schofield, does not pan out. Toronto is one of the few teams that could afford to pick up the $9 million left on the final three years of Dunston's contract.
14. Who's the most intriguing character in the Reds' camp?
There are plenty to choose from. There's Bip Roberts, who will play second base—instead of leftfield or third base—even though it's his third-best position and one he would rather not play. There's starting pitcher Tom Browning, who is making great progress in his comeback from surgery on his left knee last August. There's new leftfielder Kevin Mitchell, who was hard to track down this winter, meaning nobody knows what kind of shape he will be in when he reports.
And then there's Rob Dibble. After three years of sharing the closer role, first with Randy Myers and then with Norm Charlton, Dibble has the job all to himself now, and he has the chance to become the dominant short reliever in the National League.
15. When was the last time the Brewers went to camp without Paul Molitor?
It was 1977, and the Milwaukee third baseman was Sal Bando, who is now the Brewers' general manager. Molitor, who signed as a free agent with Toronto in December, will be impossible to replace—he was the most valuable Brewer in the lineup, in the clubhouse and in the community. But it also will be difficult to replace three other free-agent defectors: pitcher Chris Bosio, third baseman Kevin Seitzer and second baseman Scott Fletcher.
16. Who are the nine players bidding for three starting jobs for the Expos?
At third base it's Sean Berry, Frank Bolick and Archi Cianfrocco. At first base it's Greg Colbrunn, John Vander Wal, Lee Stevens and Cianfrocco. Behind the plate it's Darrin Fletcher, Tim Laker and Tim Spehr. If you knew all nine, it's time to get out of the house more often.
17. So what's the big worry about the Braves' bullpen?
O.K., Atlanta still doesn't have a proven closer after failing to acquire Lee Smith or Todd Worrell over the winter. And if the Braves' brass decide they still really need one, they have the money and the depth to make a deal. But what's so wrong with having Mike Stanton, Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers and Marvin Freeman as a bullpen by committee? Besides, how good does the bullpen have to be when the Braves, with a talented starting rotation of young workhorses, have a shot at becoming the first National League team since the 1923 Cincinnati Reds to have three 20-game winners?
18. Was the devastation of the Indians' new spring training facility by Hurricane Andrew an omen for '93?
No. But it's a reminder to eager Cleveland fans to be patient for one more year. If the club can add a couple more quality pitchers by then, the Tribe truly will be a contender. After a 28-45 start last year, Cleveland lighted a fire under its fans by finishing 48-41. By early February the team's advance ticket sales for the upcoming season were double the number sold before the '92 season opener.
"I had to temper the fan excitement with a dose of reality," general manager John Hart said after a caravan tour in early February. "We're still developing. We have a brief track record."
19. Which team made three quiet acquisitions in the winter, each of which could reap huge benefits?
The Mets. Two days after the World Series they worked a deal with the Padres for Tony Fernandez, who should be the best all-around shortstop the team has ever had. Then they signed lefthander Frank Tanana, 39, who could teach the New York staff a thing or two about commitment and discipline. And finally they signed free-agent outfielder Joe Orsulak, a tough Jersey guy who plays with passion—something that might rub off on leftfielder Vince Coleman, who took taekwondo lessons this winter to improve his flexibility and help prevent injury.
20. Can Alan Trammell pitch?
Unfortunately for the Tigers, no. But he will take a turn at almost every other position this spring. Trammell, who in 15 major league seasons never played a defensive position other than shortstop, will work at third base, first base, leftfield and centerfield because his successor at short, Travis Fryman, took over when Trammell was injured last season—and Fryman is there to stay.
21. Which of the following will happen to the Padres this season: Pitcher Bruce Hurst will be dealt, general manager Joe Mcllvaine will be fired, or third baseman Gary Sheffield will demand a trade?
Probably all of the above, because the cost-cutting tactics by the team's ownership have turned San Diego from talented to terrible. Look for Hurst, who will make $2.75 million in '93, to be traded this spring (probably to Boston) once it's clear that his left shoulder is sound. The Padres will very likely end up giving him away, just as they unloaded the big salaries of shortstop Tony Fernandez, pitcher Randy Myers and catcher Benito Santiago. Said an agent who counts Padre players among his clients, "Watching what's happening to San Diego is like watching someone slowly bleed to death."
22. Who will new Mariner manager Lou Piniella put in a headlock first, Randy Johnson or Ken Griffey Jr.?
Piniella is the most impatient and intolerant skipper in the game, as well as its worst loser—a big reason why the Mariners are a solid bet to be the most-improved team in the American League this year. "He will make you compete," says Mariner coach John McLaren. Piniella won't stand for occasional loafing by Griffey, and he won't sit idly by as Johnson throws 100 pitches by the fourth inning.
But watch Johnson closely in spring training. After getting advice on his mechanics from, of all people, then Ranger pitching coach Tom House, as well as Nolan Ryan, Johnson went 5-2 with a 2.65 ERA, 117 strikeouts, 47 walks and 48 hits in 85 innings the last two months of the '92 season.
23. Who's that old guy back with the Twins?
If you guessed Jim Perry, you're close. It's Bert Blyleven, who's 41 years old and 13 victories shy of 300. Blyleven broke in with the Twins back in 1970, and now Minnesota is counting on him to win a job in the starting rotation; that will allow the young arms of Willie Banks and Mike Trombley to get some seasoning in the bullpen.
"We know we're shooting the dice on Bert, but he threw well in our minicamp in January," says Twin manager Tom Kelly. "You can't manage with your heart; you have to manage with your head. But Bert could be a big plus for us."
24. What player attended President Clinton's inauguration and, during his short stay in Washington, squeezed in some batting practice at Catholic U?
Dodger leftfielder Eric Davis, who, like many of his teammates, has dedicated himself to making the dismal showing by LA. last year look like a fluke. But too many Dodgers are, like the 30-year-old Davis, on the downside of their careers, including newcomers Tim Wallach, 35, at third base and Jody Reed, 30, at second.
The winter started ominously when new closer Todd Worrell, 33, couldn't participate in the team's first workout, in January at Dodger Stadium, because of tendinitis in his right forearm. (The Dodgers had insisted that Worrell pass a physical as a condition of his signing a three-year, $9.5 million deal with them in December. But when the Atlanta Braves entered the bidding for the veteran reliever, LA. dropped its demand.)
25. Where's Danny Tartabull when you really need him?
The Royals significantly improved their pitching (David Cone) and their defense (shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Jose Lind) in the off-season, but they'll need all spring to find ways to score enough runs to win the AL West. This team hit only 75 homers last year and scored three or fewer runs 90 times.
26. Who will be the Florida Marlins' starter on Opening Day against the Dodgers?
Please, please let it be Charlie Hough. In 1969, when the National League last expanded, Hough hurt his arm as a minor leaguer in the Dodger chain. Out of desperation he learned to throw a knuckleball, and 24 years later, at age 45, he has 202 major league wins.
27. How will the Colorado Rockies keep track of all 63 players in camp?
They have no chance, especially since they've got Vinny Castilla, Braulio Castillo and Pedro Castellano. Here's hoping they don't acquire Carmen Castillo.