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Just Which Game Are You Playing, Bo? : He Says Baseball, but Doubting World Can Only Wonder--for Now

December 02, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

They've got a tiger by the tail, it's plain to see.

What are the Raiders to do with Bo Jackson? First, he goes out and simply rearranges football as we know it. One day Jim Brown was beyond compare and then this baseball player in his third National Football League start, goes for a fast 221 yards in 18 carries.

Was one bombshell enough? Bo then drops another. Sooner or later, he says, he intends to retire from one of his two occupations and, "It probably will be football."

Even this is milder than his original declaration last month, when he told baseball writer Bob Nightengale of the Kansas City Star: "There's going to be a time when I'm going to give up a sport. I know that. I never meant to be a dual athlete the rest of my life. . . .

"So I'll tell you now, and I want this to sink in--baseball is what I'll make a career out of, not football. Football is the sport I'll give up first. The only question is, when will I give this up? I don't know right now. I'm just taking this one day at a time."

The Raiders are in this for a longer haul than that, so what do they do now?

Give up on the experiment?

Bench Bo?

Give up the game themselves and join a monastery en masse?

Ask Bo if he wouldn't like to renegotiate?

Ask Bo if he wouldn't like to be co-managing general partner?

"Well, I don't know," Coach Tom Flores said Tuesday. "I don't even want to talk about it.

"We know, and we knew when we drafted him, if he accepted the challenge, when we would have him. And that's what our plans are. That's the way our plans will continue to be."

In the history of pro football, sport and Western civilization, where does this episode belong? When it started, there had never been anything like it and every day it grows more unique.

OK, what's his contract status in each sport?

Briefly, he makes more from the Raiders than from the Royals, and he's perfectly free contractually to choose between them.

His Royal contract will pay him $383,000 next season, plus $150,000 if he stays the whole way. However, if he doesn't report at all--and he is expected to--he will have to refund half of the $533,000 he has already earned in his first two seasons, a proviso he insisted upon when he signed.

His Raider contract will pay him salaries of $668,975, $748,499, $840,184, $960,886 and $1,101,456.

Also the Raiders have paid him one $500,000 reporting bonus, and will pay him another if he returns next year. Therefore, there is every reason to think he'll be a Raider for at least one more season.

Also, he'll collect a $2.1-million annuity, beyond his salary, if he plays all five years of his Raider contract.

Do the Royals want him back?

Very much, but within rational limits.

Jackson's potential in baseball is almost as great as it is in football. Except in baseball, phenoms bomb out regularly, or in the majority of cases, and Bo's potential is still just that. In football, he has more than potential. He has greatness that needs only to stand the test of time.

The controversy around Jackson's dual career already helped explode one season for the Royals. They were in first place at mid-season, remember, when he announced that he would sign a football contract, too, and all this started.

Bo is no longer assured of starting for the Royals--he sat out most of the second half of last season, hitting .181, striking out 43 times in 105 at-bats--or even of making the team. The starting left fielder is now rookie Gary Thurman, who hit. 296 with seven stolen bases in a September look.

There was considerable sentiment within the Royal organization for sending Jackson to the minor leagues at the start of last season, counter-acted reportedly by co-owner Avron Fogelman. The Royals would have liked or him to go to the Instructional League this winter, but his Raider schedule precluded that.

He has to make the team next spring training. If he's sent down, how will he react?

How stupendous was Monday night's performance.

Words can barely describe it. Other-worldly.

In 1950, Marion Motley of the Browns set an NFL record by averaging 17.1 yards in a game--188 yards in 11 carries.

Monday night, Jackson had 197 yards in his first 11 carries, a 17.9 average. At that point, the Raiders led, 37-7, sat on the ball and ran Jackson inside the rest of the night.

He was pulled entirely with six minutes left. The only reason that Walter Payton's record of 275 yards in a game still stands is that the Raiders were indifferent to breaking it.

Overall, Jackson has an 8.1 rushing average. In his three starts, his carries and totals have gone 8 for 45, 13 for 98, 18 for 221.

In Jim Brown's first three games as a starter in 1957, he went 12 for 53, 22 for 70, 21 for 109.

Was everyone impressed or what?

Everyone's mind was blown.

Said Steve Largent: "It was like being at Longacres and watching the horses race to the wire. When he ran by, I felt the same surge. It was just amazing.

"I think he should play baseball."

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