Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.
I’ve written this before, but in 1989 the Royals had the coolest baseball player on the planet. Not necessarily the best or even most popular, but Bo Jackson was baseball’s rock star that year in a way that no other player really was. The All-Star Game MVP, the Nike commercial, the football “hobby” were all a part of that status for Jackson.
But Bo was a star almost from the moment he reached the majors. Obviously, he had a bit more notoriety than your average rookie, thanks to the Heisman Trophy he won at Auburn in 1985. While he played baseball at Auburn, and played it well, everyone expected him to play pro football. But Bo was always about defying expectations, and when he felt like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who held the first pick in the 1986 NFL draft, had cost him his senior year of baseball, he announced he would not sign with Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers had brought him to the team facility for a visit, telling him it was NCAA-approved when it had not been, and Bo was suspended for his final college baseball season.
The Buccaneers drafted him anyway, and MLB teams were left to decide whether he was bluffing about not playing football. Despite his obvious talent, he lasted until the fourth round of the June MLB draft, when the Royals took him with the 105th pick. After two months at Class AA Memphis, the Royals, possibly figuring they should get whatever payoff they could before he changed his mind and headed to the gridiron, called him up for September.
Jackson wasted little time displaying the combination of speed and power that made him such a tantalizing prospect. His first major-league hit came in his first game, on September 2, and he simply beat the throw on a grounder between first and second. You can’t teach that kind of speed, especially in such a large individual. Then, less than two weeks later, on September 14, he made Royals Stadium history with power that you also can’t teach.
The Royals already had a 3-0 lead when Bo stepped to the plate to lead off the fourth against Seattle starter Mike Moore. The righthander threw a 2-2 pitch, Bo took a healthy cut, and the ball exploded off his bat. You probably know the Buck O’Neil story about hearing a particularly attention-grabbing crack of the bat three times in his life: Babe Ruth, Josh Gibson, and Bo Jackson. This was Jackson demonstrating that sound. Moore turned around and watched. The infielders turned and watched. Center fielder John Moses turned and watched. Left fielder Phil Bradley (himself a former college football player, a quarterback at Missouri) half-jogged to the wall, probably to get a closer look at where this ball might land. It came down near the top of the grass berm in left-center field, to the left of the smaller fountain flanking the scoreboard. Here’s a video clip.
The Royals announced the distance as 475 feet, slightly longer than a bomb Chicago’s Dick Allen hit in 1974, making it the longest home run in stadium history to that point.
This is hardly an exact science, but to try to put Bo’s home run in perspective, take a look at this screenshot from Google Maps, measuring 475 feet from home plate to about where the ball landed.
Unless the ball rolled down the hill some before the video caught up with it, I’m not sure it made it 475 feet. But…who really cares? The entire baseball world was now aware that Bo Jackson was an incredible talent capable of amazing feats.