Hall of Fame: Royals induct Auburn’s Bo Jackson

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Bo Jackson receives his Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame blazer. (Jason Hanna/Kansas City Royals)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Entering atop a Corvette and taking a slow lap around the stadium where the legend he first fashioned at Auburn further grew, Bo Jackson received a standing ovation Saturday from Kansas City Royals fans, many wearing No. 16 jerseys.

“When I see people wearing my jersey in this day and age it means one thing to me,” Jackson said. “That I did something right, and people still respect me for doing those right things when I was younger.”

In a pregame ceremony at Kauffman Stadium, National Baseball Hall of Famer member George Brett officially welcomed his former teammate into Royals’ royalty.

“I never saw anyone quite like Bo, and I doubt I ever will again,” said Brett, minutes before catching Jackson’s ceremonial first pitch. “He is the greatest athlete I have ever seen. He is, and remains, a cultural icon, and today it is my honor and privilege to welcome my friend Bo Jackson into the Royals Hall of Fame.”

Kansas City drafted Jackson in the fourth round in 1986, six months after he won the 1985 Heisman Trophy, concluding his Auburn football career as the program’s all-time leading rusher, a record Bo still holds four decades later.

To the astonishment of many, Jackson spurned the NFL’s Tampa Bay Bucs, which had drafted him No. 1 overall six weeks earlier, and signed instead with the Royals, debuting in the majors on Sept. 2, 1986, after only 53 minor league games.

“The first day I walked in the clubhouse, from having confidence within myself – this isn’t from an arrogant standpoint; this is from the fight within me – I knew somebody was going to lose their job,” Jackson said. “I’m always striving to be the best even though a lot of times I wasn’t. I’m not going to let the guy on the other side of the field outdo me.”

Kansas City drafted Jackson, he says, in part because of Bo’s baseball coach at Auburn, Hal Baird, who had pitched six seasons in the Royals’ organization in the 1970s.

“Coach Baird and (former Royals scouting director) Art Stewart are the reason I became a Royal,” Jackson recalled. “Every other ballclub within the league was afraid to come after me because of that football thing. Art Stewart called Coach Baird and asked if I was serious about baseball.

“Coach Baird said yes, and whoever gets him is going to be lucky to have him, so he is serious. Art Stewart convinced the ownership and everybody to take a chance on me, and I’m glad they did.”

That football thing, Bo’s “hobby” as he famously referred to it at the time. Beginning in 1987, when the Royals season ended, Jackson joined the Los Angeles Raiders, averaging 5.4 yards per carry over four seasons until a hip injury ended his NFL career.

“It was easy for me,” Jackson said of juggling professional sports simultaneously. “The two sports are drastically different. Whenever the baseball season was over, I would take a week off with my family then on the seventh day I would report to Los Angeles and play the next weekend. Just something I did, a normal day in my life.”

“When I see people wearing my jersey in this day and age it means one thing to me. That I did something right, and people still respect me for doing those right things when I was younger.”

Jackson averaged 27 home runs in four seasons with the Royals from 1987-90, but the stats only begin to tell the story.

Jackson amazed fans with his batting, running, fielding and throwing exploits that endure to this day via social media, delighting a new generation of viewers, including Jackson’s 3-year-old grandson, Aidan, who sat beside his grandfather at a press conference before the ceremony.

“His Nana told him a couple weeks ago, ‘I’m sick of watching Bo Jackson highlights,’” Jackson said. “He chastised his grandmother and said, ‘Nana, don’t say that about Papa. Papa’s my best friend.’’

To Jackson’s left sat his family: his wife Linda, their three children and two grandchildren. To his right were fellow Royals Hall of Famers.

“You are loved and appreciated on both sides,” Jackson said.

Nearby sat invited guests, whom Jackson called mentors, including longtime Auburn football orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews and Auburn University Board of Trustees member Jimmy Rane.

“Once you make it up that ladder, always reach back to help someone else come up,” Jackson said. “I have a saying: sometime during your day, stop and put some sunshine in somebody’s cloud.”

Jackson concluded his remarks by thanking Kansas City fans for welcoming him, then and now.

“Thank you, Kansas City. I wouldn’t be me without you.”