I have probably written more about Reggie Jackson than my contract allows, but there’s a point to today’s story beyond the usual history lessons. What I hope to accomplish from this modest piece of writing is to reveal the Reggie you might not have met. The softer, gentler, sensitive side.
Most of you know Reggie as the A’s star who snubbed
"Reggie would give you the shirt off his back. Of course, he’d call a press conference to do it."
And here’s Darold Knowles, with extra relish:
"There’s not enough mustard in the world to cover that hot dog."
It’s not that Reggie didn’t bring such diatribe upon himself:
"When you hit a terrific shot", says
, "all the baseball players come to rest at that moment and watch you. Everyone is helpless and in awe. You charge people up. And when you're a good hitter, you do that every day. You're the center of confidence. The man can hit, they say that. And you know it. You're a master. Dealing. The man who can do it is a dominating force when he walks out of the dugout. There's no feeling like that." Jackson
"Richie Allen told me once, 'Don't speak with this [he points to his mouth], speak with this.'" With a flowing gesture he indicates his body, and the bat. "'Through this [he holds the bat up like a torch] you can speak to the world.'"...
Reggie, of course, did as much talking with his mouth as he did with the majestic bat he swung on many a summer evening. And even Dick Allen, the opposing superstar who offered Reggie such sound advice in the previous paragraph, knew it:
"I look in the record book and I see Reggie has never hit .300. And I wonder how he can do all that talking."
But as was pointed out so eloquently in that Sports Illustrated cover story in 1974, Reggie was one of a kind:
Whatever his flaws and rough edges, Jackson has put together a package of power, speed, science, flash, funk, outspoken quotability, popularity, fun-lovingness, social and economic independence, responsibility, diversification and winningness that is unique among ballplayers. And Reggie knows and loves it.
And he was all ours.
Reggie’s heir apparent, Rickey Henderson, said in his Hall-of-Fame speech that he would sneak into games as a youngster to watch the slugger at bat.
Were it not for Rickey, Reggie would surely stand as the face of the franchise, and it’s not even close. He was
But with hopes of a repeat performance hanging in the balance the following year, the league’s Most Valuable Player during the regular season (and a unanimous choice at that) stepped up to earn MVP honors in the World Series, too. Reggie doubled home a run in each if his first two at-bats off fellow future Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver (
Until his scuffle with teammate Bill North prior to a game on June 5, 1974, Reggie was the talk of baseball that season, inspiring the aforementioned SI story, and also a TIME Magazine cover. Three days before the fight, Reggie was batting .399 with 15 homeruns, a .470 on base-percentage, and a .759 slugging average. But he was never the same after he tangled with North in the locker room at Tiger Stadium.
Reggie collected only two hits (to go with five walks) in the 1974 ALCS, but his second one drove home Sal Bando with the series-clinching run. With the world wondering whether Reggie was fit to play in the opener of the World Series,
In his final season with the A’s in 1975 (not counting his swan song in ’87), Reggie tied for the league lead with 36 homeruns. Just a few days before the 1976 campaign got underway Charlie Finley traded
Reggie was devastated. He knew the
Reggie Jackson wore his emotions on his sleeve. After the A’s were swept in the 1971 ALCS, he wept on the dugout steps in
The affair came to a head late in the season, when Reggie came off the bench to belt one of his patented awe-inspiring moon shots. As he completed his trip around the bases,
Of course, he would indeed trade Reggie, and when
"I did not come to
And he was right. So just so we are clear Yankee fans, Reggie’s star was born right here.
When I interviewed Reggie Jackson last year, he spoke fondly of the A’s organization, and his time with the team:
"I've always loved the A's. I enjoyed my time there. I enjoyed playing there. I enjoyed getting my start there. I'm from
. I hope they keep their franchise there. The fans are special, the place is special, and it's a place I enjoy calling home." Oakland
And in 2005, after an earlier failed attempt to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers, Reggie set his sights on the organization where his trek to
Jackson said he fell victim to the friends-of-Selig syndrome. A popular view in baseball circles is that any friend of Selig's has the inside track to purchase a team. Exhibit A is the group of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, who bought the Boston Red Sox three years ago.
Lewis Wolff, a
real estate entrepreneur, an A's executive and a college fraternity brother of Selig, held the option and will soon become the team's owner. The sale price is about $180 million. Los Angeles said his group was prepared to top any offer by $25 million. But he made his move too late. Jackson
''I was devastated emotionally,''
said. ''I didn't want to do anything." Jackson
(It should be noted that the story mentions that Reggie had planned on moving the A’s to Las Vegas, so having him as our owner my not have worked out so well. That is, if there is a shred of truth to that tidbit.)
When asked in an interview two weeks ago if the A’s can remain in Oakland, Reggie expressed concern over lack of a new ballpark, but remained hopeful, while he echoed the sentiments he shared with me last year:
"I have my fingers crossed that they do get one there, of course, because I still have a home in
. I played there, I love the town and the people, and while I work for the Yankees, I’m still an A’s fan as well." Oakland
After Reggie retired after the 1987 season he remained close to many of his former A’s teammates and was seen at the Coliseum on several occasions as the team made a run to the ’88 World Series. He worked with the organization as a part-time coach in 1991, but was let go at the end of the year in a cost-cutting move. The Yankees offered Reggie a job, and when the Hall called in 1993, Reggie was fit for Cooperstown in a
I got left out in the cold,"
says. "I was deserted. I was living in Jackson and wanted to be a Hall of Famer in the community. A black hero. A person of color. But I had no roots. The Yankees, they all made me feel welcome. Joe DiMaggio treated me well. It was an honor." Oakland
It wasn’t until May of 2004- eleven seasons after he was inducted into the Hall-of-Fame- that the A’s retired his number 9:
For years, dating back to the previous ownership,
was an A's outsider. While Hunter and Fingers had Nos. 27 and 34 retired shortly after their Hall of Fame inductions, No. 9 has been worn and laundered like it was no different than a sanitary sock. Jackson
While the honor was long overdue, Reggie decided to let bygones be bygones:
said. "I'm happy about, I would say, re-engaging with Jackson , where I got my start and had some of my greatest years. Oakland
But he again was left to defend his allegiance to George Steinbrenner and his Evil Empire:
"This man here gave me a job,"
said. "He gave me an opportunity. I heard things like, 'Reggie didn't want to be around Jackson .' What am I supposed to do, point myself to a job there? It's amazing it came back on me." Oakland
Amazing? How about sad? Here’s a guy- warts and all- that should be revered in
If this same offer was for Rickey, people here would have been breaking their piggy banks and turning over their couches for loose change. But because it was Reggie, the commentary was pretty much: "I’ll pass."
I’m not suggesting that any of us have $600 lying around. But considering that it is for a good cause- and Reggie has been involved with more than a fair share of charities over the years- and a chance to rub elbows with a true Oakland legend, I would have hoped the response would have been somewhat more on the positive side.
The reality though is that Reggie Jackson is still having to explain himself, and is still fighting to be loved in