Reggie Jackson says farewell after career filled with big moments
Come November there will be no more Octobers for Reggie Jackson. After two decades filled with great play and continuous controversy, the man who made a name for himself by rising to the occasion in big games is calling it a career. Defying the Thomas Wolfe credo, ``You Can't Go Home Again,'' Reggie has played this final season in Oakland with the A's, the same team with which he started (then in Kansas City) back in 1967.
It hasn't been a good year for him in terms of numbers, with a batting average down in the low .200s and home run and RBI figures far below those of his glory days. He's still dangerous, though, as he showed just last weekend with a two-run pinch single that lifted the A's to a 7-6 win over Kansas City and kept them alive in the American League West race.
Throughout his career, Jackson has been a big favorite of the home fans and a prime target of the crowd whenever he was on the road. But baseball fans know a great player when they see one, and this summer in his final swing around the league, they turned out in city after city to show their appreciation for the excitement he has brought to the game throughout these last two decades.
Overflow crowds have filled many stadiums to bid Reggie adieu. In Anaheim and New York he received formal tributes. Even in Boston's Fenway Park, where for so many years he was the most visible member of the archrival Yankees, the fans lauded him with numerous standing ovations. And Jackson, responding in typical fashion, doffed his cap to the crowd, then, in his final at bat, lofted a double off the left field wall as a formal Fenway farewell.
It can't be just a coincidence that Jackson has played on so many winning teams - reaching the playoffs 11 times in all. And so it is fitting that once again in this final season his team has at least been in the race.
Time is running out on the A's now, however, and it begins to look as though Reggie won't get the one more postseason chance he had hoped for. But regardless of what this final October yields, he can look back on a career filled with more than his share of exciting moments.
``Reggie situations,'' Jackson himself calls them, and over the years it has certainly seemed that when the big moments arrived, he was involved far more often than the law of averages would have dictated.
``As if he were Sir Laurence Olivier or Richard Burton,'' New York Times baseball reporter Murray Chass once wrote, ``Jackson performs as though his lines and actions were derived from a script. If a home run were the call, invariably Jackson would be the man at the plate.''
Of course he didn't always hit one. Like all big swingers, Reggie strikes out a lot - enough to be one of baseball's all-time leaders in this category. But he also leads all active major leaguers with over 500 home runs and 1,700 RBIs.
Interestingly, given the celebration of Jackie Robinson's major league debut 40 years ago, Jackson was born in that historic year of 1947.
Reggie is a lot like Robinson in many ways too: a great all-around player who often inspired controversy among teammates, owners, managers, fans, and the media. ``I am the straw that stirs the drink,'' he said when he joined the New York Yankees in 1977 - and indeed he was.
Reggie had earned his stripes long before arriving in New York, of course. He broke in at Kansas City in 1967, and moved with the team to Oakland for his first full season of 1968, giving a hint of things to come by blasting 29 homers. And he was one of the big guns of the A's team that won five straight division titles, three pennants, and three World Series in the early '70s.
The ``Reggie situations'' started coming in those years too. In the 1972 All-Star Game, Jackson hit one of the longest homers in baseball records, a towering shot over the upper deck in Tiger Stadium that powered the American League to its first victory in All-Star play in more than a decade. And after missing the 1972 World Series with an injury, Reggie launched his postseason legend the next year when he was chosen MVP after leading Oakland to victory over the New York Mets.
After eight seasons in Oakland and one in Baltimore, Jackson went the free-agent route in 1977 and signed with the Yankees for what were to become his most publicized years - the days of having a candy bar named after him; of the chants of ``Reggie, Reggie, Reggie,'' in the stands; of leading the Yankees to three pennants and two world championships; and of the ongoing soap opera involving owner George Steinbrenner, manager Billy Martin, and others.
The exorbitant amount of money Steinbrenner paid out to Reggie and other free agents stirred resentment among other players, which in turn led to turmoil on every level of the organization. Or, as third baseman Graig Nettles put it in a famous quip: ``When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a ballplayer or join the circus. With the Yankees, I've got both wishes.''
And of course there were the confrontations with Martin, topped by a famous benching, followed by a near-fight in the dugout in Boston - all dutifully recorded on national TV. But Reggie answered all his critics in basically the same way - by coming through in the clutch. ``Meaningless situations mean nothing to me,'' he once said, ``but when the meat is in the seats and the money is on the line so am I.''
And never was this more true than in the World Series, prompting his late teammate Thurman Munson to come up with the larger-than-life designation ``Mr. October.'' In his five fall classics (two with Oakland and three with New York), Reggie hit .357 with 10 homers and 24 RBIs, the climax coming in the 1977 victory over Los Angeles when he hit a record five home runs, including three in a row in the sixth and decisive game.
Having been declared by Steinbrenner as ``too old to be an asset to the Yankees,'' Reggie signed in 1982 with the California Angels, leading them to two postseason playoff appearances. And in true center-stage fashion, in his first return to Yankee Stadium in his new uniform, he answered his former employer's allegations with a home run off Ron Guidry. While with the Angels, Jackson also surpassed Mickey Mantle as sixth on the all-time home run list.
Now it is ending. But on an August day five years from now, as soon as he is eligible, we can expect one more bow from Reggie as he takes his place among the game's other great sluggers in the Hall of Fame.