Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Top 10 Reggie Jackson Moments: A 70th Birthday Appreciation

May 18, 1946, 70 years ago: Reginald Martinez Jackson is born at Abington Memorial Hospital in Abington, Pennsylvania, and grows up in nearby Wyncote, just north of the Philadelphia City Line.

You never forget your first sports hero. Growing up in a New York suburb in Central New Jersey in the 1970s and 1980s, Reggie Jackson was the right guy, doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.

No, he's not perfect. He knew it then, and he knows it now. But he has a better handle on it than a lot of other people do, including most of his critics.

And he got the job done. Whether or not he actually called himself that (he still stands by his story that he didn't), he was "the straw that stirs the drink." Or, as somebody once put it, "It's funny how these winning teams keep following him around."

These events are in chronological order.

Top 10 Reggie Jackson Moments

1. June 9, 1967: Reggie makes his major league debut. He wears Number 31, plays right field and bats 2nd for the Kansas City Athletics against the Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Municipal Stadium. Batting against Steve Hargan, he flies out to center field in the 1st inning, struck out in the 4th, grounded to 3rd base in the 6th, and was set to be the 1st batter in the bottom of the 9th. There was none, as Chuck Dobson pitched a shutout, and a home run in the 7th by Jim Gosger gave the A's a 2-0 win.

Reggie had been a baseball, football and basketball star at Cheltenham High School in Bucks County, just north of Philly. He accepted a football scholarship from Frank Kush at Arizona State University. But baseball coach Bobby Winkles offered him a baseball tryout, and he switched sports.

The A's made him the 2nd pick in the 1966 Major League Baseball Draft. The Mets had the 1st pick, and chose Steve Chilcott, a high school catcher from the suburbs of Los Angeles. Winkles told Reggie that the Mets were concerned that he was a black man with a white girlfriend. In fact, Reggie's girlfriend, Jennie Campos, was a Mexican-American who faced prejudice as well.

Reggie and Jennie married, but it didn't last, for reasons that are not exactly a secret, reasons that I won't get into here. Suffice it to say that Reggie has managed to keep his private life mostly private. There have been no public stories about him mistreating women. From a relationship that didn't last, he has a daughter now in her mid-20s. (He is not, however, related to the Reggie Jackson who plays for the NBA's Detroit Pistons.)

And what happened to Steve Chilcott? A baserunning blunder wrecked his throwing shoulder. He never reached the major leagues, and he played his last professional game in 1972, only 24 years old. He moved to Santa Barbara, and became a firefighter and a contractor. He is now 67 years old, and in a 2005 interview, said, "I've had a good life, although, at first, it was ahrd for me to find things to do, because I had such a desire to be a professional athlete. I had to find my place in the world."

2. July 13, 1971: The All-Star Game homer. When the A's moved to Oakland in 1968, Reggie switched to Number 9, and had his 1st full season. In 1969, he was ahead of the pace of Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs, but tailed off, finishing with 47.
In 1971, at the All-Star Game at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, 6 future Hall-of-Famers hit home runs: Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench and Reggie.

Pinch-hitting for his Oakland teammate, pitcher Vida Blue, against Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates (briefly a Yankee teammate in 1977), Reggie crushed a pitch, sending it deep to right field. For a moment, it looked like it might go over the roof. Instead, it hit the transformer on a light standard. The American League won the game, beating the National League 6-4, the AL's only All-Star Game win between 1962 and 1983.

In 1984, playing for the Angels, Reggie finally hit one over the right-field roof at Tiger Stadium.  

3. October 12, 1972: Putting his body on the line for the Pennant. The A's and the Detroit Tigers went to a deciding Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Tiger Stadium. In the top of the 2nd inning, Reggie was on 3rd base and Mike Epstein on 1st. Manager Dick Williams ordered a double steal.

Epstein reached 2nd safely, and when Reggie broke for home, he collided with Tiger catcher Bill Freehan. He was correctly ruled safe, tying the game 1-1. However, he tore his left hamstring, and had to leave the game. The A's won 2-1, but Reggie was out for the World Series.

The A's beat the Cincinnati Reds in 7 games. This is the proof that "the Swingin' A's," not "the Big Red Machine," were the Team of the Decade for the 1970s: In the one time they faced each other in the World Series, the A's won, and did it without their best player, Reggie.

4. October 20 & 21, 1973: The beginning of "Mr. October." Not being available for the previous year's World Series, Reggie felt he had something to prove. The A's won the Pennant again, and faced the Mets in the World Series.

The Mets took a 3-2 lead, but back at the Oakland Coliseum, Reggie hit home runs off Tom Seaver in Game 6 and Jon Matlack in Game 7, sparking the A's to a 2nd straight title. He was named Most Valuable Player of both the AL in the regular season and the Series. The A's would win a 3rd straight Series in 1974.
This is not either of those home runs.
Reggie says most of the photos showing him
swinging are actually of him missing.

5. September 14, 1977: Putting the Red Sox to bed. When free agency came, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner knew Reggie was the guy. The guy to help get the team over the hump and win the World Series, and the guy to put people in the seats.

After getting traded by the A's and playing out his walk year with the Baltimore Orioles, Reggie became a Yankee. With his usual 9 worn by Graig Nettles, and his next choice, Jackie Robinson's 42, also already taken, took Number 44 as a tribute to the recently-retired Hank Aaron.

"I'm not comin' to New York to be a star," Reggie said, "I'm bringin' my star with me." He was right: He was the first in-his-prime star to come to the Yankees from elsewhere since Babe Ruth. And manager Billy Martin and team Captain and catcher Thurman Munson didn't like that. There were incidents between Billy and Reggie, and between Thurman and Reggie.

In August, George hauled Billy into his office, and said, "Bat Reggie 4th, or you're fired." The Yankees, stuck a few games behind the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles all season long, surged to 1st place by the end of the month. The Yankees took 2 out of 3 from the Sox, essentially deciding the Division title. The game on the 4th was 0-0 going to the bottom of the 9th, when Reggie Cleveland walked Munson, and Reggie took him deep to win it 2-0. The chant of "Reg-GIE! Reg-GIE! Reg-GIE!" wouldn't stop.

6. October 18, 1977: The Reggie Jackson Game. The Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals for the Pennant, then led the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 in the World Series. Reggie had homered in Games 4 and 5 in Los Angeles. Game 6 at Yankee Stadium would be his night.

In the 2nd inning, he drew a walk, and scored on Chris Chambliss' homer off Dodger starter Burt Hooton. In the 4th, Reggie slammed a Hooton pitch into the right field seats, nearly reaching the upper deck. In the 6th, he sent a screaming line drive off Elias Sosa into the stands, just over the fence. In the 8th, against knuckleballer Charlie Hough, he hit what ABC sportscaster Howard Cosell termed "a colossal blow," sending it 475 feet into the center field bleachers, blacked out and closed to fans as a hitters' background. The Yankees won, 8-4, and clinched their 1st World Championship in 15 years. The chant of "Reg-GIE! Reg-GIE! Reg-GIE!" still seems to echo.
This is definitely the 3rd homer.
Steve Yeager seems to be saying, "Holy... "
and I don't think the 2nd word is "...cow."

For the 2nd time, and for the 2nd different team, Reggie Jackson was named Most Valuable Player of the World Series. The award is named the Babe Ruth Award, in honor of the 1st true Yankee Legend -- and also the only man before Reggie to have hit 3 home runs in a World Series game. Indeed, of all the human beings who have ever lived, only 1 has more home runs than Reggie and at least as many World Series rings: Babe Ruth.

7. April 13, 1978: Sweet As Candy. "If I played in New York, they'd name a candy bar after me." Yes, he said that. And he was right: The Reggie! Bar was produced in time for Opening Day 1978. It was peanuts, covered in caramel, covered in chocolate. Ironically, it was pretty much a round version of the Baby Ruth bar -- which, contrary to legend (the company producing it made up a stupid story so they wouldn't have to pay the Bambino royalties), was named for Babe Ruth.
On Opening Day, Reggie again took a knuckleballer deep, this time Wilbur Wood of the Chicago White Sox. The fans got free Reggie! Bars when they came in, and started throwing the things onto the field. The orange packages really clashed with the green grass. Reggie was confused: He thought it meant that they didn't like the bars. Well, I loved them. Anyway, the Yankees won the game 4-2.

8. October 2, 3 and 17, 1978: Cementing the Legend. People forget, but on October 2, 1978, in the game I like to call the Boston Tie Party, while the home run that gave the Yankees the lead that they never relinquished was hit by Bucky Dent, the home run that gave the Yankees the margin of their 5-4 victory was hit by Reggie Jackson.

In the 1977 ALCS, Billy Martin benched Reggie for the deciding Game 5, because Reggie had hit so poorly against lefthanded pitchers Paul Splittorff (the Game 5 starter) and Larry Gura. That series was the beginning of the cliche, "The Yankees can't hit lefthanded pitchers, especially in the postseason." When Splittorff was pulled for righthanded pitcher Doug Bird, Billy sent Reggie up to pinch-hit, and he hit an RBI single, and the Yankees went on to win.

Well, in the 1978 ALCS, Bob Lemon was now the manager, and the Yankees led 4-1 in the 8th inning of Game 1 at Royals Stadium (now Kauffman Stadium). And Royals manager Whitey Herzog brought in Al Hrabosky, the intimidating lefthanded reliever known as the Mad Hungarian. Billy would have pinch-hit for Reggie. (Some genius.) Lemon left Reggie in. Reggie hit a home run that gave the Royals' outfielders whiplash. The Royals never got off the deck, and, unlike the 2 preceding years, this one didn't go the full 5: The Yankees won the Pennant in 4.

In Game 1 of the World Series against the Dodgers, Reggie hit another home run. But he struck out with the bases loaded to end Game 2, and the Yankees fell behind 2-0. But they took all 3 in Yankee Stadium -- including Game 4, with Reggie's "Sacrifice Thigh" being a key play, and the Dodgers and their idiot fans still think he intentionally interfered, as if that made the difference. In Game 6, Reggie again faced Bob Welch, who struck him out to end Game 2. Reggie hit a drive that landed in Nevada. The Yankees made it back-to-back World Championships. It was Reggie's 5th title.

9. April 27, 1982: Revenge. Reggie had 4 strong seasons in New York, including sharing the AL lead in home runs, with Ben Oglivie of the Milwaukee Brewers, with 41 in 1980. But the Yankees weren't close to the Playoffs in 1979, lost the ALCS to the Royals in 1980, and lost the World Series to the Dodgers in 1981, after Reggie had a bad year in the worst possible year, the last year on his contract. Steinbrenner chose not to sign Reggie to a new contract.

Reggie went to the California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), and within a month, returned to The Bronx with them. He'd gotten off to a lousy start, but on a rainy night, against Ron Guidry (a lefthander, one of the best of that era), he hit a home run. The Angels won the game, 3-1.

When Reggie swung, the fans were chanting, "Reg-GIE! Reg-GIE! Reg-GIE!" By the time he made his way around the bases and touched home plate, the chant had become, "Steinbrenner sucks!"
"Never... mind... the Queen. I... must embarrass... The Boss."

Reggie would help the Angels win the AL Western Division title in 1982 and 1986, and George would later admit that letting Reggie go was his biggest mistake. They would eventually patch things up, and, since 1993, Reggie has worked in the Yankees' front office and been a uniformed spring training instructor.

10. October 4, 1987: Closing the Books. Reggie returned to the A's for a final season in 1987, and they let him wear Number 44, although they would later retire 9 for him, as the Yankees would retire 44 for him.
His last game was at Comiskey Park, against the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox won, 5-2. His last at-bat wasn't very Reggielike, but it was productive: Against ChiSox reliever Bobby Thigpen, he hit a broken-bat single up the middle.

His final totals: A .262 batting average, .356 on-base percentage, .490 slugging percentage, 139 OPS+, 2,584 hits, 563 home runs, and 1,702 RBIs. He made 14 All-Star Games and 11 postseasons, winning 6 Pennants and 5 World Championships.

"It's not important that I did it," the man with the supposedly massive ego in an interview after his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993. "What's important is that it was done." On July 6, 2002, the Yankees honored him with a Plaque in Monument Park. (I was there. I had to be, especially after I missed his Hall of Fame induction ceremony 9 years earlier.)

While still playing, he learned from the mistakes of many previous athletes, and found guys he could trust to help him invest his money wisely, investing in classic cars, auto dealerships and real estate, eventually moving into the sports collectible industry. He's doing just fine, and it appears his health is good.
Reggie at Spring Training 2016

Happy Birthday, Reg. May there be many more.

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