Play Ball: Reggie Jackson, One of the Greats

By Joe Curreri
   Reggie Jackson was the Babe Ruth of his day. And like Ruth, he played on a lot of winners. Eleven times in his 21 years, Jackson’s teams—in Oakland, New York and California—made it to the playoffs. Five times they played in World Series, and four times they won.
   In the final game of the 1977 World Series, he lashed three consecutive home runs, thus tying Babe Ruth’s record of three in one World Series game.
   On May 15, 1986, he hit his 537th home run to move in the sixth spot in the all-time home run list and passed Mickey Mantle.
   “I understand what it means to win,” says Reggie. “It’s it. It’s the whole deal, and you can’t tell someone what it’s like. You can’t write a book about it. You must live it, and if you live it, you’ll understand it.”
   Jackson lived it and understood it and loved it. They named a candy bar after him, and he came to be known as “Mr. October.” In 27 World Series games, he hit .357, 10 homers and 24 RBI’s.
   “I’m not the best, I’m not the most,” Reggie once said. “But when they call the greatest of all time, I get a ticket to go to the party.”
   When he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993 in Cooperstown—he was the only player chosen that year.
   Reggie was a troubled but nevertheless a great baseball hero. He had known misery, and had fought great odds to be where he is today.
   Reggie gives credit to his father, Martinez Jackson, an 88-year-old tailor, who had his shop at Spencer Street in Philadelphia. He raised six children alone. “My father never allowed us to talk in his presence in the street vernacular,” says Reggie. “When I would say, ‘Uh-uh,’ he would correct me: ‘You mean no, Reggie,’ he would say.”
   The elder Jackson had to alter a lot of pants and jackets to be able to raise his large family, among them little Reginald Martinez Jackson, growing up in the Philadelphia suburb of Wyncote, not fully realizing he’d later be stung when he awakened to being black in a predominantly white society.
   His father provided him with the motivation to excel in sports. He gave his son a choice: “Do your best, without excuses, or sweat in my shop.”
   “I did anything I could not to go into the shop and have to work on the pressing machine…when it was 100 degrees with all the humidity in Philadelphia,” Reggie recalled. “It was terrible.”
   “So I played on the teams, and my dad would always check to be sure I was first string….He had his own raggedy truck, and after he got done running his cleaning route, you’d see him parked way out in left field, leaning on his truck, checking me out.”
   Reggie attended classes and participated in sports at Cheltenham High School, where there are closeups of Jackson as a diamond and grid star in the 1962 and 1964 Cheltenham High year books. A comment on Jackson reads “screaming ’55 Chevy” and “sovereign independence.”
   Says his father, “Reggie is very good to me. He is very feeling, very generous. He gave me a Fleetwood, a Cadillac and a Mercedes. That is a payback for the cars I bought him when he was in high school.”
   As for his “sovereign independence,” Reggie Jackson displayed it in all its splendor during his 21-year stormy career. “Love me or hate me, you cannot ignore me,” Jackson, the Muhammad Ali of baseball, once said.
   Reggie recalls his father’s advice when he had problems with Yankee’s Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner. “You’ve a job to do….You say you don’t want to play for Billy Martin. You’re wrong. You’re being a baby. Steinbrenner is paying you a lot of money for you to perform. Do it.”
   Reggie Jackson eventually worked for Steinbrenner as “special adviser to the general partners.” He saw himself as a valuable buffer between The Boss and his Yankee employees. “I’m going to do my best to make him look good and make him feel good.”
   Reggie has made a career of extremes and excesses. Only five players in history have swatted more homers. And no one has struck out more often. He was made for Broadway. No one has ever toured the bases after homering with quite his grandeur and haughtiness. The majority of his coiled, sweeping swings ended with him cork-screwed down to one knee while fans moaned or cheered. No in-between. Loved or hated him.    Reggie Jackson, with his audacity, his daring, his sense of style, building expectancy in the ballpark…the theatrical approach to the plate, the tinkering with his glasses, the rehearsal of the swing, then the mammoth swing

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