"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Empire Struck Out

Reggie Jackson turned 65 yesterday. He was my baseball hero as a kid. He was also Jon DeRosa’s idol. To mark the occasion of Reggie becoming a senior citizen,  figured this is as  good a time as any to share Jon’s Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory (which appeared in the book but not on-line until now).


“The Return”

By Jon DeRosa

On January 22, 1982 Reggie Jackson signed with the California Angels. It was the latest in a series of difficult lessons for me—a six-year-old who otherwise had it pretty good. In rapid succession, Darth Vader revealed he was Luke Skywalker’s father, the Yankees crashed out of the only two baseball seasons I had ever followed, and my Grandmother passed days after my little brother was born on my 6th birthday. I was looking for a fight and George Steinbrenner and his Yankees were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I assigned Steinbrenner and Vader to the same category of evil: each had reached into my life and changed things forever. I actively rooted for the Yankees’ decline the way I rooted for the fall of the Empire. I removed my Yankee baseball cards from the binder, secured them with merciless rubber bands and tossed them in with obscure Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians and other total strangers. From that point on, I rooted for the Angels.

In 1982, for a kid in New York, that was difficult. You had to write a letter to the team, addressed to the stadium itself, requesting them to mail you an order form so that you might have the opportunity to buy something with a halo on it. My mother wrote such a letter and, by the grace of Gene Autry, was allowed to purchase a cap, a helmet, a jersey, and for some reason, Angels wristbands. I wore the whole ensemble to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday April 27th, 1982 for Reggie’s first game back in New York. My father and older brother were with me but I was scared stiff. What if he struck out? What if they booed? What if the Yankees were right?

We watched batting practice from right field in a light rain as a buzzing crowd filed in around us. Our seats were in the upper deck between first base and right field, where we munched on hot dogs. I felt grown-up whenever I was allowed to get two, but that night, my nervous stomach wasn’t accommodating. The rain made the bun on the second hot dog a little soggy.

When Reggie came to bat in the second inning, Bob Sheppard announced his name with such elegance that I imagined it was a personal statement, “I should be announcing this name every night.” This was the moment I dreaded. Would they boo? The crowd stood and chanted: REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE. Buoyed by the warmth of the welcome, I got to my feet, but my jaw was frozen shut and I couldn’t move my lips. My dad put his arm around me as Ron Guidry poured in a heater. Reggie took his massive cut, but he got jammed and popped out. I was back in my seat the instant I saw Reggie’s reaction.

The game rolled along at a pace more akin to a 100-meter dash than a modern American League baseball game—they got through seven innings in 1 hour and 51 minutes before the game was called due to rain. When Reggie batted in the fifth, the crowd rose for him again. REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE. He yanked a single to right field and was rewarded with brief applause. I was silent throughout this at bat, too, but the base hit calmed my nerves temporarily. The crowd asked; Reggie delivered. Contract complete, customers satisfied, right? Even a child should have known better. Yankee fans didn’t ask—they demanded. And they didn’t want a single; they wanted a home run.

When they greeted Reggie with his chant for the third time in the seventh, my stomach knotted, and I wished they would stop chanting. It wasn’t fanatical devotion; it was the begging of spoiled children. REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE might as well be MORE, MORE, MORE. I knew it was not fair to ask for so much. In this world I was learning about, teams lose, people die; things just don’t usually work out…

I saw Reggie’s black bat whip through the hitting zone; the ball accelerated at an improbable speed and angle at impact and assumed a trajectory that could have sent it across the street if not for the upper deck façade. As the ball sped past my face it erased all my doubts and fears and I felt a lightness rise from my gut to my head. Pure relief. I couldn’t hear anything because my mind had not yet validated this moment as reality. Then the noise just materialized in my ears: REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE, louder than the other three times combined. My brother and father jostled me from side to side as they chanted along.

I stayed quiet. How did this happen? Did I use the Force to will that ball out of the park? I couldn’t even comprehend that I just got exactly what I wanted. What were the ramifications of getting what you pray for? I should have been screaming my head off, but I just stared out at Reggie rounding the bases, making sure he touched every one and hoping he was as happy as I was.

The chanting didn’t end when Reggie reached the dugout. When he came out for his curtain call, as if they had rehearsed it prior to the game, the crowd turned toward Steinbrenner’s box and let him have it. Steinbrenner SUCKS, Steinbrenner SUCKS, Steinbrenner SUCKS! All of the emotion that had built up in my little body flowed through the crowd into the damp Stadium air. My brother and father were gleefully singing the song, rousing me to participate. But I felt bad for George and I kept silent.


1 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 19, 2011 2:05 pm

Wow, exquisite, poignant piece of writing, Jon, thank you!

I wonder if I was at that game? I did see Reggie hit one out with California and I remember my heart soaring and the thrill of standing up with the whole stadium to chant "reg-GIE, reg-GIE, reg-GIE!!" What a moment. As I recall, though (and I was probably 9 or 10, depending on the season), the ball carried out to left-center, somewhere into the black.

Also, I named my cat Reggie. Everyone asked, "Oh, after Reggie Jackson?" and I'd always deny it, "No, I just like the name."

How absurd and amusing that preposterous denial must have looked! I mean, I had a Reggie autographed photograph (along with one of Bucky Dent!), several Reggie shirts, Reggie books...

And yet, "No, it's just a cute name for a cat."

Even at that age I felt a little embarrassed about being *that* much of a fanboy. The shirts, the autograph, that's one thing, but naming your pet after the man?

All of which is to say, happy birthday, Reggie.

2 Jon DeRosa   ~  May 19, 2011 2:13 pm

[2] Thanks man. Alex and I discovered we both used to send Reggie birthday cards.

I went as Reggie for Halloween in 1980. My aunt Susan saw him at Gucci and went up to him and said,"Hey can you sign an autograph for my nephew? He was you for Halloween." Reggie grabbed some Gucci gift card or something and wrote his name out. As he handed it back to her he said, "This is a white kid?"

3 Alex Belth   ~  May 19, 2011 2:19 pm

I remember this game well. Watched it on our 13" Sony Trinitron. Did laps around our apartment when Reggie hit the dinger. Still probably one of the great sports moments of my life.

Great piece, J.

4 Yankee Mama   ~  May 19, 2011 2:31 pm

Lovely prose, Jon.

Year after year, my son would send a letter to Jeter, hoping against hope that his letters would be answered. I was the sobering voice of reason. It makes me think about heroes, how colorful and illustrious a hero Reggie was as compared to the antiseptic heroes in baseball today. Don't get me wrong, I think Jeter is a class-act and has been a decent role model, but not nearly as deliciously flawed as our Reggie.

5 Jon DeRosa   ~  May 19, 2011 2:36 pm

[4] That's a great point. And the thing is, your son would have loved Jeter whether Jeter was bland or not. We loved Reggie for the baseball, same as Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Munson.

The players are cleansing themselves of style and flaws for the corporate sponsors. The adoring kids would have latched onto Jeter the first time he made a jump throw or got a big hit and they never would have worried about whether or not he was an asshole.

6 Chyll Will   ~  May 19, 2011 2:43 pm

My first year in Little League, we were allowed to choose our own numbers for our uniforms. My Mom knew I wanted Reggie's number, but somehow she got the '44' mixed with '42' and I ended up with the latter. She apologized, but also reasoned that it was just as well, if not more honorable because '42' happened to be the number of one Jackie Robinson. Well, that wasn't a problem at all, was it?

7 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 19, 2011 3:52 pm

[6] Ohhhh, Nooo!


Mothers, indeed!

8 ms october   ~  May 19, 2011 4:01 pm

great piece jon.
that must have been an hilarious exchange at gucci.

as a little kid i just found reggie so mesmerizing. he's one of those people that commands attention, whether he is speaking, or just walking to the plate, or spinning out a hr.

9 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  May 19, 2011 6:09 pm

Mr. October, greatest nickname ever. I was 8 when he went to the Angels, my aunty downstairs then bought me a framed picture of him in his new uniform and it took prime position in my bedroom.

You're right about today's bland athletes, there's no one in baseball (sports?) today who is as so stylish, charismatic or controversial as Reggie. Always going to be my favorite baseball player ever...just ahead of Donnie Baseball, Willie Randolph, Jeter and Lord Mariano.

10 Boatzilla   ~  May 19, 2011 8:59 pm

Saw Reggie play for the Angels in Anaheim the same day that Elvis croaked. Went with my cousin, who made the 10-minute drive from their home in Orange. As was our pattern, back in the day, we got stoned before the game, and probably during the game. I ate popcorn and nachos with jalapenos and got a bad stomach ache.

My cousin, who was not a big baseball fan, got restless and made some B.S. excuse that we had to leave to get home in time for dinner, and anyway the Angels were going to lose. As we were walking through the parking lot, I heard the place going nuts.

When we got home my Aunt was watching the news, talking about Elvis. Then she says, that must have been something, "Reggie won the game with a home run in the 9th."

I couldn't even fake it. She was astonished that we missed it. I was sick.

11 Jon DeRosa   ~  May 19, 2011 10:49 pm

(10) that is some good shit you were smokin. Reggie was on the yanks in 77 and they weren't in Anaheim on august sixteenth. Bobby bonds hit homer for the angels that night but it wasn't a game winner or anything. I would love to know how that memory came to form in your noggin.

12 joejoejoe   ~  May 20, 2011 12:13 am

I watched this game on TV too! I remember straining to understand the chant through the little television speaker "What are they saying? What? Steinbrenner...sucks?!?" like I was some kind of inverse Grinch listening to the singing in Whoville. I had a Reggie poster over my bed as a kid taken from Sport magazine, maybe a Leroy Neiman painting? That game was awesome. Reg-gie is still the best two syllable chant in sports.

13 Boatzilla   ~  May 20, 2011 2:14 am

[11] It appears that the Elvis memory is the false one. I'm absolutely positive we left an Angels' game early in which Reggie Jackson hit a game winning HR.

I know I was also in CA at that aunt's house the day that Elvis died, so I must have blended the two memories to make for a better story.

I can also confirm that I would not had anything to do with that wacky tobaccy in 77 at the age of 13.

So drop out the Elvis part and the rest is true.

14 Jon DeRosa   ~  May 20, 2011 9:08 am

[13] Let's see if we can put a date to that for you...

Reggie only hit one walk-off homer as an Angel, that was 5/29/82 vs the Brewers to win 5-4 in the 10th.

He also hit a 2 run shot down 3-2 in the 8th on 9/25/86, and they went on to win 6-3 over Cleveland.

Abd a 2 run shot down 5-4 in the 7th on 8/22/82, and they went on to win 6-5 over Detroit.

So assuming the homer came late in the game and "won the game" it's got to be one of those three games.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver