"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: Reggie Jackson
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I’m Ready for my Close Up

Been enjoying poking my nose through my baseball library and selecting some cherce quotes, so here’s another one for ya. This one if from Foul Ball: Five Years in the American League, by Alison Gordon, who covered the Blue Jays from 1979-83. Gordon describes herself as “a socialist, feminist, hedonist with roots in the sixties, a woman who had marched against the bomb, done drugs, and never, ever even wanted to date the head jock at school, had nothing in common with these children of Ozzie and Harriet, locked in a fifties timewarp.” Some combination, huh? I enjoyed her take on Mr. October:

Undeniably a star with an extraordinary sense of the moment, Jackson was one of the most fascinating, but unpleasant, characters I encountered in baseball. It’s only a fluke I feel that way. There were some reporters I respect whom he liked and who assured me that Jackson was a sensitive and intelligent man, unfairly at the mercy of the sharks that surrounded him. It could be. I wouldn’t know because he thought I had a fin on my back, too. He was a bit like Billy Martin in that way. If you encountered either one on a good day you came away thinking he was a prince. On a bad day there were jerks. I never hit a good day with either one.

Had I not been a print reporter it would have been a different matter. Jackson loved television interviewers once the camera was turned on because this was an image he could control. He was wonderful in front of the cameras, self-effacing and God-fearing, all “Hi, Mom” and five-dollar words. Out of their range, he was completely unpredictable.

Being a reporter from the boonies didn’t help either. What importance could a reporter from Toronto have in the world of baseball, for heaven’s sake? I wasn’t Peter Gammons of the Boston Globe or Tom Boswell of the Washington Post, so why bother? I didn’t cover the Yankees or the Angels when he played for those teams. I wasn’t in the inner circle.

On the fringe, I wastched as he manipulated my colleagues, who practically tugged their forelocks in deference. He sighed at what he considered dumb questions while winking at the reporters who covered him daily, exempting them from his scorn. They ate it up. Then he would turn and snarl at the offender, asking him exactly what he meant by his question. He reduced the meek to jelly and enjoyed it. It made me ashamed of my profession to be reduced to acting a role in Jackson’ drama of the moment. The man was only a ballplayer, after all, whatever inflated importance he placed on it, and not that great a ballplayer either, day in and day out.

That these men are perceived to be more important than doctors or scientists or firemen or teachers, on the evidence of what they are paid, struck me often, but the disproportion never seemed greater than when I dealt with Jackson. Here was a supreme egotist with one skill, the ability to hit a baseball out of any park in the major leagues when the game was on the line, and for that he was deified by the fans…He exemplified none of the greater virtues of sport, team play and sportsmanship, but he was a greater hero than those who did.

And yet there was another side to him. He was kind to young players, dispensing bits of himself to star-struck rookies and making them feel at home on his turf. Once, in 1979, in Toronto, he was walked by Phil Huffman. He yelled at the young pitcher all the way to first base, accusing him of not having the guts to throw him a pitch he could hit. Huffman, cocky himself, yelled right back. A week later, in New York, in the last game Huffman would pitch in the major leagues, in his eighteenth loss of the season, Huffman struck Jackson out. When the game was over and Huffman was packing up his stuff, the clubhouse attendant walked up to him at his locker and handed him a baseball. It was inscribed “To Phil—I admire your toughness. Reggie Jackson.”

I admired the gesture, which meant a lot to Huffman, but I also saw it as an extraordinarily condescending thing to do to a player who was, after all, a fellow major leaguer, not a beseeching twelve-year-old fan. But I’m sure that baseball now holds a place of pride among Huffman’s souvenirs.

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Real Dumb or Real Genius? (Is there a Difference?)

“Man, I’m just happy to do something special like that. I’m not trying to show up anybody out there. I’m just trying to go have fun. If somebody strike me out and show me up, that’s part of the game, I love it. I like that. I like to compete, and when people strike me out and show me up, it’s all good. It’s not a hard feeling. I ain’t trying to go out there and show anybody up.”

Manny Ramirez

Reggie Jackson spoke to a group of reporters in the Yankee dugout last week before Game 4 of the ALDS. Initially, he talked about Alex Rodriguez, but soon, he was talking about himself. He recalled how he used his large ego to help him succeed in the playoffs. He talked about how tough Fausto Carmona’s sinker was against the Yankees in Game 2, and then about how daunting it was facing Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and John Matlack in the 1973 World Series.

Eventually, someone brought up Manny Ramirez, and Jackson smiled. “Did you see that?” said Jackson referring to Ramirez’s game-winning home run in Game 2 of the Red Sox series against the Angels. Jackson mimicked Manny’s celebration at home plate and cracked everybody up.

Clearly, Reggie admires Manny. He likes the chutzpah, he likes Manny’s flakiness. (“How can you be offended by Manny?” he suggested.) Mostly, he likes the fact that nothing fazes Manny and that Manny hits bombs. How much better can it get?

Ramirez, who has been ridiculously locked-in at the plate this October, pulled his usual home run schtick the other night even though the Red Sox were losing 7-3. Mike Lowell wasn’t sold on the routine, but most of the Indians didn’t seem to mind. Nobody really cares because it’s just part of Ramirez’s make-up, because showboating is an accepted part of the game, and because, like Reggie, most players simply admire Ramiez’s talent.

Yesterday, Manny told reporters:

“We’re not going to give up,” he said. “We’re just going to go, play the game and move on. If it doesn’t happen, so who cares? It’s always next year. It’s not like the end of the world.”

Now, how do you bother somebody with that kind of attitude? Perhaps you can’t.

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Dad, Reggie and Me


In his first installment of our series about the box set of the 1977 World Series, Jay Jaffe mentioned how much his father admired Reggie Jackson:

 

Reggie made a big impression on my father, himself a second-generation Dodger fan who had no truck with the pinstripes. Via him, Reggie gained larger-than-life status in my eyes. When we played catch, occasionally Dad would toss me one that would sting my hand or glance off my glove. If I complained, he’d shout, “Don’t hit ‘em so hard, Reggie!” In other words, don’t bellyache, and don’t expect your opponent to cut you any slack.
 

Longtime readers of Bronx Banter know that not only was Reggie my favorite player as a kid but he was one of the few Yankees my Dad also enjoyed too. Shortly before my father died earlier this year, I wrote a memoir piece about him and Reggie Jackson. I was thinking a lot about the old man two days ago on Father’s Day, and thought now would be a good time to share this story with you.

“Dad, Reggie, and Me” was originally published in Bombers Broadside 2007: An Annual Guide to New York Yankees Baseball (March, Maple Street Press). (c) 2007 Maple Street Press LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Dad, Reggie and Me

There is nothing like the first time. Nothing is as intense, as memorable as your first love, your first break-up or, in this case, your first hero. Mine was Reggie Jackson, who signed as a free agent with the Yankees 30 years ago. I was six years old during Jackson’s first year in pinstripes, a time when I was as interested in action heroes and comic books as I was in baseball. Reggie was more a superhero—a “superduperstar” as Time magazine once dubbed him—than a ball player. Bruce Jenner may have been on a box of Wheaties but Reggie had his own candy bar. (Catfish Hunter once said “I unwrapped it and it told me how good it was.”) Reggie arrived in New York at a time when I desperately needed a fantasy hero; his five volatile years in pinstripes coincided with the disintegration of my parents’ marriage.

The truth is the Yankees never wanted Jackson in the first place. In 1976, they won the pennant with an effective left-handed DH in Oscar Gamble. But after they were swept in the World Series by the Reds, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was bent on adding a big name. The first free agent re-entry draft was held that fall and the Yankees drafted the negotiating rights for nine players. Reggie was their sixth choice. Steinbrenner and his general manager, Gabe Paul, coveted second baseman Bobby Grich; manager Billy Martin pined for outfielder Joe Rudi. Then, over the course of a few days in mid-November, seven of the nine players the Yankees were interested in signed elsewhere, and suddenly Steinbrenner had no choice but to court Reggie. Paul was against it, but Steinbrenner courted Reggie anyway, wining and dining the superstar around New York. In the end, Jackson couldn’t resist the Yankees anymore than Steinbrenner could keep himself from wooing the slugger. He turned down bigger offers from the Expos and the Padres and signed. “I didn’t come to New York to be a star,” he said. “I brought my star with me.”

I remember my father in those years sitting in his leather-bound chair, reading The New York Times, a glass of vodka constantly by his side. In 1976, we moved from Manhattan to Westchester and my father had a heart attack at the age of 39. He was unemployed for a year, horribly depressed. My mother got a job and chopped wood to keep our gratuitously spacious house warm. We moved to a nearby town, Yorktown Heights, in 1977 before my father began to work again.

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