Jackson, Reginald Martinez ("Reggie")
JACKSON, Reginald Martinez ("Reggie")
(b. 18 May 1946 in Wyncote, Pennsylvania), outspoken and flamboyant Baseball Hall of Fame outfielder and designated hitter famed for his "tape measure" home runs and nicknamed "Mr. October" for his incredible postseason feats.
Jackson was one of six children of Martinez Jackson, a tailor and former Negro League player, and Clara Jackson. Clara Jackson moved out of the household with the three youngest children when Reggie was seven. Jackson was a football star at Cheltenham High School, and in 1964 he received an athletic scholarship to Arizona State University, also a top baseball school. In the 1966 baseball draft Charles Finley of the Kansas City Athletics (also known as the A's) chose Jackson and offered him an $85,000 signing bonus, which Jackson accepted.
Jackson moved rapidly up in the A's minor league system, reaching the highest minor league level in Birmingham, Alabama, by 1967, when he was chosen as the league's Player of the Year. Fourteen months after signing, he was called to the majors. On 8 July 1968 Jackson married his college sweetheart, Juanita Campos, known as "Jennie." The couple divorced in February 1973.
By this time the A's had moved from Kansas City to Oakland, California, where Jackson proved expert in gaining media attention. "It was as if the power of the earth and the sky and the sands and the waters were in these hands," he once said of one of his home runs. In 1969 Jackson was on a pace to break the single-season home run record of sixty-one. The mounting pressure, however, caused a nervous stomach, eye twitches, and rashes, and he ended the season with forty-seven home runs.
The boisterous Oakland A's, an extremely talented group, were known as "the mustache gang," the first team in the modern era to feature facial hair. In 1972, as the team charged to the pennant, Jackson tore his hamstring in a daring steal of home. He was forced to watch Oakland's World Series victory on crutches. In 1973, however, he came back to become the unanimous winner of the American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, and as the key figure in the team's second straight World Series victory, he won the series MVP award as well. Despite struggles with Finley over salaries, the team won its third straight World Series victory in 1974, and Jackson was featured on the covers of both Time and Sports Illustrated in a two-week period. The irrepressible Jackson began his 1975 autobiography writing, "My name is Reggie Jackson and I am the best in baseball."
After another salary dispute, Finley called Jackson to say: "Reggie, this is Charlie. We've traded you to Baltimore. Good luck." In 1976 baseball instituted its first free agent reentry draft. Jackson's availability led to a price war won by the Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, who combined $3 million for five years with the possibilities of playing in America's media capital to lure Jackson to the Big Apple.
Billy Martin, the pugnacious Yankee manager, opposed Jackson's signing, and the Yankee players resented Jackson's ostentatious lifestyle and what they saw as his phoniness and arrogance. "I'm a nigger to them," Jackson noted. "I don't know how to be subservient." The team leader, the catcher Thurman Munson, seethed at an article in which Jackson declared, "This team, it all flows from me.… I'm the straw that stirs the drink." Jackson claimed the quote was taken out of context, that he meant that he was the last piece of the puzzle that would lead the Yankees to a championship.
On 18 June 1977 a national television audience watched a confrontation between Jackson and Martin, who had removed Jackson from a game in Boston for lackadaisical play in the outfield. Nevertheless Jackson was in his usual post-season form in the 1977 World Series, hitting .450 with 5 home runs. In a feat described by one writer as the greatest single-day individual athletic achievement of the century, Jackson hit three consecutive first-pitch home runs off three different pitchers in the decisive game of the series. It had been fifteen years since the Yankees had won a World Series. An elated Jackson commented, "You win a World Series and then you win in New York, and it isn't until then that you understand the difference."
Jackson had said, "If I played in New York, they'd name a candy bar after me." In 1978 they did. On opening day a candy company gave away a free Reggie bar to each fan. Later in the season an embittered Martin suspended Jackson for five days in a dispute over a bunt sign. Martin's resentment grew over Jackson's close relationship with Steinbrenner. Finally Martin told reporters, "The two of them deserve each other, one's a born liar and the other is convicted." He was fired as manager and replaced with the more amenable Bob Lemon.
In 1982, as a free agent, Jackson signed a four-year deal with the California Angels for the then astounding sum of nearly $1 million a year. When he returned to Yankee Stadium in an Angels uniform, the crowd roared, "Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie," and he responded by hitting a home run. He led the Angels to one division title and continued to hit his patented home runs, passing Mickey Mantle's career total of 536 in 1986. In 1987 Jackson returned to the Oakland A's for a grand farewell tour, after which he retired.
In 1993, his first year of eligibility, Jackson was the only person selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. "If Coopers-town didn't exist, Reggie Jackson would have invented it, just so he would have a place to go this summer and make a speech about himself," commented the Sporting News. Jackson later remarked that he was picked on the first ballot only because of his postseason exploits, since he was only a lifetime .262 hitter and set the major league record of 2,597 strikeouts. He was, however, at the time of his retirement sixth on the list of home runs with 563 and one of only 4 people who hit 500 home runs and stole 200 bases. He was picked for the All-Star team fourteen times. In twenty-one major league seasons Jackson had justified the title "Mr. October." He played on eleven division winners, six pennant winners, and five world champions. He had a .357 lifetime World Series average and at the time the best World Series slugging average of .755.
After his retirement Jackson parlayed his fame into a variety of activities and businesses. In a continuation of his roller coaster relationship with Steinbrenner, Jackson was hired as a "special adviser" to the Yankees, resigned over a $14,000 travel expense dispute in 1999, and was rehired the following year. He built a "one-man conglomerate" that included software sales, real estate, a multimillion-dollar classic car collection, insurance, sports memorabilia, and autograph shows. In 1999 Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at $20 million. Jackson also funds a charity called the Mr. October Foundation for Kids.
Jackson once remarked rather humbly that he would settle for being "one half the player Willie Mays was." Jackson did have an enormous impact on the game. He was the first great October player, and he was, in the words of the Sporting News, "the first African American major leaguer to make flamboyance fashionable. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Reggie Jackson broke the hot-doggism barrier." Jackson's teams almost always won. He had "it," a difficult-to-define star quality. A psychiatrist noted: "Reggie would be successful in any endeavor he tries. If he were a brain surgeon, he'd be the best.… Some people just have that aura." Jackson summarized his career: "I've been picked off, picked on and picked myself back up. Live big, die big. That's my way."
A good biography is Maury Allen, Mr. October: The Reggie Jackson Story (1980), but it only covers up to 1980. Among the several biographies for children is Andrew Woods, Young Reggie: Hall of Fame Champion (1996).
Louise A. Mayo