Jackson, Reggie (1946—)
Jackson, Reggie (1946—)
Slugging outfielder Reggie Jackson was a larger-than-life figure who saved his best performances for baseball's biggest stage. Nicknamed "Mr. October" for his ability to shine in baseball's autumn post-season showcase, Jackson earned Hall of Fame status based largely on his prodigious World Series play. He was also the first baseball player to have a candy bar named after him, a powerful indicator of his impact on the popular imagination.
The native of Wyncote, Pennsylvania, was chosen second in the 1967 amateur draft by the Oakland Athletics. He quickly established himself as a powerful home-run hitter who struck balls out of the park at a near-record pace. He first grabbed national headlines when he swatted a home run over the roof at Tiger Stadium during the 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit, and the A's domination of the World Series from 1972 to 1974 kept him firmly planted in the public eye. Though a knee injury kept Jackson out of the Fall Classic in 1972, he returned the following season with a stellar campaign. The American League's Most Valuable Player with a.293 average and a league-leading 32 home runs, Jackson was named World Series MVP as well, establishing the post-season reputation he was to solidify in years to come. In June of 1974, Time magazine put Jackson on its cover. "Reginald Martinez Jackson is the best player on the best team in the sport," the periodical proclaimed.
Baseball's brave new world of free agency gave the rising superstar the chance to test his value on the open market. The New York Yankees responded with a lucrative five-year contract offer. Jackson leapt at the chance to play in the world's largest media market. The marriage of convenience between the swaggering Jackson and the club's dictatorial owner, Cleveland shipbuilder George M. Steinbrenner III, was to prove an eventful one.
Arriving in New York, Jackson almost immediately proclaimed himself "the straw who stirs the drink"—alienating the Yankees' team captain, Thurman Munson, along with almost everyone else in town. Sportswriters found Jackson made for great copy, but his manager, Billy Martin, couldn't stand him. Martin looked for every opportunity to humiliate his star slugger, benching him for no reason at one point and pulling him off the field mid-game at another. Their feud came perilously close to blows on more than one occasion. Nevertheless, the feudin' Yankees steamed over the American League on their way to the American League pennant.
The 1977 World Series proved to be the high point of Jackson's career. "Mr. October" became the first player ever to hit five home runs in one World Series. He clouted three in the sixth game alone, on three consecutive pitches, off three different Los Angeles Dodger pitchers. That feat, never accomplished before or since, helped earn Jackson Most Valuable Player honors as the Yankees took the championship four games to two.
That off-season, Jackson became the toast of New York. While still in Oakland, he had once boasted, "If I played in New York, they'd name a candy bar after me." Someone at Standard Brands Confectionery was obviously taking notes that day, because in 1978 Jackson got his candy bar. The Reggie! bar was a crumbly lump of chocolate, peanuts, and corn syrup sculpted to the approximate diameter of a major league baseball. It cost a quarter (quite a bargain in the age of inflation) and came packaged in an orange wrapper bearing the slugger's likeness.
Sportswriters had a field day with the unpalatable confection. One wag wrote that when you opened the wrapper on a Reggie! bar, it told you how good it was. Another derided it as the only candy bar that tasted like a hot dog. But the ultimate verdict came from Yankee fans, 44,667 of whom were given free samples on April 13, 1978, when the Yankees opened their home campaign against the Chicago White Sox.
In typical Jackson fashion, the slugger clouted a home run in his first at-bat, making it four "taters" in four swings at Yankee Stadium dating back to the sixth game of the 1977 Series. The raucous crowd then showered the field with Reggie! bars as Jackson made his trip around the bases. Ugly orange wrappers quickly carpeted the green field. The only detractor from the prevailing air of absurdist resignation was White Sox manager Bob Lemon, who groused, "People starving all over the world and 30 billion calories are laying on the field."
Lemon was whistling a different tune that August when, after being fired by the White Sox, he took over for Billy Martin as Yankee manager. The volatile Martin had finally worn out his welcome with a drunken screed against Jackson and Steinbrenner in which he famously declared, "One's a born liar, the other's convicted"—an apparent reference to the imperious shipbuilder's rap sheet for making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon's presidential campaign. Undeterred, Lemon, Jackson, and the Yankees stormed to a second straight World Series championship.
Jackson wore out his own welcome with Steinbrenner in 1982, when the owner refused to renew his contract. He played a few seasons with the California Angels before returning to Oakland for his final season in 1987. In retirement, Jackson served as a coach with several teams before accepting a nebulous front office position with the Yankees in 1996. He was fired by Steinbrenner in 1998 for running up thousands of dollars in unapproved expenses on his team credit card. The merry-go-round, it seems, has not stopped for "Mr. October."
—Robert E. Schnakenberg
Jackson, Reggie, with Mike Lupica. Reggie: The Autobiography. New York, Villard Books, 1984.
Shatzkin, Mike. The Ballplayers: Baseball's Ultimate Biographical Reference. New York, William Morrow, 1990.