The cab, with its famous passenger, stopped at a red light on a dark Chicago street. Suddenly, and rather ominously, a long, silver-gray Cadillac pulled alongside. The window on the driver's side of the Caddie slid down. The silence was shattered by a machine-gun-like yell.
"I am out of it," Jackson replied. And then he said to himself, "God, this game is fun."
Fun? One night early last week, while mired in the worst slump of his career, the Yankees' Reggie Jackson was replaced by a pinch hitter for the first time in his memory. The next day Jackson was benched and handed a humiliating letter ordering him to take a complete physical the next day. On that day, Jackson visited three doctors, got a 40-minute pep talk over the phone from team owner George Steinbrenner and read his obituary in the New York Post. Which brings us to last Friday, when the barking dogs of the media woke him at 5:30 a.m. in a hotel room in Chicago, where he'd gone to rejoin the Yankees, and relentlessly pursued him all day. Some fun.
September 6, 1981
Jackson wasn't the only star in trouble last week. Garry Templeton, the Cardinals' extraordinary shortstop, went nearly berserk on Ladies Day in St. Louis, outraging spectators and tangling with his manager, Whitey Herzog, who fined him $5,000 and suspended him indefinitely, or at least until he publicly apologized to the fans and his teammates.
And in Pittsburgh, Dave Parker, who only three summers ago was considered the best player in baseball, was struggling at bat and being beset by a howling mob of venomous fans. Last week Parker was hitting an anemic .249, seventh best among the eight Pirate regulars. Compounding his problems were an overweight body, a jammed thumb, a surgical knee and his team's lackluster play.
While many of Jackson's troubles in the past have been of his own making, this year he appears to be the victim of Steinbrenner's mind games. Jackson can be a free agent at the end of the season, and he wants a long-term contract from the Yankees, who reportedly prefer not to sign their 35-year-old hero to more than a two-year agreement. Steinbrenner seems intent on breaking Jackson, and at least for a time he succeeded.
The first of the week's embarrassments came in New York against the Twins when Aurelio Rodriguez, .238 lifetime, pinch-hit for Jackson, who was at .212 and without a homer in his last 26 games. Aurelio singled. The next day, after receiving word from Yankee Vice-President Cedric Tallis to get a checkup, Jackson asked for a meeting with the front office, represented by Tallis, Manager Gene Michael, Yankee counsel Ed Broderick and Lou Saban, who has the title of Yankee president. Jackson came away contrite, and he watched that night's game from the bench.
After seeing Dr. Albert Goodgold, a neurologist, Jackson reported, "We had a wonderful talk. He talked to me about a similar struggle he once had with another person of power, and he told me not to waste my energy thinking about negatives." Then it was on to Dr. Ronald Carr, an ophthalmologist. "He said my eyesight was better than perfect, 20/15 to be exact," said Jackson, "and that I didn't even need glasses." Next, Dr. Michael Ruoff gave him a general physical. Said Jackson, "He told me he hadn't seen a patient as healthy as me in three years." Jackson also was supposed to see a dentist, but like the rest of us he skipped that appointment.
In the meantime the New York Post was screaming, REGGIE'S OUT! on its front page. The hysterical headline was based on a purely speculative story. That afternoon was when Jackson spoke on the phone with Steinbrenner, or "Knute Rockne," as he later referred to the owner. That night the Yankees played in Chicago without Jackson, losing 3-1. On Friday, after eluding the press, he went to check out a 1961 Chevy—Jackson is a car buff—50 miles outside the city.
A simple little act turned the week around for Jackson. In the seventh inning Friday night he singled up the middle. Then, on a deep fly by Graig Nettles, Jackson hurried back to first, tagged up and ran to second. It wasn't three home runs in a World Series game, but Jackson's hustle paid off when he scored from second on a Bucky Dent single.
The most extraordinary thing happened when Jackson went out to rightfield in the bottom of the inning. The White Sox fans, appreciative of his head's-up play, started throwing money at him, and Jackson, who makes $600,000 a year, eagerly began picking it up. He singled once more and by the end of the Yankees' 6-1 victory, he had collected $31.27 in bills (two fives, four singles) and silver, one phone number and several blades of grass.
Later, during the cab ride back to the hotel, Jackson couldn't get over the fans' largess. "Wasn't that something?" he said. "I had such fun tonight. It was wonderful. They said, 'He's down, but he's busting his ass.' People know I'm getting jacked around. Things like that—they're better than beer. It was a real show of love, or at least a show of like."
So for the time being he was content. "That's just part of the roller-coaster ride that's Reggie Jackson," he said. "Wherever you go in the world—Denmark, China, Australia—they may not have heard of the Golden Gate Bridge or Mardi Gras, but they've heard of the New York Yankees. It's a privilege to wear the uniform." In other words, you win, George.
On Saturday, Jackson crushed a pitch against the facing in the upper deck in rightfield of Comiskey Park for his first homer in 94 at bats. It was the first volley in a game New York won 12-2. When it was over, Jackson spent a few minutes sifting through the grass in rightfield. He didn't have such a good night: only a few dollar bills and maybe $5 in silver.
On Sunday, Jackson's RBI single in the first inning sent the Yankees on their way to a 5-1 victory. Apparently Steinbrenner's psych was working. Reggie also made a diving catch. "Not bad for an old guy on the slide," said Jackson. However, his outfield takings amounted to a mere $1.26 this time.
It wasn't money the St. Louis fans threw at Templeton. While Jackson escaped his nightmare by hustling, a lack of hustle started Templeton's. In the first inning of a game with San Francisco, instead of running to first after Giants Catcher Milt May let a third strike get by him, Templeton trotted a third of the way down the line and then headed for the dugout. The crowd of 7,766 booed him, and he claims some fans near the Cardinal dugout hurled ice cubes and racial slurs at him. As he returned to the dugout, Templeton made an X-rated gesture. Umpire Bruce Froemming warned Templeton to "knock it off." The catcalls continued in the second inning and reached a crescendo as Templeton knelt in the on-deck circle in the third. Templeton went to Froemming and told him he had a right to retaliate against the fans for razzing him. He then made another obscene gesture, and Froemming ejected him from the game. On his way to the dugout, Templeton made still another gesture, one of conspicuous vulgarity, at which point Herzog grabbed him by the shirtfront and dragged him down the dugout steps. They scuffled before players and coaches separated them, with Herzog yelling, "Get out of here. I don't want you on the road trip. I don't want you around my players. I don't want to see you. You make $690,000 and you go and make an ass of yourself. I don't need that and my boys don't need that."
At a postgame news conference, a calmer Herzog said, "I'd like for him to come back and play to the best of his ability. In all my years in baseball, I've never seen a player with so much talent." Many of Templeton's teammates, however, weren't eager to see him return. Catcher Gene Tenace was the most adamant. "We're better off without him," said Tenace. "I don't think he's got the guts to show up here. Whatever he does, I don't have any respect for him."
Other teammates were more understanding. The shortstop for now, Mike Ramsey, said, "I'd like to get into his head and find out what he's thinking." Said outfielder Sixto Lezcano, "We all make mistakes. I hope he joins us and everything is like it was before."
Like it was before. Templeton's nickname is Jump Steady, but in his six years with the Cardinals he's been more jump than steady, though in 1979 he became the first switch hitter to get 100 hits from both sides in a single season, and the last two years he has hit better than .300. In 1978 he threatened to quit over a pay cut and drive a beer truck. In 1979 he thought his salary increase was too small and said, "If they want me to go in the hole, they'll have to pay me more money." He also said the Cardinals and their fans could take the shortstop job and shove it between the Gateway Arch. Miffed over not starting, he refused an invitation to the 1979 All-Star Game and asked Pirate Manager Chuck Tanner not to name him to the 1980 All-Star squad. Sprinkled in between were requests to be traded to a West Coast team.
This May, after a poor start, Templeton, 25, became disenchanted when he was dropped from the leadoff spot in the lineup. He was unhappy when his friend Tony Scott was benched and later traded. Just before the strike, Templeton said he was too tired to play day games after night games, but when play resumed, he gave his all for a week. Then he started complaining of knee and ankle injuries, and he slept through a doctor's appointment. Tenace, who was ready to throttle Templeton before the strike, was impressed when he came back. Says Tenace, "He played unbelievably. We said, 'Hey, look at Tempy.' Then all of a sudden, he just went south."
In the past, when Templeton went that away, his agent, Richie Bry, usually issued a written apology. Herzog would have none of that this time. "I want the boy to talk from his heart and tell the people he's going to come back here and bust his butt every day," said Herzog. There is one hopeful sign: Team physician Stan London said Templeton had been "very receptive, almost anxious" to receive psychiatric care. His first evaluation was last Friday, and he was scheduled to be hospitalized on Monday.
In the meantime, many in St. Louis were saying good riddance. A columnist called Templeton a spoiled child, and one headline read CARDS WOULD BE BETTER OFF WITHOUT TEMPLETON. But he does have friends. Ivan McKinney, a high school principal in Santa Ana, Calif., who's known Templeton for many years, said, "I'm not all that surprised, but I'm very disappointed. I'm sick to my stomach about this. Something has got to be wrong. This isn't the young man I knew." McKinney thinks the fact that Templeton's father, Spiavia, who played in the Negro Leagues, is ill, might have something to do with the pressures Templeton is evidently feeling. Jerry Mumphrey, once Templeton's teammate on the Cardinals and now Jackson's teammate on the Yankees, said, "Tempy reacts without thinking of the consequences. Some of the things he's done have been out of frustration. He needs a vote of confidence from everybody."
Things were only a little better last week at Three Rivers Stadium, where Pirate patriarch Willie Stargell hollered to Parker, "We ought to fill this stadium up and then let you go through the stands and whip everybody's ass."
"Yeah," snarled Parker, "and I'd feel a lot better." Indeed, Parker, who led the National League in hitting in 1977 and 1978, could be no deeper in the pits. For a guy who boasts he was the first million-dollar-a-year man (he is in the third year of his $6.7 million, five-year contract), he's not playing up to his bank account, according to the fans, and they are booing him unmercifully.
Says teammate Bill Madlock, "So he makes $1 million. Other guys on the team are making $700,000, $800,000, and they don't get treated like he does." True. Ever since Parker signed his contract, before the start of the 1979 season, he has been the target not only of verbal abuse but also of all manner of objects thrown at him from the stands—not in appreciation but in anger—including a small battery, a bat, a bag of bolts and bullets.
In a recent KDKA radio poll of fans, 43 wanted the Pirates to keep him, 42 said trade him. If he's traded—and club Executive Vice-President Pete Peterson says he guesses that "it's getting closer to the point where he wants to be traded"—the fans can take a large measure of the credit, or blame.
Last week in a game against the Dodgers, one in which Parker dropped a fly-ball after making a good, strong run for it, he was at bat in the bottom of the ninth. The Pirates were down by three, with two outs, two on and two strikes on Parker. Playing with an aching and swollen right thumb, he hit a homer to tie the game. The scoreboard flashed TERRIFIC. But the Dodgers went ahead again, and in the bottom of the 11th, with two out and nobody on, Parker came up again. He grounded out to second to end the game—and was booed.
The problem is that Parker talks too much, and too acerbically. He spouts off and tries to intimidate everyone, yet Stargell maintains, "If you could look inside his chest, you'd see a big ol' valentine. But if you look inside his mouth, you see a case of TNT." Parker's demeanor generally comes across as surly. Once, last year, he refused even to tip his cap to fans applauding him for hitting two homers in a game.
Worse, the 6'5" Parker, who, because of the injured thumb, missed five games last week, is fat. He says he isn't, but to those who sit and stare, he looks it. He insists he's only 240, but he won't get on a scale. Whether he is overweight or not, Peterson has talked to him about it. The fans think his weight might be one reason that he's not playing up to their expectations.
Second Baseman Phil Garner says that because of the fans, "Dave Parker is going through hard times. There is something missing in his life and he knows it. I think he has found that fame is fleeting if it's anything." Parker agrees. In the tranquillity of his suburban home, he told SI's Doug Looney, "Maybe what I'm finding out is that the price for success is to be a lonely man."
There's a little saying that Jackson is fond of, and it applies to Templeton and Parker as well. Whenever someone comes up to Jackson in public and says, "I know you," he replies, "You know who I am, but you don't know me."