Reggie Jackson, who is 38 years old and three home runs shy of 500, last week explained the concessions he has had to make to his birth certificate.
"I think my bat began to slow down two years ago," he said. "I started to cheat, looking for the fastball, and I got away with it." Boy, did he ever. He hit 39 home runs for the Angels in '82.
Last year he didn't get away with it. He was so conscious of beginning his swing in time to catch up to the inside heat that he eventually lost all his timing. He hit .194 with a mere 14 homers.
This year he has a respectable 19 homers in 410 at bats, 63 RBIs and a .234 batting average that he wishes was 15 points higher. "The boys with good smoke, if they throw it here the first two times I'm up, I got to sit down," he says, rubbing his hand across his chest to indicate the inside fastball.
"It's tough to deal with the fact there are some pitches I can't hit. I could open up sooner like I did last year and try to handle them that way, but that'd mess up my swing for a week, so I've got to take my medicine. But maybe my third time up, maybe they're getting a little tired, then I have a chance to hit one. I'm still as strong, it's just not as often."
Terry Pendleton, the Cardinals' rookie third baseman with the .322 average, hit his first major league homer last week in Cincinnati, and C.J. Cherre, the team's traveling secretary, went to the seats in rightfield and offered the fan who caught the ball a bat, a ball and a Cardinals cap. The fan told Cherre no thanks.
Later in the game Cherre sent two messengers with two $50 bills. First they offered $50. Then they upped that to $100. Nothing doing.
Cherre said he told the fan that Pendleton might one day like to have the ball for the trophy case in his house. To which the fan, who said he was unemployed, replied, "I don't have a house."
Pendleton was philosophical. "I'll take the money and he can have the ball," he said. "Maybe he thinks I'm going to break Henry Aaron's record."
Detroit's Milt Wilcox thinks it's a fair trade—he has a healthy right shoulder and a 15-7 record, and all it costs is a couple of days of bad breath and B.O. The bad smells are caused by DMSO, a drug vets use on horses and that some athletes have been daubing on their bodies the past few years to reduce pain.
Wilcox, 34, had been an unspectacular starter for the Tigers the past six years, winning 73, losing 62—good old Twelve and Ten Milt. He might have done better, but his right shoulder kept acting up.
Wilcox got the idea of using DMSO when he broke into the harness horse business as an owner last year and started hanging around the backstretch. "I'd had three cortisone shots in six weeks, and they couldn't hit the right spot," he says. "My friends at the track used DMSO on their horses, and I heard an orthopedic surgeon 'invented' it, so I figured it was worth trying.
"I only use it the two days after I pitch. Then I won't use it again until after my next start. You don't smell too good and you do have some bad breath, but I had to try something." He must have tried the right thing. He's 7-1 since he started using the stuff.
Nolan Ryan isn't worried that the Astros are bringing in the fences next year. "I don't give up cheap homers," he says.... The Padres' Graig Nettles may be 40, but he can still hit the fastball. He nailed Jeff Reardon's heat for a home run last Saturday to give him eight in eight starts and 20 for the season. But because of off days and his not starting against lefties, it took him 15 days to hit those eight dingers.... Rookie Jeff Stone decided that a month on the DL (groin pull) had ruined his timing at the plate and asked to be sent back to Triple A for rust removal.... Pete Rose gave the Cubs' George Frazier an autographed bat before a game and then was miffed when Frazier threw what Pete thought was' a wet one during the game. "Tell Pete that he's had 25 years to make his money," Frazier said, smiling. "Now it's my turn to make mine."...Rose made his first major move as Reds manager last week, hiring Jim Kaat as his pitching coach. "I've always said if I were ever a manager, Kitty is the guy I'd want as my pitching coach." Kaat, 45, retired this spring after 25 years and 283 wins when he was cut by the Pirates.... Pittsburgh's Kent Tekulve is 2-9, and seven of the losses have come in the 10th inning.
Al Oliver, who was traded last week from the Giants to the Phillies, his fourth team in the last four years, says his wife, Donna, is going to write a book about him. "We've given 16 years of our lives to sportswriters," says Oliver, "and they've blown it." Can't wait to read the chapter on humility.
If the Twins wind up the only team over .500 in the AL West, it will be the third time that's happened since divisional play began in 1969. In '73 the Mets were the only club over .500 in their division, and in '83 it was the White Sox. This season the AL East is playing .544 ball against the West (290-243).... Aurelio Lopez, 10-0 with 12 saves for the Tigers behind MVP favorite Willie Hernandez, hopes the team trades him over the winter. "The last few nights I wake up four, five o'clock thinking I like to throw a lot. Some teams need a short reliever."...Twins manager Billy Gardner was merciful when rookie Tim Teufel fell for the hidden-ball trick recently. The last time he saw the play work was in 1957 when Nellie Fox pulled it off. The victim's name? Billy Gardner.... Cal Ripken, the AL's 1983 MVP, is hitting .306 for the Orioles, but he has only 64 RBIs, nine in his last 122 at bats.... Dave Kingman has but three homers since July 22, but he has lost only six points on his average, going from .284 to .278.... When Boston's Roger Clemens, the AL's answer to Dwight Gooden, struck out 15 Royals last week, he didn't walk a soul and became the seventh pitcher since 1956 to strike out 15 or more without giving a walk.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
BILL SCHROEDER: Subbing for injured Jim Sundberg, the Brewers' 25-year-old rookie catcher hit five home runs in six games during a 9-for-18 week that raised his average from .236 to .265.
BALL PARK FIGURES
Giant Catcher Bob Brenly isn't baseball's only late bloomer. Here's a team composed of players drafted after the 15th round of the amateur draft, or not drafted (ND) at all.
C--Bob Brenly, Giants
1B--Keith Hernandez, Mets
2B--Ryne Sandberg, Cubs
3B--Buddy Bell, Rangers
SS--Bill Russell, Dodgers
LF--Brett Butler, Indians
CF--C. Washington, Braves
RF--Al Cowens, Mariners
RHP--John Denny, Phillies
LHP--Dave Dravecky, Padres
Rel--Bruce Sutter, Cardinals