The day is no different from all the other days. Bobby Grich has options. This is no blue Monday. This is no hump-day Wednesday, not even a Thank-God-It's Friday. For Grich, this is a Saturday. The calendar does not exist. No matter that the rest of the world is at work. No matter that the rush-hour report on traffic from the Action Eye says that all freeways are clogged, everywhere. Saturday. Every day is Saturday.
"People are going to just hate me when they read this," the 41-year-old former second baseman says in his house in Long Beach, Calif., "but there are days when my biggest decision is about which coffee shop I'm going to visit for breakfast. There are a lot of days like that."
Golf today? Perhaps. His handicap is down to a three. He is going to play in the State Amateur. Skiing? He has become quite good at skiing. He travels every year to the Canadian Rockies to take a helicopter to those hard-to-reach virgin slopes. He also skis the celebrity circuit, head-to-head with those sitcom actors and Vegas voices. Fishing? He could catch another marlin, but where would he put it? On the rec-room wall? It would have to be a big one to replace the marlin that's already there. Travel is always a possibility, but—let's see—he has already been to Europe five times, Hawaii seven times, the Caribbean four times, Australia and New Zealand.... What to do?
"You know what's good?" he asks. "I have a houseboat in Lake Powell, in Utah," he answers. "You hitch up a little water-ski boat, maybe bring along a couple of jet skis. Throw in some food, some beer and a bikini. Just pull up the anchor, go to a cove somewhere and disappear for a week."
He is free. Isn't that the proper descriptive word? He is a free man, and every day is an ultimate 24-hour stretch of free time. He does not work. He does not think he ever will work another day in his life. Free. He does have an office, a little home office with a desk. The most prominent object on the desk is a book entitled The Short Way to Lower Scoring, by golfer Paul Runyan and Dick Aultman. Free.
For 17 years, Grich played major league baseball. When he began, in 1970, he had only the fuzziest ideas about lives of luxury, lives of leisure. After all, who made that kind of money from baseball? Maybe a Joe DiMaggio or a Ted Williams moved along to a comfortable retirement, but the rest of the players on the field eventually went back into their communities and found the time clock along with everyone else. In 1970, nobody had an agent. Oh, maybe a few big stars did, mostly to handle endorsements, but the ordinary players did their own simple haggling with management over their five-figure contracts—mostly low-five-figure contracts.
In 1976, the sky opened and money started to fall in a rain that has become heavier and heavier with each passing season. In the fall of that year, the first 24 free agents hit the market, freed by the 1976 court decision in the case of pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally. Each free agent could be drafted by as many as 12 teams. Bidding began. Grich was there with a bucket.
"The timing was perfect," he says. "It couldn't have been better. I'd played five years [at second base and shortstop with the Baltimore Orioles], so I was just hitting my prime. I was coming off my best season. I hadn't signed. I couldn't have planned it better."
He eventually agreed to a five-year contract with the California Angels for a total of $1.5 million. In the previous season with the Orioles, he had earned $68,000. Signing with the Angels allowed him to return home to Long Beach and become a commuter from the neighborhood where he was raised. The new contract gave him more money for playing baseball than he had ever dreamed existed. It was almost a joke. When the Angels played at Baltimore, he was booed, and he understood why people were mad. Injured while lifting an air conditioner before the 1977 season even began, he started slowly and ultimately missed the final two thirds of the schedule after undergoing back surgery. He was booed at Anaheim Stadium. Again, he understood why people were mad. All that money.
Weren't the people right? There were nights in the following years when he would pound his glove and look at the field and the stands and the sky and think his secret thought: Didn't anyone know? He would pay the owners to play this game, to be where he was. Maybe he wouldn't pay to play every day, seven days a week, but he would pay for, say, four out of seven. Yes, he would.
Grich became a free agent again after the 1981 season. Again, he was coming off a good year. Again, he was there with the bucket. It was raining even harder. Again, the Angels paid—this time $4 million over four years.
"I manage my finances by myself now," he says. "That's the one thing I do. I've been stung a couple of times, but I've made some good deals too. Especially real estate. Here in Long Beach."
Grich has been retired for three years. On this day, he thinks he will play golf. Maybe nine holes. Maybe 18. Maybe just hit some balls. On the weekend he will go skiing at Mammoth Mountain. Which car should he drive? He has three Porsches and two Mercedes parked in his garage. He has one friend who says that Grich should at least get a paper route to give himself a little discipline. He has another friend who owns a food-brokerage business and wants to make him a marsh mallow salesman. Nothing heavier. Only marshmallows. In August 1987, Grich went with a friend on a trip to London to see the Rams play the Broncos in an NFL exhibition game. From there, they were off to play golf in Scotland at Troon, Turnberry and Prestwick. Then they went to Nice to parasail and on to Lake Geneva to water-ski. Then they went to Monte Carlo. Grich won $2,000 at the blackjack tables to help pay for the trip.
Divorced since the early days of his baseball career, he sometimes thinks he would like to marry again and start a family. Then again, he does have other things to do.
"I have a goal," Grich says.
"I want to play Golf Digest's 100 Best Courses in America."
"I'm at 27."
Isn't this the way we expected it to be, once the floodgates of free agency had opened? Take off that baseball suit. Put on that bathing suit. So much money. The average salary in baseball in 1976 was $52,300; that first class of 24 free agents averaged $200,696, and that included a few guys like Royle Stillman, who signed with the White Sox for $25,000. For those at the head of the class, the money seemed so great that the operative term was Set For Life. "Look at these guys: They're Set For Life." The game, we suspected, would begin to spin out an unending line of still-young retirees with no particular-place to go. Free men. Free time.
Fourteen years have passed since then. Most of the players involved in the '76 draft are now out of the game and out in the world. Set For Life? The first returns have begun to arrive at the Set For Life anchor desk.
On Nov. 24, 1976, the night of the first free-agent draft at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Bill Campbell went into the hotel bar with his agent. They were beckoned by Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley to a corner table. Come on over. Have a drink.
"I'd never met the man," says Campbell as he sits in a restaurant near his home in Barrington, Ill. "But he'd been one of the guys to draft me. We went over. He immediately started trying to make a deal. Right there. He offered a $100,000 signing bonus, plus $100,000 for three years. Said I had to sign before I left the table. I looked at my agent."
The agent was LaRue Harcourt; Campbell had found him simply by asking another Twins pitcher for a name. Harcourt and Campbell had decided to ask for a million dollars for four years. They weren't exactly sure what the market would be, but they knew that a year earlier Finley had nearly sold reliever Rollie Fingers to the Boston Red Sox for a million, until commissioner Bowie Kuhn quashed the deal. If an owner would pay another owner a million for a relief pitcher, then why wouldn't he cut out the middle man? Give the million to the pitcher. Harcourt told Finley they wanted a million.
"Finley started laughing," Campbell says. "He said, 'A million dollars! You know what? These dumb s.o.b.'s will give it to you.' He was swearing and laughing so much that the guy at the next table got all upset. Told Finley to cut it out. I thought there was going to be a fight. We finished our drinks and went to see some people at another table. A little while later, the waitress comes over with the check. I think Finley tried to stick us with his bar bill."
Forty-eight hours later Campbell was at a press conference in Boston. He was the first of the 1976 free agents to sign: a million dollars for four years.
It was a pinch-yourself moment. One year earlier he was handed a contract from the Twins for $22,000, the same salary he earned in 1975. He had asked for a raise to $30,000, but he would have signed for less. The final bluff from owner Calvin Griffith was, "Sign this contract or forfeit your chance to go to spring training." Campbell held strong, played out his old contract at $22,000 per and finished with a 17-5 record with 20 saves—and free agency. And then he was a millionaire. Or so it seemed.
"That's what people would call you—'a millionaire,' " he says. "You really weren't, not when you broke the contract down, but that was what people said. I could hear them. 'Hey, there goes the millionaire.' "
By the time the season started, the money was a spotlight over his head. How can any man make a million to play baseball? Campbell admitted in the newspapers that the money he was getting was "ridiculous." He was told to keep quiet. No. He said he could not help saying what he felt. The money was ridiculous. His first check in the minors had been for $189 for two weeks—and he thought he was stealing even then.
The Red Sox had raised ticket prices during that winter, and in a game early in the '77 season, a large sign was hung from the centerfield wall that read SELL CAMPBELL, BRING BACK $1.50 BLEACHERS. Campbell was shelled in that game. He was shelled often that spring. The money was on his mind.
"I had the feeling I had to strike everyone out," he says. "If I was going to be making so much more money, I felt I had to be so much better. It took me a while just to forget the money. To just go out there and pitch."
Campbell would start to warm up in the bullpen and people would throw things at him. His early performances with Boston were so bad that the fan who had painted the sign called him to apologize and invited him to lunch. Campbell said he would go if the fan would give him the sign. "I still have it in the basement somewhere," Campbell says.
That season and the seasons to follow became easier when he simply focused on pitching. He went from the Red Sox to the Chicago Cubs after the contract was finished, then he stopped in St. Louis and Detroit before a sore shoulder finished him in Montreal in 1986. The money? He mostly left that to Harcourt.
The tax laws were different at the time; income was being taxed at more than 50% in Campbell's new bracket. Harcourt talked about various shelters to save as much money as possible from the government. Campbell found he was involved with airplane leasing and software companies. He paid attention, but not enough attention. Wasn't his job to strike out hitters in the late innings? He had left college after one year, then was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam. He had signed his first baseball contract with a smile and a handshake in a booth at a Denny's restaurant in Pomona, Calif. Not exactly a background for high finance.
So he left things to Harcourt. Deficiency notices from the Internal Revenue Service began to arrive, and Campbell would hand them to his agent. What about this? He says Harcourt would tell him that there was no problem. Two years later, the IRS would call again. Now there were penalty charges added. No problem.
"My wife was the one who said she had a gut feeling that something was wrong here," Campbell says. "Unfortunately, her gut feeling was right."
He estimates he lost as much as $800,000 with Harcourt, who acknowledges that the tax shelters had gone bad. The problems have not ended. An ongoing case with the IRS probably will be settled in the coming year. Campbell might lose as much or more to the government in back taxes as he has lost already. He calls the case a dark cloud that will not go away.
"You can't say, I didn't do it,' because your name is on the papers," he says. "As innocent as I am, I'm still responsible for my affairs. And, yet jeez. Those guys from the IRS can be pretty tough. Did you read what they did with Redd Foxx? Took his house, all his property. His memorabilia. They even came in and took his jewelry off of him."
For the past two years, Campbell has been employed at a marketing firm in Chicago, on commission. His wife, Linda, has worked toward gaining her master's degree. For fun, he started pitching in an amateur baseball league, seven innings, drinking beer in the parking lot after the games. He says his arm felt surprisingly strong. During the winter, he pitched for Winter Haven in the new Senior Professional Baseball League in Florida. The arm still felt strong. He led the league in ERA.
"I made some calls afterward, to see if I could get a contract for a major league training camp," he says, 41 years old and planning to spend the afternoon baby-sitting his three kids and painting a bedroom in his house. "Nobody was interested. I understand. I'm getting old. They're going with the kids. I'm thinking now about Japan. I'm expecting a call today from a guy, as a matter of fact. I think it'd be a good thing, Japan. Get it out of my system. For once and for all."
He nods his head at the idea. Japan would be nice.
Some of the tales from the class of '76 resemble scripts from the old television series "The Millionaire." What did the players do with the money? Fourteen years. Which guys got richer? Which guys went bust? Those early contracts now seem like a bunch of winning lottery tickets. Here's the money, kid. Let's see what you can do with it. Aren't these stories a lot like the ones you read about the local janitor who picked a succession of birth dates and then, in a dizzy moment, saw them flashed across the television screen? What happened to baseball's first lottery winners? A lot has happened.
The retired couple hovers near the table where Steve Stone sits in the sports bar he owns in Scottsdale, Ariz. Stone is engaged in a conversation, but for this couple, age has overcome any lifelong battles with shyness. They stare at Stone from a distance of two feet. His other conversation does not matter to them.
"Steve," the man interrupts, "we're all the way from Kankakee."
"Glad to have you here," Stone says.
"Came all the way down here to see some baseball."
"I'll be over in a minute. We'll talk."
"No baseball. What are these guys doing, Steve? This is terrible."
"In a minute."
This is the public life of the modern television face. Hey, don't I know you? Aren't we friends? Stone is used to such public intrusions by now. He worked with the ABC network for two years and has worked seven more years with Harry Caray at WGN in Chicago. The face sells. He owns parts of two restaurants in Chicago and parts of two sports bars here in Arizona. He will talk about the lockout and baseball with the people from Kankakee. Business.
"My father always used to tell me, 'Baseball will open the door for you,' " Stone says. "Well, it's true...but what I've found is that the opening is about two inches wide. To do anything, you'd better push yourself the rest of the way. That door can close awfully fast."
When the money came, he was ready to work with it. He was preparing for a life after baseball long before he was through with baseball. His mother had been a waitress at a succession of shot-and-a-beer taverns in Cleveland. His father had serviced jukeboxes. The appeal of owning a bar or a restaurant had been as strong as the appeal of pitching in Municipal Stadium against the Yankees. A bar was familiar territory.
"In 1973, I went to the White Sox," Stone says. "My first three seasons [with the Giants and the White Sox] had been 5-9, 6-8 and 6-11. I had the feeling that I wasn't going right to the Hall of Fame, if you know what I mean. I was looking for something."
In Chicago, he would study the operation of the various bars he visited. How would I run this place? What changes would I make if it were mine? One of the hottest spots at the time was R.J. Grunt's, a place that catered to athletes by giving them free beer. This was a convenient operation to study.
The owner was a young guy, Rich Melman. Stone decided Melman was going to be a business winner and offered to become his partner. Melman declined. What did Stone have to offer? He was a ballplayer. Stone went down the street to Melman's main competitor and took a job in the off-season. He came back to Melman a year later.
"Rich asked me why I'd gone down the street," Stone says. "I told him that first, I wanted to learn more about the business. Second, I wanted to prove to him that I was serious about this. He already had opened another restaurant. He let me become involved."
The corporation that was eventually formed was called Lettuce Entertain You. Restaurants were opened with names like Jonathan Livingston Seafood and Lawrence of Oregano. The famous Pump Room was added to the string. Melman was the winner Stone had predicted. Stone had a piece of the success.
On the mound, he had moved to the Cubs for 1974 and '75 and found moderate success, but in 1976 he was bothered by arm problems. The Cubs never got around to signing him that year. This made him a somewhat reluctant—and not very attractive—free agent. His '76 record was 3-6 with a 4.08 ERA. Five teams drafted him, but only two showed any interest. The low-budget White Sox and owner Bill Veeck wanted him back because he was a bargain. The Texas Rangers had a more curious situation.
"Their general manager, Danny O'Brien, called and asked what I wanted," Stone says. "I breathed deep and told him I was looking for $75,000 for one season. O'Brien said he couldn't do that. I said, right away, 'All right, I'll settle for $60,000.' He said I didn't understand. I wasn't asking for enough money. He said Brad Corbett, the owner, wanted to pay a million dollars for a pitcher. Corbett thought this would be good public relations. I said that was fine with me. I would take a million. He said no. I said I would take $60,000 and they could tell everyone I was getting a million. O'Brien said he thought they could give Doyle Alexander a million dollars and Doyle would take it. And that's what happened. Doyle got the million."
Stone went to the White Sox for $60,000, the fourth-puniest free-agent contract of the 24 signings. He pitched for two seasons, then signed a four-year contract with the Orioles in 1978. His career took a wondrous jump in 1980 when he finished 25-7 and won the American League Cy Young Award, but the arm troubles grew worse and he retired a year later. He became better known after baseball than he had been while playing. Even when he won the Cy Young he somehow remained anonymous. He remembers opening the box that contained the award. "The drums were rolling. My heart was beating, and then I take the plaque out and I read, Steve...Carlton?" The inscription read, STEVE CARLTON, MOST VALUABLE PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE. They'd mailed him the wrong Cy Young.
"The day after I retired, my agent got a call from ABC," Stone says. "They were wondering if I wanted to try some broadcasting. I jumped. I recognized that this was the brass ring, and that it could keep me around baseball."
His two sports bars in Arizona are called Harry and Steve's Chicago Grill. Broadcast partner Caray is also business partner Harry. The bars are shrines to Chicago sports. Ivy hangs from the wall in a re-creation of Wrigley Field. More visitors from the North, looking for a spring training that has stalled, wander in from the sun. Stone is waiting.
"I make more money now than I ever did from baseball," he says. "Sure."
Set For Life?
"Yeah, if I never want to eat again—if I want to weigh about 106 pounds."
The old-time ballplayer would retire and open a tavern in the center of town, become a barkeep. The new ballplayer can be a restaurateur. One restaurant can become a string of restaurants. A chain. The amounts that can be gained are larger. The amounts that can be lost are also larger. Nothing, alas, is guaranteed.
His right arm sometimes locks on him. If he drives for a while, right hand at the top of the wheel, the arm will become frozen at a 90-degree angle. If he watches television, hands behind his head, the arm will become frozen again. If he tries to pass the peas or open the door or do any of the dozens of daily movements that ordinary people do, he will find that the arm is out of control. He will have to move his right arm with his left hand. Jump-start it. Adapt.
Wayne Garland needs surgery on his rotator cuff again.
"I'm just waiting for an appointment in Birmingham," he says. "The specialist. Dr. Andrews. I'm waiting for an opening. He's a busy man."
In a few weeks Dr. Andrews will have an opening and the surgery will be performed. The same surgery that marked the beginning of the end of Garland's days as a major league pitcher. It is a last cruel twist in his baseball career. Who needs a second rotator-cuff operation at the age of 39?
"I think sometimes it's not worth it, having the operation, going through the rehabilitation and everything again," Garland says. "But I want to be active. I want to be able to play tennis, to bowl. Or if I got a coaching job somewhere, I'd like to be able to pitch batting practice."
He could use the job. The money is gone. He is living in Lakeland, Fla., and wondering where he will land next. Maybe he will get a job working for a beer distributor. Maybe something in baseball. He worked in a Wal-Mart last year. Then he worked in a freight room, lifting boxes. The best job was playing in the Senior League, pitching in Fort Myers, but that was where the arm blew out again. There will be no more pitching.
The day in '76 when he signed that stop-the-presses contract with the Cleveland Indians seems long, long ago. Two million dollars over 10 years. Who ever heard of such a thing? Ten years? Where is the security that was supposed to last forever? Where is the golden parachute? The damn thing never opened.
"It was unbelievable the way people reacted to the money," he says. "Every time my name was mentioned, it was Wayne Garland, Two Million Dollar Man. I think for the first years of their lives, my kids thought that was my last name. Two Million Dollar Man."
His timing was the best of anyone's in that first explosion of money. A hard thrower from Nashville, Garland finished 20-7 with a 2.68 ERA in '76 for the Orioles. He had played out his option. Twenty-six years old. He was a pitcher for the present and a pitcher for the long-distance future. Ten years, said the Indians. At the time, no one in any sport had ever been given such a long-term contract.
The money seemed so grand that real estate agents were calling as soon as he got home from the the signing ceremony. Home-improvement contractors arrived with large, inflated estimates. Strangers on the street asked for loans. The president of a bank opened the doors on a Sunday just to complete a deal with him.
"All I would hear about was the money," he says. "My wife heard it even more. People would yell at her in the stands. One guy was yelling so much, yelling things like 'Hey, Wayne, how about a loan. Hey, how about some money,' that my wife turned around and handed him a hundred bucks. Told him to shut up."
It seems that no one ever considered that maybe a right arm wouldn't last for 10 years, maybe wouldn't even last for two. The first year was all right, a 13-19 finish for a Cleveland team that bore little resemblance to the talented Orioles. But in the second season he tore the rotator cuff. He underwent surgery, then rehabilitation. He never won more than six games in any of the three seasons that followed, and he was released in 1981. His arm has never been the same.
During those last seasons, the talk about money became ugly. Garland was reminded again and again by Cleveland general manager Phil Seghi that he wasn't worth the money he was being paid. While he was on the disabled list, Garland was required to travel with the team and sit in the stands with a walkie-talkie, detailing outfield shifts. Make-work. When he pitched again, his car was vandalized in the parking lot after bad outings. His case became the classic illustration of how mistakes can be made in signing a free agent. His nickname on the team was Fool. Fool for going to the Indians. Fool for signing a contract for all that money and all that pressure.
"The strange part," Garland says, "is it seemed to me I'd had more money in my pocket when I was making $23,000 than I did after I signed the contract. I never seemed to have any money."
His big investment was a 26-acre estate in Hunting Valley, an affluent suburb of Cleveland. The estate had a giant slate-roofed house, a swimming pool, a tennis court and a 12-stall barn. The plan was to rent out the stalls and care for horses, to make money from the estate. No one had bothered to mention that a zoning ordinance prohibited that sort of use. Attorneys got involved. Suits were filed. The case dragged on and was eventually settled out of court. The estate was sold at a loss.
He invested in the oil business. The oil business sagged. He invested in an indoor batting cage. The indoor batting cage became a casualty of his divorce, which was costly and public. His ex-wife, Mary, is a radio personality in Nashville. She talked about him on the air. The money simply disappeared. Garland declared personal bankruptcy two years ago.
"I remember getting the final payment on the contract in '86,' " he says. "It was almost a relief. Like, 'Well, that's over.' "
He says his experiences have helped him to mature, grow up. Given the chance, he says, he would do the same things again. He would sign the same contract. No regrets. The crazy money, it turned out, was not as crazy as it seemed. He really was making $200,000 per year. This season, 1990, the youngest rookies were making half that amount before they threw their first pitch or got their first hit.
"Nowadays, $200,000, you'd be a nothing," Garland says, recovering from the surgery and looking for a job. "God forbid somebody today wins 30 games and becomes a free agent. What would he get? Good luck to him."
Fourteen years. The money being heaped on the newest free agents has doubled, tripled, doubled again. Will Clark's $15 million contract for four years is not much less than all of the free-agent contracts in 1976 added together. Will it be enough money to make him bulletproof to make him—yes!—Set For Life? There are more advisers now to help a ballplayer, better-defined courses to follow. There is so much more money. Is it enough? Is it ever enough? Fourteen years. The early returns have arrived. More will follow. The stories are going to get better and better. Are they not?
The left hand holds the steering wheel. The right hand punches out Jose Canseco's number on the cellular telephone. The 300 ZX sports car with the dealer plates from Reggie Jackson Nissan, in Palo Alto, Calif., is zipping along the passing lane of Route 80 between Berkeley and Palo Alto. Jose is not at home. A taped message plays. Reggie Jackson is disappointed.
"The guy doesn't call me back," he says. "I have a deal going to make him a half-million dollars. You'd think the guy would call me back. I was at his house last week for three days, and still he doesn't call me back. I've called him four times."
Maybe Jose is busy? Maybe he has a lot of people calling to help him make a half million? Maybe Jose is the same way Reggie was in those baseball days—hotter than hot, swimming in deals? Maybe Reggie wouldn't have had time to call during his baseball days?
"Nah," Reggie says. "If Willie Mays had called, I would have called him back."
Business is business. Reggie never has been slow to do business, even when he was wearing a shirt with number 44 on the back. He always has been a business machine. He is a business machine now. What is it that he calls himself? A cash cow. He is a cash cow, and now there are no fences. He can roam wherever he wants and travel at the speed he wants. The speed is predictably fast.
He has been to Atlanta and Rochester and Miami and Charlotte and Philadelphia and Newport Beach in the past two weeks. He is going to Daytona for the weekend. He will be in Palm Springs to start the new week. What does he say? He is in the rat race. A cash cow in the rat race. He talks about accruing assets and accruing debts and needing a cash flow. Make that money move. He is moving it. There are houses in Berkeley and Newport Beach and Carmel and Aspen. There is the car agency. There are 12 warehouses. There are...cars.
He estimates there are more than 100 of them in one of his warehouses, classic cars, rare cars. They are kept, most of them, in plastic bags, looking as if they just came back from the cleaners. See this one? The red Ferrari? This is worth $600,000. See that white '69 Chevelle? $200,000. The cars in this one warehouse are worth more than $7 million. That is his estimate. The cars are like baseball cards, tradable and easy to convert into cash. Accrued assets.
"We're coming out with this," he says. He holds a bottle in front of him. The label says the product is called Reggie Wax.
"Two years being developed," he says. "We're trying to raise five or six million right now to fund it."
Of all the '76 free agents, he was the most celebrated. He received the most money: $3 million for five years from the Yankees. He was the most successful after signing, finishing the 1977 season with his three-homer night against the Dodgers in the World Series. He made as much money off the field as he made on the field. He was personality as much as player. He was an endorsement package. More than anyone else, he was a look into the financial future.
"I could be set for life, sure," he says. "If I sold off the cars, sold a couple of houses, got rid of everything, I'd never have to work another day. But do you know how that would be? Borrrrring."
Business is as much a game as baseball ever was. He was stung when his Chevy dealership went bust in Berkeley. He was distressed when a warehouse fire wiped out 34 of his investment cars and six motorcycles a year ago. These were some bad times in the business game. That doesn't mean that he doesn't want to play anymore. He wants to play harder.
On this day, he visits his Nissan and Volkswagen agency. He has called a general meeting of the mechanics and secretaries from the service department. They gather around him, 22 men and three women. He talks about the goal of being the No. 1 service department in northern California, if not all of California. He talks about teamwork and neatness and brake jobs. The mechanics fidget. He is the boss. He says he doesn't want anyone smoking in any of the cars. Smoke in one of the cars and you're fired.
"I'm becoming more involved," he says afterward. "I want this to work. Part of me would like to be involved here every day. The other part says there are other things to do. I don't want to confine myself to one thing. Maybe that's the attention span of the athlete. I want diversity."
He complains to the manager of the agency that the sign in front is not large enough. The Reggie Jackson sign. He congratulates the manager on the fact that the plate-glass windows are much cleaner than they were on his last visit. He rubs a finger across some dust on a used car's hood. The cars should be cleaner. In the showroom, he congratulates a customer on the purchase of a new Cabriolet. In the parking lot, he makes another call from the cellular phone. The cellular phone is with him wherever he goes.
"In 1976, I wasn't thinking about any of this," he says. "Realistically, at the age I was, 28, you're living for the day, living for the right now. You're too involved in what you're doing. No one foresaw what was coming in salaries. Not the players. Not the management. I always had thought I'd be an Oakland A for my whole career, that I'd end like Al Kaline or Brooks Robinson. That just isn't going to happen anymore. It's sad, bad for baseball, but it's the truth.
"I do know that going to New York was what made me. That's where it took off. I say now that, as much as I wanted to stay an A, I should have died a Yankee. Just played a final game and died right there. I guess I'm just being romantic. I always thought I was the perfect Yankee. Too big for his britches. Someone people really could hate. I'm probably still too big for my britches."
He laughs at the image. Dead in the on-deck circle at Yankee Stadium after one final wave as the fans cheer him and boo him at the same time. He says he'll probably work at his present pace until his 50's, then relax. Who knows?
"I'm just going to keep going, keeping my face out there," he says. "Reggie Jackson, famous guy. Just talking to this magazine is helping me. Do you know how much it costs for a full-page ad in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED? This is business. Talking to you."
In walking through the auto showroom, he has picked up a pink balloon that is filled with helium. He stands in the parking lot and releases the balloon. Up and up it goes, into the blue afternoon sky. He stares. The balloon has become a little spot. Up and up. Smaller and smaller.
"Look at it go," Reggie Jackson says. "That thing is really moving."
The balloon disappears. He goes back to work.