The first home run came in the bottom of the fourth inning. Approaching the plate, Reggie Jackson averted his eyes from Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Burt Hooton so as not to draw attention to himself He took one practice swing, more the casting motion of a fly-fisherman, then snuggled his batting helmet against his head.
Jackson finally allowed his gaze to settle on the pitcher's mound, letting his pride mingle with Hooton's for a moment, in the way that boxers touch gloves. Hooton reared back and threw a fastball, his back arching like that of a high jumper trying to clear the bar. Jackson—sharing, then assuming, Hooton's arc—leaned back, swung and connected, his right leg twisting awkwardly.
A fistful of confetti tossed from the second deck in right centerfield drifted down in the shape of an imperfect V, landing just beyond the spot where the ball disappeared into the stands. The outfield camera then caught Hooton on the mound, the white blur of Jackson rounding second momentarily obscuring the sight of the pitcher, who looked like a father who can't pay his bills.
New York Yankee catcher Thurman Munson, waiting at home greeted Jackson with both hands, then gave him a little Sinatra wave of advance, as if the Yankee dugout were Munson's office and he had just asked Jackson in for smokes and a martini.
In the dugout Jackson faced the camera and slowly mouthed "Hi, Mom" three times, giving deliberate kindergarten waves.
Reggie Jackson sits at his desk, signing a stack of invitations to his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Aug. 1, the cards slanted to accommodate his lefthanded penmanship. Reggie's office at the corporate headquarters of the Upper Deck trading-card company in Carlsbad, Calif., is its own little hall of fame, cluttered with portraits, autographed baseballs, rare baseball cards, plaques and awards.
At 47 his face has the look of shale in rapids, speckled and roughed up by Ol' Man River, who has mercilessly taken scoops out of number 44's hairline as well. To hell with that. With cable-strung legs, the upper body of a cartoon genie and the alert bearing of a lifeguard, Reggie looks as if he could still play. For at least a couple of weeks. Preferably in the fall.
Reggie is shuffling a stack of business cards laced with a few stray $50 bills. When he finds the card he wants, he pokes out a phone number. It belongs to Ahmad Rashad, whom Reggie is calling to find out if he will be present for the celebrity home run contest that Reggie will host at the 1993 All-Star Game. As the phone rings at the other end of the line, Reggie hits the speakerphone button. When someone picks up, Reggie jives with him, withholding his identity.
"You don't know who this is, do you? Well, you best be careful what you say then," Reggie boasts in his best "brother" voice. "I come down there, knock you into next week."
"Who dis?" the voice asks finally.
" 'Who dis?' 'Who dis?' You don't talk like that on TV," Reggie says. "Clean it up and give me that white man's voice."
The voice turns out to be not Rashad's but that of a visitor.
After leaving a message on Joe Montana's answering machine, Reggie makes two more quick calls, one to his car shop in Carmel, Calif., where he inquires about the progress of work on his Ferrari Daytona, and the other to a local car restorer, whom he asks about a '62 Corvette. Before Reggie can shuffle the cards and make another call, a midlevel executive of Upper Deck meanders into his office, and Reggie must perform his first piece of business of the day for the trading-card company.
To expand its market, Upper Deck is interested in manufacturing cards of famous race car drivers. Someone from the company needs to hook up with NASCAR, which is located in the South, and Reggie is worried.
"I hope we're not sending him [a black employee of the company] down there," Reggie warns, leaning back in his chair. "They'd spot him right away and just have fun with him. The only black man you can ever take there is me. Because I know [drivers] Junior Johnson and Darrell Waltrip and Rusty [Wallace]."
The two men exchange a look of unspoken understanding, and then Reggie launches into one of his messianic sermons, as though his mind were suddenly addled by truth serum: "And you're hearing this from a black man. I'm not concerned about equality and all that——, I'm just telling you what is real. I'm telling you this as Reggie Jackson and a board member and a guy who knows those people. You need a handoff from a good ol' boy before you send anyone down there. I need to call a guy named Herb Fischel, who's director of the racing division for Chevrolet. Let me see what I can do."
Reggie next takes a call from an associate named Tim, presumably a member of the Yankee organization.
"You better get your uniform on and play some tonight," Tim kids over the speakerphone. The Yankees, two games out of first just before the All-Star break, are about to begin a four-game series against the California Angels.
"Hey, dude," says Reggie, "what can you tell me about Dennis Martinez? We want him? I heard the Yankees are interested in him. Is that——, or am I just out of the loop?" Listening to Tim assure him that interest in the Montreal Expo righthander has been alive since spring training, Reggie runs through his stack of cards again. Finding the one he's looking for, he tosses it across the desk to a reporter. The engraved card bears the Yankee logo; beneath Reggie's name is the title SPECIAL ADVISER TO THE GENERAL PARTNERS.
Having finished with Tim, Reggie is on his feet, bounding purposefully for the door; if the amperage of his stare is any indication, he is on the way to a place where fur will fly. On the way out, his secretary, Karen Nesbit, reminds him of an Upper Deck board meeting set for the day after the All-Star Game.
"And I'm supposed to bring the bagels, right?" The wryness of the remark, spoken by the same man who once said "If I played in New York, they'd name a candy bar after me," is the first indication that beneath all of the gelatinous conceit there lies more than just a ham.
Gravity was always Reggie Jackson's worst enemy. He wrestled upright with Newton's laws and ended by having to touch his knee to the ground to achieve the velocity, the lift, the momentum he needed to get the ball out of the yard. The home runs he hit brought on the added weight of seeing his full name, Reginald Martinez Jackson, used to dramatize accounts of his Herculean accomplishments. There was the monstrous home run that Roy Hobbs had nothing on, the one that hit the rightfield light standard in Tiger Stadium in the '71 All-Star Game. Then, in the space of two games during the '77 World Series, Reggie turned all of Yankee Stadium into his own monument when he hit four home runs in four consecutive at bats.
"Reginald Martinez Jackson is the best player on the best team in the sport," TIME magazine said when making Jackson, then with the Oakland A's, its cover story for the week of June 3, 1974. While Muhammad Ali went around saying "I am the greatest," Reggie had people doing it for him and doing it in a world in which expanded sports coverage was just beginning to develop a dorsal fin.
While he was hitting home runs, Reggie connected. His performance reached the top of its curve in an era of social, racial and artistic upheaval, a time of national turmoil and the Vietnam War. Young Americans, in their wholesale rejection of traditional values, dismissed pro sports as a metaphor for aggression (and as a tool with which the military-industrial complex could whip up a blind frenzy of patriotism), but they still had Reggie, who wore an Afro and flipped his owner, Charley Finley, the bird as he crossed the plate. "Tune in, turn on, drop out," the battle cry went, but Reggie had an all-access pass.
Jackson had gone to Arizona State to play football for mega-disciplinarian coach Frank Kush, and in turn he was introduced to ASU baseball coach Bobby Winkles. The Kansas City A's made Jackson the second pick in the 1966 amateur draft (the New York Mets chose Steve Chilcott first). After less than a season of Class A ball at Modesto, Calif., Reggie went on to Double A Birmingham at a time when black players were housed separately from white players, an injustice that Reggie took with quiet equanimity. "How'd I live with it?" he later reflected. "I just accepted it. When it's raining, you don't stop the rain. You go inside and wait." The A's, happily, couldn't wait. Toward the end of the '67 season, Reggie got the call to join the team for good in K.C.
The city of Oakland got its first look at Reggie in '68, when Finley moved his club to California. He was big and had a catapult for an arm, even though he played the outfield like a log-roller in greased boots. On the base paths he was aggressive and fast, so fast the white on his shoes couldn't keep up with him. Of course, he hit, but he also talked, and baseball had suddenly found a new voice. He bent the light that came his way, then sent it off with Reggie-spin.
"Hitting Nolan Ryan is like eating soup with a fork," he told a reporter. The quotable Jackson included "I'd rather hit than have sex" and "Between the ages of zero and 14, I was colored. Between 14 and 301 was a Negro. And between 30 and the present, I'm black." And who can forget Reggie's self-fulfilling prognostication, "I'm the straw that stirs the drink," when he went to play for the Yankees in '77?
Reggie became a walking solar eclipse. Reggie-gazing was the rage. Everyone had something to say about him.
"I've been on more covers of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, I think, than anyone," he boasts. "Had to be 10, 11 covers. Then Pete [Rose] made more covers than me when he got in trouble, the——." (Research reveals nine for Reggie; 18 for Rose; 32 for the champ, Ali.—Ed.)
The fight against gravity meant staying above the fray, making himself lighter than racism, lighter than baseball's involuntary servitude, lighter than the grumbling about him for speaking out and for dating white women. But the fight also meant not being weighed down by all of the praise. Sometimes the pull was too great. He spoke of himself in the third person. Said Reggie the day before the Ali-Larry Holmes fight in Las Vegas in 1980: "They spend a lot of time interviewing Ali now. Next week it's forgotten. But Reggie Jackson gets interviewed every day, everywhere, at all hours. Nobody gives more interviews than Reggie Jackson."
He often fouled his vanity off his foot. Reggie, paradoxical Reggie, when asked once about his autobiography, complained about his co-author. "He makes me sound egotistical," Reggie said. "I've already thrown out 90 pages."
Playing in Oakland, Reggie asked teammate Sal Bando what they would name a Reggie Jackson candy bar.
"The——head bar," Bando said with a shrug.
Another Upper Deck man, the assistant director of creative services, follows Reggie into his office to show him a set of the new Heroes of Baseball cards. Reggie, examining the set, is not impressed and wants to know who the artist was.
"Hey, his realism might not be that good, but his nostalgia is real good," the creative services exec contends, defending the artist.
"Yeah," says Reggie, "but I would think that the fans who are going to buy these, they're gonna say Mickey's left arm looks goofy, Reggie doesn't look like himself. Look at my card. My face is weird, like I'm——up. And Ted Williams looks like he just left the dentist. Don't we have a guy back there who's better than this? We gotta have 10 of them. Get the guys who made that poster of me. That——'s unreal."
When the man from creative services mentions time and budget constraints, Reggie won't let him off the hook.
"Me, as an executive of the company, I'm telling you it should look better," Reggie says, motoring now. "Do what you have to do. Hire another guy, add on an extension to the building, get new blinds, get a different radio, but I would want them to look better. I really think we should concentrate on making the players look more like themselves. You don't?"
"Art is totally subjective," the man from creative services counters.
"Forget the artist," says Reggie. "Think about the fans."
It is an argument that Reggie will eventually lose. After the creative services exec leaves the office, a visitor points at a group portrait of the 11 living players who have hit 500 or more homers in their careers. The visitor poses a question: Who might be added in the distant future?
"You know, I've thought about that," Reggie answers. "I don't know if anybody's gonna make it. I take Ken Griffey Jr. He's young enough, playing in the American League, where they turn the lineup over faster, get more at bats."
"Mark McGwire has a chance," Reggie says as his eyes widen, which means something is brewing in his mind. "He's been hurt, but McGwire's an every-day player. He can do it. Jose Canseco? He's done. His career will never be the same. But he didn't take baseball seriously anyway. The only thing about McGwire is, I don't know if he wants to pay the price of hitting 500. I think Mark wants to play baseball until he gets tired of it, but you gotta play beyond that.
"And let me tell you, it's hard. People look at me and say, 'Hey, you hit 35 homers a year.' You can't imagine how hard it was. I mean, I struck out 2,500 times. Strung together, that's five years. For five years I never touched the ball. Hell, I know [Michael] Jordan well—this guy's always worried. It ain't easy winnin'. You gotta be really driven. I hope McGwire hits 500. Because the game needs players like that."
Reggie's secretary has tracked down Herb Fischel, the General Motors racing-division executive, and he and Reggie chat on the speakerphone. On the desk is a special baseball card of Reggie designed by Upper Deck. The card will be packaged in the new Reggie! candy bar that is set to go on sale after his induction into the Hall of Fame. (The first Reggie bar, introduced in 1978, was melted by public indifference.)
"I'm in New York about a week a month, as adviser to the owner," Reggie is explaining to Herb. "I'll bounce around with the team on the road from time to time."
"Well," says Herb, "I guess the key questions are, Are you happy? and Do you enjoy what you're doing?"
"I work too much," says Reggie. "I was just talking to a fella who's doing a story on me for SI. He wanted to know if I was gonna do any more broadcasting. I said no.... I'm 47 years old—though I tell everyone I'm 45, because I still like the young girls. And radio is boring. Puts me to sleep."
Reggie mimes a sleeping pose (Rip Van Winkle with quadriceps), then continues. "And to be honest with you, I don't want to rip players. I don't want to talk on the air condescendingly about players. I was a player. I know what it's like to try like a son of a bitch and look like a bum. I'm very happy doing what I'm doing. I'm about as high as I can get here in this company without owning it. I'm involved in every different department, making sure everything and everyone interfaces and interacts well together"—Reggie shifts seamlessly into corporatespeak—"and the same with the Yankees. I'm the adviser to the owner. I interface with the general manager, I talk to the manager on the field, I'm involved in picking the club. I sit up front, I eat free, I turn in a receipt and I get a check." Reggie downshifts into Armed Forces cussing, his voice rising: "I mean,——. I got it all. A lot of people ask, Are you happy?' I mean, what the hell. I don't know if I'm happy, but I'm sure one glad son of a bitch."
"Well, you deserve that," Herb says. This kind of praise usually indicates the withholding of unpleasant news.
Reggie makes his pitch for the NASCAR cards, suggesting that he and Herb talk further at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. And that's when Herb lowers the boom.
"Well, I've been meaning to talk to you for at least a couple of weeks, Reg," he says. "Mary Ellen and I have a chance to go to Hong Kong. It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, just like your induction into the Hall of Fame. As much as I regret it, we're probably going to need to go on that trip."
Reggie accepts the news with estimable grace and poise, his expression cool as ice cream. Disappointment registers just briefly in his eyes, and their brightness seems to diminish. In midfarewell with Herb, Reggie, one of the best two-strike hitters baseball ever had, already has his finger poised over the dial.
After punching out a number, he speaks low and evenly into somebody's voice mail:
"It's Reggie Jackson, Buck. I just wanted to call and say hello. I know there isn't too much I can say to pep you up. I'll see you at the ballpark today. I should be there about 3:30." He hangs up.
"Buck?" says Reggie. "Bucky Showalter! He's our goddam manager. What's the matter with you? Karen, get this guy a beer, will ya?"
The second home run came in the fifth inning, against Dodger righthander Elias Sosa. Jackson, in the batter's box, licked his lips, then scrunched up his nose to keep his glasses from slipping. He glanced back at the umpire briefly, although the umpire had said nothing. Jackson trolled for comfort, tugging at his T-shirt, checking the grip of his spikes in the clay, until he was perfectly still. Sosa threw a good, stinging fastball, but a little up and in. In completing his swing, Jackson genuflected, getting every part of his body into his stroke. By the time the crack of the bat could be heard, the ball was halfway to the rightfield seats. As he gunned around third base, Jackson kicked up clay, nicking himself in the butt, like a racehorse.
In the dugout he again mouthed a hello to his mother, and he put up two fingers, one for each homer. Then, thinking the camera was off, he touched his gloved fingers to his tongue a few times, as if he were about to use them to turn a page of newsprint.
The turnout to see the Yankees at Anaheim Stadium is high. Tonight all the seats are filled. Just above the Yankee dugout, the executive version of Reggie sits among a chattering coterie of Beau Brummels and cover girls in designer casuals. Reggie is wearing a tie. He leans toward the seat in front of him to talk. The point Reggie wants to make is emphasized by poor grammar.
"Hathaway, the kid who pitched earlier for the Angels? He's got nothin'. Anybody can do what he does. He don't throw hard, he don't have a good breakin' ball. You can get to him anytime. Now, this kid here [Jerry Nielsen] has a little funky move, got a little side delivery. He's got a balk move to first, which means a speedy guy on first base, like, say, Rickey Henderson, with a lefthanded hitter at the plate, has to think for a second. He has to take a little less of a lead."
A woman in the group watches Reggie log a pitch on a stat sheet. "You mean you write all that stuff down?" she asks.
"You got to," he says. "When you sit in a meeting and they ask you something, you better know something. See the kid at third base? Easley?" Reggie points at the Angels' Damion Easley after the crowd applauds Easley's throw to first from the grass. "He showed me a good arm. But he's what I call a fourth infielder. He can't hit enough to play third base in this league. When you're standing on the corners—third, first, leftfield and rightfield—you are resting. The other guys are playing baseball: the catcher, pitcher, shortstop, second baseman and centerfielder. If you're at the corners, you're just waiting to hit. And you better be able to hit when you get in the box.
"That's just my opinion. But if you look around baseball, the guys at the corners have always produced. Brett, Brooks Robinson, Sheffield, McGriff, Olerud, Fielder, Carter...."
Reggie leans close to a visitor to the box and says he's thinking of inviting Pete Rose to his Hall of Fame induction.
"It's a tough decision," Reggie says. "I'm being honored at the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is not being honored by me. I want to make sure that I don't upstage the Hall of Fame, guys like DiMaggio and Gehrig—so I need to ask around about [inviting Rose]. I want to be genuine about it. I don't want to appear grandiose or magnanimous.
"But I visited Pete in Boca Raton a while ago. And there's a piece of him that's not alive. And I want to see him whole. For me, I don't mind sharin' the day with Pete Rose. Because I know Pete as a human being. I've seen him around the game, I've seen him around the field. He could talk——. He hung around with the brothers at the batting cage. And if you hung around with the brothers, that meant you could hit."
"How's this player working out?" asks Vickie Rose, the wife of Yankee limited partner Billy Rose. He answers with an irritable frown.
"But he's a nice guy," she presses.
Reggie smirks. "——, for five million over the next two years, he ain't even a nice guy."
On Nov. 4, 1976, Major League Baseball held its first free-agent reentry draft. The successful court case brought by Andy Messersmith the previous winter had essentially freed ballplayers from the yoke of the reserve clause, allowing them to sell their services on the open market when their contracts expired. There were 30 eligible players that year, and the biggest name of all was Reggie Jackson, who had been traded to the Baltimore Orioles in April. After starring on A's teams that won three consecutive world championships, after seeing the burlesque melodrama of his relationship with Finley played out in the papers, Reggie, perhaps the most compelling, certainly the most visible, personality in baseball, had arrived.
Thirteen teams chose to negotiate with Jackson. Although the Montreal Expos offered him the most money, he signed a five-year deal with George Steinbrenner's Yankees for $2.9 million, an amount that sounds quaint by today's standards but made him the highest-paid player in the game.
Reggie finally got it right: He was the one who, by his succinct assessment, "put the meat in the seats." Now he would be paid accordingly, and with that he become the kind of star after whom people name their kids. The original Reggie went toe-to-toe with his manager, swung the bat as if each time were his last and, what's more, did something that both enraged and delighted fans: He stood at home plate and had the nerve to admire his homers, something akin to making love in front of a mirror. Reggie had style, the kind that would, by the next decade, allow other athletes to get rich hawking sneakers, fast food and airline companies.
And Reggie spoke—not just in one language, but in many: English, Spanish, legalese, jive, trash talk, white bread, freedom rider. Some people missed the point; it seemed as if you couldn't find a paragraph about Reggie that didn't include some facile use of the word articulate. He could shift, after a fashion, from down-home ballplayer to ladies' man to the brooding Hamlet of baseball—a miscreant veiled in decorum and bro' love.
"Scouts told me the Mets didn't draft me because they heard I had a white girlfriend," Reggie said in '69. "I believe that." You got the impression that he believed that if he remained quiet, he would disappear.
"As a young black kid, I followed Mays and Aaron, the precedent they set," says Reggie today. "Always dressed nice, never got into trouble—they had class."
But Mays and Aaron were quiet—compared with Reggie, German opera is quiet—and kept their views private.
"They didn't talk for two reasons," Reggie nearly whispers. "One, because they didn't have the skills to articulate what they were trying to say. And two, they came up in a little different era. I was more fortunate. I came up in the Muhammad Ali era, the Jim Brown era. Jim Brown was one of the first guys who started talking, then Bill Russell.
"When I started talking, I was really one of the first guys who had the skills to articulate what I was saying. Jackie, Mays, Newcombe, Campanella, Gibson, those guys who set a precedent of greatness, those fellas could've stood up to it too, but they were taught 'You're a colored boy, and you're lucky just to be here.' That wasn't good enough for me, as an educated young Negro."
Reggie watches an Angel hitter take an anemic cut at a changeup. "Someone got fooled," he clucks, tugging at his knitted tic. In a matter of seconds Reggie is arguing over whether or not he had been a guess hitter.
"I wasn't," he insists, "and those who don't know will say anything. I hit 500 home runs. So they're gonna give me no credit? I was a good hitter. I looked for the baseball. Until I was about 35, I looked for slider speed. I walked to the plate and set up for slider speed and adjusted in between. Most guys playing at this level aren't good enough to do what I did, to look for slider speed. They don't even know what I'm talking about."
When the Yankees come off the field between innings, some look for Reggie, and he winks back. But Reggie looks comfortable among the manicures and $75 haircuts. He doesn't get the dirt in his nostrils anymore. Or so you might think.
"I put on a uniform now and then," he says. "I'm gonna take batting practice tomorrow before I go to Baltimore," he says with a twinkle in his eye. "I did last year, and I hit a slam in the old-timers' game. Hell, I'm the king of that league."
In the eighth inning Dodger pitcher Charlie Hough's first offering to Jackson was a knuckleball that looked as if it were controlled by a radio with weak batteries. After having to wait for the knuckler, Jackson made a swing that was a pure jerk reflex. The ball landed in the blackened area behind centerfield, just below the sign with the Marlboro man on it. A fan waited for the ball to come down, cradling his arms under it as if collecting raindrops in a drought. As Jackson circled the bases, the significance of what he had done accelerated his stride, requiring him to adjust with a skip to touch each base.
As he made his way along the dugout bench, taking in the outpouring of affection from his teammates, there were smiles that a year's worth of friction and conflict couldn't keep down. Munson twisted his head back and forth, the twitch substituting for words. Leaping out of the dugout, Jackson opened his arms and thanked the adoring crowd. Game 6 of the '77 World Series: three pitchers, three pitches, three swings, three home runs.
It's hotter than the inside of a toaster oven in the deep bowl of Anaheim Stadium, so hot that it deadens the echo of baseballs cracking off the bat. Reggie, in a white T-shirt and Yankee pants, shags fly balls in the lazy clarity of the midafternoon sun. He has some hop in his motion as he returns the ball. The hot dog is more bratwurst now, but it's still there.
Stepping into the batting cage to take BP, Reggie momentarily bares his teeth to accommodate his trademark reptilian spit, then bunts for his first hit: Just putting the bat on the ball, he taps it out to centerfield, where the young players stand idle, waiting for the afternoon to go away. After a few more swings Reggie's up to warning-track power. Then he hits his groove. Five, six, seven taters out of the park.
"How can the HOF not merit whatever comes his way?" says Yankee infielder Mike Gallego, drawing a cup of coffee from the clubhouse urn. "The HOF—that's our nickname for him. Know what that stands for?"
"It's not Hooked On Phonics," someone hollers.
"Has Reggie helped me?" Gallego repeats a question put to him regarding the Hall Of Famer. "Naw, I try and stay away from Reggie. Seriously, if you're willing to listen, he's got a lot to say. He knows baseball. He just has a certain way of going about things.... Once you understand that, you can understand the importance of what he has to say."
A group of players watches a televised tribute to Don Drysdale and Roy Campanella while Reggie horses around, trading insults with some of his friends on the team—outfielder Danny Tartabull and rookie pitcher Bobby Munoz.
One of Jackson's most important contributions to the ball club pays dividends: He's able to borrow a T-shirt from Munoz. Early in the season the Yankees, according to Reggie, were ready to go out and purchase a big-name reliever. Reggie lobbied for bringing up Munoz from the minors. Munoz thus far has shone.
"I said, 'Hey, let's bring this kid up,' " says Reggie, sniffing the armpits of the pinched shirt. "If he fails, he fails, but maybe we'll catch lightning in a bottle. But I don't want to make it sound like I'm taking all the credit for it. I'm here to be an asset, to be a support person. There's no room for big shots. The big shots are your players. It would be detrimental to upstage the owner, the manager, the general manager—I would not be helping if I became a star. Hey, nobody listens to me anyway. You wanna know my worth? Talk to George."
Steinbrenner and Jackson—after hell and high water, together again. The Sunshine Boys meets 48 HRS. "Lotta people told me it would be the only place where I could fit," says Reggie, referring to his Yankee job. "The only place where I would be nonthreatening. My persona doesn't work for a lot of people. I'm not a fit for a lot of teams."
"I'm not one for figureheads and tokenism," says Steinbrenner, speaking from New York. "And I expected Reggie to contribute. So far he has been tremendous. We had two young black players—Hensley Meulens and Gerald Williams—who were sent to Columbus after spring training. Reggie went to Columbus and talked to both of them; the fact that Reggie Jackson talked to them, in my opinion, made them go back down with exactly the right attitude." And according to Steinbrenner, it was Reggie who coached Paul O'Neill out of a reputed inability to hit lefthanded pitching.
Says Wade Boggs, the Yankees' third baseman and a probable Hall of Famer, acquired from Boston last year: "Learning how to play the game in the big leagues is totally different from the minors, and having a Hall of Famer can help. You can feed off that, pick things up. He asks you questions, gets into your head a little bit, but just having him around is another insight into the game."
It is suggested to Reggie that either he's having a tremendous impact on the team or everyone is scared of him.
"They're all scared," Reggie deadpans. He hunkers down in front of his locker and tries to make sense of his image.
"I'm real vulnerable with the media," he says. "I can be taken a lot of ways: one who turns people off, one who can be grandiose, a big shot, a guy who puts on an act. I'll tell you what helped me a lot. I couldn't fit in with the Oakland A's. I tried like hell, but I couldn't. I talked a lot to three or four people there. I didn't like what they said, but I listened to it. And it really helped me, because they had the impression that I was narcissistic. And I desperately wanted to change that, because it's embarrassing. It made me feel small and inadequate. It was terrible, but it helped me. I learned to step up and look at the whole picture, tried to see it analytically. Everybody talks about my ego, pride." There is something percussive in his cadence, as though each word had been packed under pressure.
"You want to know what I'm proud of? I'm proud of what my friends think of me. A friend, to me, is a guy who, if you need it, would cut his bank account in half and give it to you. That's a friend. I don't mean a guy who'll go to your wedding, go to the movies or have a beer with you. Or chase women or get drunk with you. Well, I have five or six true friends, and one of them's a girl. I think that's a lot. A man is as strong and as good as his friends."
The night before the All-Star Game in Baltimore, there's Reggie playing in the celebrity home run contest. Facing Bob Gibson, the man he hit the grand slam off in last year's old-timers' game, Reggie has the count going his way, 3 and 0. He is wearing a small mike, making all of viewing America a fly on the wall. Either forgetting or remembering that the mike is turned on, Reggie turns to the umpire and, fearful of being walked, orders room service: "Call the next one a strike, no matter where it is." Reggie, with a lot of things to do yet, wants to go down swinging.