FOREVER ASTIR : REGGIE : Even at 40, Angels’ Jackson Appears Intent on Remaining Baseball’s Perennial Paradox
A day in the life of Reggie Jackson, the human paradox . . .
Reggie is putting on his uniform and overhears Wally Joyner complaining about playoff tickets. Wally thinks it’s unfair that his family has to sit in the upper deck at Boston’s Fenway Park.
Reggie offers advice.
“It’s easy to handle, man,” he says. “You got to know how to bitch just enough. If you don’t get ‘em where you want, stay in the clubhouse until you get ‘em. In New York, they put my people in the upper deck, and it was 30 degrees outside.
“Rookies’ wives don’t have fur coats, man. Your wife will have to carry a blanket with her. . . . Man, I’m telling you what you should do. And don’t tell me I don’t know about front offices, man, because I’ve been in 11 of ‘em.”
Reggie is fully dressed now. A reporter wants to talk. Reggie tells him to get lost.
“I’m in a funny mood, man,” Reggie says to him. “When I’m playing, I’m OK. When I ain’t playing, I’m (peeved).
Reporter: “But you’re playing tonight, right?”
Reggie: “Yeah, I’m playing tonight, but I ain’t playing every day.”
Reporter: “But you’re playing most of the time, right?
Reggie: “It ain’t enough, whatever the (bleep) it is.”
Reggie is out the door. A television crew follows him. He’s nice to the TV guys. They’re doing a feature on his special relationship with Joyner. Wally and Reggie ham it up. Reggie has his arm around Wally. Reggie cracks an imaginary joke. They give imaginary laughs. Reggie says to the crew, “Got enough? Get whatever you need.”
Reggie walks near the Angel dugout now. As usual, kids are leaning over the railing and saying: “Hey, Reggie! Hey, Reggie! Sign this! Sign this!”
He ignores the racket but poses with an honorary bat boy minutes before game time.
Later, Reggie wins the game with a home run.
He trots around the bases, touches home and blows many kisses. The crowd wants him to tip his cap. He obliges.
“Reg-gie! Reg-gie! Reg-gie!
Some say he’s two-faced.
Others say nine-faced is more like it.
He says he has one face.
“I’m not a lot of people,” he says. “I’m not a lot of Reggie Jacksons. I’m one guy. I’m one person that, you know, does a lot of things. I’m real, and I just don’t put up with people that are transparent or fake.”
Is Reggie real? Hard to tell. Just when you think you’ve got him figured, he does something screwy.
One day, he and Angel Manager Gene Mauch have a pleasant conversation. The next day, Reggie hints that Mauch is an idiot.
Reggie says he loves women and prays for a successful marriage some day. But he also says he can’t stand most female reporters. When they come to interview him, he seldom covers himself with a towel. One woman reporter says Reggie once said to her, “You really like seeing me naked, don’t you?” He denies this.
He says he could retire at any moment. But then he says he might play another two seasons.
He says he won’t broadcast for ABC-TV when he retires because they dislike him. This comes as news to ABC.
One minute, he’s speaking perfect English. The next, he’s speaking perfect jive.
He owns 80 cars, including a Rolls Royce, six Mercedes-Benzes and seven Porsches, but his favorite is a ’57 Chevy. “It’s a nostalgia car,” he says.
He owns a home in Oakland but often tells people he lives in ritzy Berkeley. Image, you know.
He’ll do interviews with the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, then turn down a local paper.
He’ll say he has no sympathy for Len Bias or Don Rogers, but he actively fights drug abuse.
Despite his legendary feud with Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, he says he might actually go back to the Yankees.
REGGIE, ARE YOU INSECURE?
He has every right to be. When he was 6, his mother left. She took three of her four children with her.
Reggie was the odd kid out.
He stayed with his dad, Martinez, who owned a dry-cleaning business in a suburb of Philadelphia called Wyncote. Reggie came right home after school to work in the shop. They pinched pennies. To this day, Reggie never leaves the heat or the television on in his million-dollar home. What? Waste energy?
Martinez disciplined him. He taught him to speak proper English. Martinez would ask a question, and Reggie would say, “Yeah,” and Martinez would say, “What did you say, boy?”
Reggie would correct himself. “I mean, yes, sir,” he’d say.
Recently, when Reggie was out with his nephew, and the nephew slurred his words, Reggie said, “What did you say?”
The youngster articulated.
“That’s what I thought you said,” Reggie said.
Reggie believes this is an important lesson.
“Yes, especially if you’re black,” he says. “Because the first thing they’ll say about someone who’s black is: ‘He’s not smart. He doesn’t know how to talk. I knew it over the phone he was black. I could tell by the way he talked.’ That’s what people say about us.”
When Reggie appears at banquets, white people sometimes try to greet him with the soul handshake. He won’t shake hands that way.
“I figure they do it to make a black man feel comfortable, and I don’t think it’s right,” he says. “I always say, ‘Well, let’s shake hands now and play games later.’ ”
In Minneapolis this year, local reporters crowded around Reggie, who was blasting Minnesota Twins management for not signing more black players. Reggie did it in his best jive.
“How come no colored boys here?” he said outside the batting cage. “They’re playing on cement (artificial turf) here and no colored boys?”
A Minnesota columnist, one of a dozen white reporters standing there, started laughing.
“This ain’t funny, boy,” Reggie said. “What are you smiling at, white boy? Your team ain’t got no colored boys, and you should be writing about it.”
Two weeks later, the Twins recalled two black players from the minors and signed a black pitcher. Minnesota reporters began referring to Jackson as the Great Emancipator.
Not having a mother around fostered Reggie’s insecurities the most. At one point, he says, he dropped the word mom from his vocabulary.
Now, fortunately, he and his mother have gotten together again. But she wasn’t there during his senior year of high school.
He had been the best football and baseball player around Wyncote when his dad suddenly was taken to jail. Martinez had been caught bootlegging corn liquor. There had always been a still in the basement, and now Reggie knew why.
He basically was left alone that year. He kept the dry-cleaning business going until Arizona State’s Frank Kush offered him a football scholarship. Martinez was still locked up when Reggie left Wyncote for good.
Kush tried to break Reggie down. He’d have Reggie scrimmage the entire defense by himself. One against 11. “No mercy,” Kush would tell the defense.
Obviously, Reggie was molded by strong, if unusual, personalities--his dad, Kush, Charles O. Finley, Dick Williams, Earl Weaver, Steinbrenner, Billy Martin.
Finley, for instance, didn’t like all the publicity Reggie was getting in 1969, so he ordered Reggie to stop doing interviews. In 1970, a year after Reggie had hit 47 home runs, Finley threatened to send him to the minors.
For his part, Reggie once hit a home run, crossed home plate and spit at Finley’s front-row seat. He has a strong personality, too.
And is this why he cannot tolerate scared reporters? Scared fans? Scared anybody?
“Yes,” he says.
You must stand up to him.
He is a proud man. While visiting New York when he was with the Oakland A’s, he asked a reporter to go to the garment district with him. A store had promised him free clothes. When he and the reporter arrived at the building, minus sport coats, the security guard would not allow them on the elevator without jackets.
“Don’t you know who I am?” Reggie blared.
“I don’t care,” the guard said.
So they went around to the freight elevator, where Reggie was immediately recognized by janitors, who said: “Reggie Jackson! I can’t believe I’m in the same elevator!”
Reggie said nothing.
At the store, Reggie took one of everything but whispered to the reporter, “I don’t even like this stuff.”
The clerk asked, “Anything else, Mr. Jackson?”
“Yeah,” Reggie said, “I want to ride down the front elevator.”
Jackson feels that way now about how the Angels played him this season. They platooned him as their designated hitter, and he complained about it almost daily. Mauch said Reggie was told in the spring that he would be getting 500 at-bats this year, and that Reggie was thrilled about it at the time.
He isn’t thrilled now.
On the night the Angels could--and did--clinch the division title against Texas, Reggie bristled when he saw he wasn’t in the lineup. “Here is the most fun (bleep) game of the year, and I ain’t playing,” he said.
Reggie pinch-hit that night but would not participate in the postgame celebration. He sat in the trainer’s room instead. As he was leaving later, carrying a bottle of champagne, he said: “I wasn’t into it.”
He wouldn’t say why publicly, but his friends explained. Reggie Jackson plays to win. He didn’t want just a token appearance in that game. He wanted to be a part of the win.
Besides, he had been in celebrations before and didn’t think a division title was such a big deal. That was a foregone conclusion. The Yankees and A’s never used to go wild after winning division titles. The Angels were only half done.
Besides, he had wanted to start. And he hadn’t.
So he blew off the party.
REGGIE, ARE YOU EGOTISTICAL?
The Wally and Reggie Show? Or is it a Reggie snow job?
Some Angel players think Reggie stays close to Joyner just to stay in the spotlight.
In Baltimore this year, Reggie and Wally were being interviewed together, and Reggie was saying how proud he was of his buddy. Meanwhile, teammates Darrell Miller and Bob Boone began mimicking the two of them in the dugout.
Boone used a bat as a microphone, and Miller said: “Oh yes. Bob Boone has taught me everything I know.”
“C’mon guys,” an embarrassed Joyner said.
Reggie laughs at the idea of elbowing his way into Joyner’s publicity.
“I have no comment,” he says. “But I think the thing to do is ask Wally. If he said I did it just to get in the spotlight, then I’ll say I miscalculated everything (about their relationship) and made a mistake.”
Joyner says: " . . . I think I’ve helped his sanity this year--well, helped maintain his sanity, I guess. . . . It’s obvious (how). You’ve read the papers. You know what’s happening with Reggie Jackson this year. He could’ve been buried. But I think him helping me and feeling important that way . . . that’s probably helped him through the down parts of this year.”
At the same time, Reggie often seemed envious of Joyner’s sudden fame. One of Joyner’s home runs was rained out in Detroit, and while reporters mobbed him, Reggie--who was close by--blurted out to no one in particular: “Yeah, I can remember getting five home runs rained out. I lost the home run title in ’69 because one got rained out.”
He has always talked a great game. Early in his career, Reggie told Oakland Tribune reporter Ron Bergman: “I’m gonna be great. I’m not gonna be good, but great.”
When he joined the Angels, he sat with a reporter and said: “It’s great to be Reggie Jackson. I wish sometimes I could be outside myself, looking in. It’s great to be No. 44.”
When the Angels clinched the division title in 1982, he ran out and was the first to congratulate Mauch--kissing him on the cheek.
“Yuk,” Mauch said later, smiling. “That’s all I needed.”
Pat Reusse, a columnist in St. Paul, said: “Ah, but I think 80% of what Reggie does is with a wink.”
It may, indeed, all be an act. Reggie is certainly smart enough to know that his fame derives only partly from his ability to hit towering home runs.
Still, Angel teammates privately have hinted that Reggie went out of his way to get publicity in an incident involving a young burn victim named David Rothenberg.
Reggie went to visit Rothenberg at the hospital. Was it coincidental that TV stations showed up at the same time? Maybe Reggie was simply trying to do a good deed, but had he come off looking bad?
“I’m sure maybe one or two players and some other people thought I did that for the spotlight thing, too,” Reggie says. “And I’m sure some people think I did the same thing with Tommy John’s kid.
“He was in a coma and couldn’t come out, and I went to see him and he came out (of the coma). Then, (he) threw the first ball out at Yankee Stadium, and he asked me to catch it. His parents asked me to walk out there with him.
“I was very close to the John family, and they requested I go to the hospital. And I was requested to see David Rothenberg because of a phone call from his mother to Buzzie Bavasi.”
Reggie has frequently been accused of latching onto fringe players who won’t threaten him. In New York, it was supposedly Fran Healy. In California, it’s supposedly Rob Wilfong.
“I don’t believe it,” Healy says.
Reggie admits wanting to feel important, but the Angels certainly aren’t accommodating him. He’ll be a free agent after this season, and maybe he’ll go to Oakland and buy a part of the team or maybe to Kansas City or maybe to Baltimore or maybe back to the Angels or maybe back to--cough, cough--the Yankees.
“Never say never,” he says of the Yankees.
Can he coexist again with Steinbrenner?
“If I don’t have anyplace to play next year, what else am I gonna do?” Reggie says.
He has gone around telling reporters: “Next year, it’ll be me and Eddie Murray. We’ll both be mad as hell. Or it’ll be me and Jose Canseco or me and George Brett.”
When the A’s were in town, he visited with Manager Tony LaRussa--in front of everyone--and ended their conversation by saying very loudly: “I’ll see you next year, Tony. Daily.”
Critics say that Reggie does all of this because he no longer is the Angel star but still needs to be the focal point.
“No, I’m not saying I need to be the focal point of a team,” he says. “But I care to play when I should play. I just need to play a little more. . . . I’ve got to be somewhere next year where I’m gonna play, where people don’t say: ‘Well, he can’t catch the fly ball; he can’t run; he can’t throw; he can’t do this.’ I can’t deal with that.”
Mauch tried to change him. He told Reggie to hit .300, to hit singles, to forget home runs. Reggie doesn’t appreciate Mauch sometimes. Last year, after the Royals had eliminated the Angels, Reggie called an impromptu press gathering and said: “It kills me to say this about Gene, because he’s been like a father to me, but he choked this year.”
When he hit three homers in one game last month, Reggie really did fantasize about rounding third on the last one, running out through the tunnel and never coming back. He sat in the dugout after the third one, thinking how “awesome” it would have been to show up those people who have tried to take the game away from him this year.
For instance, Reggie is sure he’ll hardly play in the World Series, if the Angels are in it. The designated hitter will not be used in the National League city. And if it turns out to be the Angels and Mets, Reggie wouldn’t get to play at home, either, against left-handers Sid Fernandez and Bob Ojeda. That would leave him one possible Series start, against Dwight Gooden.
“I’m not gonna play for a week,” Reggie says. “And you take my swing out of the lineup and see what it looks like.”
So how far off can retirement be? Gary Walker, Jackson’s agent and close friend from college, says he won’t be surprised if Reggie, who is 40, quits this year, or if Reggie plays two more seasons.
Reggie says: “Gary’s right. If you go somewhere where you’re really wanted, you start to do well and keep going and get new life. Your feet get lighter. You get quicker. You get energy. You get younger.
“Who knows? It wouldn’t surprise me if I hit 60 home runs in the next two years. But when you’re somewhere where they say, ‘You can’t do this; you can’t do that,’ and then you go out and have a bad day, you have doubts.
“There’s no one playing who’s accomplished what I’ve accomplished, and I’ve had self-doubts this year. I’m not putting the blame on nobody. I’m just saying what I’ve lived and experienced. What came out was a lack of confidence, self-doubt.”
And when Reggie is through, will anyone give him a retirement ceremony?
“It doesn’t matter now,” Reggie says. “It doesn’t matter because I’ve seen some retirements that I wasn’t impressed with. See, my legacy is down. Fans have their opinion of me. I don’t need to do anything to change it. I don’t want to hurt it.
“I want 50,000 in the park when I retire, and I don’t want to take a chance on them not being there. . . . It would hurt me. . . . It would tarnish my career.”
REGGIE, ARE YOU INSENSITIVE?
When Reggie was a rookie in Oakland, he got married because most of his teammates were married.
His wife, Jennie Campos, had been his college sweetheart. But in his autobiography, Reggie wrote of emotionless conversations with Jennie, and divorce became inevitable.
Jennie: “Is something the matter?”
Jennie: “Is there something you’d like to talk about?”
Reggie: “I’m fine, really.”
Jennie: “I want to help.”
Reggie: “I know. Good night.”
Later, Reggie acknowledged that the abandonment by his mother has affected his relationships with women. He usually dates white women--perhaps because his mother was black, he says.
To this day, he says his goal is to have a family. But not now, not while he still travels the baseball grind.
In the meantime, there is Reggie’s tenuous relationship with female reporters. Just recently, he turned down an interview request from a woman with the Orange County Register because he didn’t think she knew baseball and didn’t trust her.
“I don’t mind some of them,” Reggie says of women writers. “I don’t particularly like them, though, because they don’t know what to ask, they don’t know what to say.
“When you come in here (the clubhouse), this is my (bleep) office. This is my desk. I don’t owe you nothing, except human courtesy. Nothing else. And when you come up to me and ask me something off the wall about my (bleep) work--and I bust my rear every day to be a professional at my work--and you don’t know the (bleep) what you’re talking about . . . I don’t want to (bleep) deal with you. You don’t (bleep) deserve to deal with me, not at the level I’ve played the game.
“I love women. I worship the ground they walk on. But don’t come into my work and treat it like I owe you something. . . . I don’t care what you are. Those that come in here unprepared, I just don’t give them hardly any time.”
That is not quite the way reporter Lisa Nehus Saxon of the Los Angeles Daily News describes Jackson’s treatment of her. She describes this postgame scene:
“He was totally dressed, and he’d just made a misplay in right field, so I had to talk to him.
“He came to me and said, ‘You really like seeing me naked, don’t you?’
“I said, ‘No, not really.’
“And he said, ‘Well, I’d sure like to see you naked.’ He said, ‘It’s a natural feeling to want to see each other naked. There’s nothing wrong with it.’
“I said, ‘Sorry, Reggie.’
“My interpretation of Reggie is that he’s at his happiest when he’s making somebody else miserable or uncomfortable. He uses his body as a vehicle against women sportswriters.
“He purposely goes out of his way to take off his clothes and stand there and strut and then ask you questions about his body. He’ll ask you if you looked. He’ll say, ‘Not bad for an old guy.’ A lot of this stuff has happened in the past. . . . He hasn’t done a thing to me this year, but last year was a terrible year.”
Reggie denies it all, saying of Saxon: “You’re kidding. She said that, really?
“I’ve never called anyone a liar. This would be the first time I’d publicly called someone a liar. I’ve never called Billy Martin a liar in print. I would call her a liar in print.”
REGGIE, ARE YOU MISUNDERSTOOD?
Contrary to what many believe, Reggie has friends. He and Gary Walker teamed up at Arizona State and have been together since. The story goes that Walker pounded on Reggie’s door and said, “We can make lots of money together.”
They have. They got involved in land development and have made thousands. Reggie was always asking teammates to buy in, but they turned him down. Their loss.
Walker, meanwhile, has named his son Reggie Jackson Eric Walker.
“Yep,” Walker says. “But when Reggie goes into a slump, we change it to Eric. It was Eric for a while this year. But now, after all those home runs, it’s Reggie again.”
Another close friend is Matt Merola, who handles Jackson’s endorsements and negotiated Reggie’s candy bar contract. Merola met Reggie at a banquet in the early 1970s, and they’ve worked together ever since on a handshake.
Mike Lupica, columnist for the New York Daily News, is a good friend, too. Lupica helped Reggie with his autobiography.
But they don’t always get along. One day, for instance, Reggie got upset with something Lupica had written. The next day, as Reggie was being interviewed by other reporters, Lupica walked up to listen. Reggie started speaking in Spanish.
Reggie apparently is convinced, however, that he has no friend in ABC-TV, even though Dennis Swanson, the president of ABC Sports, keeps saying he does.
Reggie was saying the other day: “I don’t plan on broadcasting when I retire because, with broadcasting, it’s not just if you have the talent. I mean, I have talent as a broadcaster, but that doesn’t mean anything. I’ve been with big companies before, and if people in the upper echelon don’t like you, you’re not gonna work. I don’t care how much talent you have.
“I’m not a favorite of the networks because I speak my mind too much. . . . I get paid, but I don’t work. I don’t get assignments. Even when I work the World Series, I don’t work play-by-play. I get sidebar stuff. I’m not a feature. I’m better than anyone in there, but I’m not a feature. Why? I’m not their type of guy.”
ABC spokesmen say they have no idea what he’s talking about.
There have been incidents, too, with fans and hecklers. This year, for instance, a kid tossed down a ball and a pen for Reggie to sign, and Reggie threw the ball into the dugout.
In Milwaukee, Reggie was watching the Kentucky Derby in a saloon when a fan rudely asked for his autograph. It ended up in a minor brawl.
He has had any number of parking-lot skirmishes.
It’s not always easy being Reggie. He’s hounded wherever he goes. At Disneyland once, he lectured eight or nine people for rudely asking for his autograph. Then he bought them ice cream.
“People don’t understand,” Reggie says. “And there’s no sense in me trying to defend myself in those situations. I’ll go three years and be great (toward autograph seekers), and then I’ll have one day when I won’t take any crap from someone, and it’s in the papers.”
Reggie is active in charity work. He was once selected honorary Big Brother of the year by the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program.
That kind of work does not keep him from saying what’s on his mind, though. For instance, he had already filmed a drug abuse spot with Philadelphia’s Mike Schmidt when he took off on Len Bias, the Maryland basketball star who died in June of cocaine intoxication.
” . . . Don’t tell me it was the first time he ever did cocaine, like I read in the (bleep) paper,” Reggie said. “I mean, it’s an absolute farce. This (bleep) guy had been doing drugs his whole (bleep) life, and then he got (bleep) up, and he wanted to snort a (bleep) half a pound. And he (bleep) died.
“That’s what happened. He was gonna be the (bleep) big man. Don’t tell me that was the first time he ever saw cocaine.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t feel sorry for Len Bias. I don’t understand drugs. But a lot of people are on ‘em, so I try to do what I can to help.”
Maybe he means well. Maybe he’s not such a bad fellow. Maybe it’s just that he got bigger than even he ever thought he would be and now has a reputation to maintain.
He and Walker criss-crossed the continent after the 1976 season, when Reggie was a free agent, looking for the best deal from baseball owners.
When they got to Montreal, they set up a meeting with Expo president John McHale. Minutes before the meeting, Jackson and Walker decided they would ask for more than $1 million a year, almost unheard of in 1976.
They walked in, shook hands with McHale, and Walker eventually gave McHale the dollar figure.
Reggie got up and walked out.
“He broke out in a cold sweat and left,” Walker remembers. " . . . Nobody had ever really asked for that kind of money. It was so astronomical, and he just couldn’t believe that a young black kid from Pennsylvania was going to make $1 million a year, or something like that. The whole reality of it all came to a crescendo that day. He couldn’t handle it.”
Another day in the life of Reggie Jackson, the human paradox .
A reporter approaches him, and Reggie is charming. He calls the reporter by his first name. He answers every question.
But a man stops by and asks Reggie to autograph his baseball glove, and Reggie invites him to get lost.
Another reporter, a young reporter, approaches. He is stiff and practically shaking as he asks Reggie a question.
Reggie turns and says: “See what I mean? He’s structured. I have to watch what I say to him. This is his first time out. I have to set time aside when I can think of the right things to say to this guy.”
Reggie turns back to the petrified reporter, points at him and says, “I’ll see you at 6 o’clock.”
Reggie doesn’t show up until 6:25.
Reggie doesn’t start this night, but he pinch-hits and strikes out. The Angels win on Brian Downing’s two homers, and they clinch the division title. Reggie, as noted, boycotts the postgame celebration.
But, later, in a nearly empty clubhouse, he seeks out Downing and says, “Hey, great game, Brian.”