The Magnitude of Me
JACKSON WAS A HOT DOG, with extra mustard. No other player so enjoyed being the center
of attention, either at the plate or in front of a microphone. No other player
had such a knack for rising to the occasion with a dramatic home run or a well-timed
quip. No other player occupied such a grand space in his own mind:
- "I'm the straw
that stirs the drink."
- "I represent
both the underdog
and the overdog in our society."
- "Sometimes I underestimate
the magnitude of me."
And no other player
occupied such a powerful, primal place in the mind of an eight-year old boy just
beginning to understand the game.
The switch was
flipped for me in 1978. Before, baseball was a game of catch or whiffle
ball in the back yard, and an occasional TV show Dad watched. But in a quick
surge, if you will I comprehended it as a professional sport whose players
had discernable personalities, and whose comings and goings were as accessible
as the morning paper. I collected baseball cards, learned to read a box score
and followed the pennant races in the daily standings. In 1977 I had watched
the World Series between the Dodgers and the Yankees at my father's knee, paying
only intermittent attention. I was tucked in when Reggie entered the pantheon
with his three-homer
game. But by the time the two teams met for a Series rematch I could name
most of both teams' stars. I could recite the Dodger batting order by heart.
I read about Don
Sutton's fight with Steve Garvey in the Dodger clubhouse. I saw Bucky Dent's
home run. And I knew Reggie Jackson was a money player.
He'd already become
a baseball benchmark in my family. When I played catch with Dad, occasionally
he'd toss me one that would sting my hand or glance off of my glove. If I complained
about the location of the throw, he'd shout, "Don't hit 'em so hard, Reggie!"
The lesson: be tough, don't complain, and don't expect any opponent to cut you
In the middle of
the season, the Yanks were struggling. While this may have been cause for glee
in our Dodger-rooted household, my father cautioned against jumping to any early
conclusions. He read to me a quote from Reggie Jackson in Time Magazine:
"It doesn't matter where you are when the leaves are on the trees, it matters
where you are when the leaves are on the ground." A neat paraphrasing of Yogi
Berra's most famous axiom, "It ain't over 'till it's over," but one that reached
me sooner than the original philosopher.
The lesson was
reiterated when the Yanks found their way back to the Series, led by Mr. October
himself. Where Reggie once again became the show, of course. He hit two tape-measure
home runs, obstructed a crucial double play by taking
a throw in the hip on his way from first, and in the Series' most memorable
moment, struck out at the hands of Bob Welch to end Game 2swinging with
the violence of a condemned man crashing through the gallows. Jackson's failure
was so rare yet so dramatic, it was immediately cast into verse a la "Casey
at the Bat" by AP Special Correspondant Jules Loh (see sidebar).
I hated the Yankees
back then, but despite his Dodger-killing, I could find no malice towards Reggie.
I prized his baseball card, I ate his candy bar, I admired his home runs. He hit
them with the best everhis 563 dingers still rank sixth all-time, and it
is only with the current era's explosion of offense that men like McGwire and
Bonds have approached the rarefied air he occupies.
I saw Reggie
in spring training 1986, still looking strangely out of place in the uniform
of the California Angels. Finding myself in the right place at the right
time (or so I thought), he brushed right past me and a horde of others as
we extended our pens to him. Reggie refused to sign autographs, saying he
had a game to play. I was disappointed, but not heartbroken I'd at
least gotten to touch the man as he cut through the crowd. He was real.
his career with the Oakland A's in 1987, looking considerably more at home
garish green-and-gold. Late
in that season, the A's were still alive in the division race. One night,
Dad and I watched the local sportscast as they showed a crucial moment the
A's were down to their final outs, but had Reggie at the bat in a pinch-hitting
situation. I found myself pulling for him to do homer one last time, but
again there was no joy. Reggie struck out. Knowing that the end was near
for Reggie, I turned to my father and said, "He always kept it interesting,
He nodded and grinned.
"That he did."
Ah Fate, Mighty Reggie has Struck Out!
AP Special Correspondant, 1978
outlook wasn't brilliant
for the Yankees in L.A.
The score stood
4-3, two out,
one inning left to play.
But when Dent slid safe at second
and Blair got on at first
Every screaming Dodger fan had
cause to fear the worst.
For there before the multitude
Ah destiny! Ah fate!
Reggie Jackson, mighty Reggie,
was advancing to the plate.
Reggie, whose three home runs
had won the year before,
Reggie, whose big bat tonight
fetched every Yankee score.
On the mound to face him
stood the rookie, young Bob Welch.
A kid with a red hot fastball
Reggie's pitch and nothing else.
Fifty-thousand voices cheered
as Welch gripped ball in mitt.
One hundred thousand eyes watched Reggie rub his bat and spit.
"Throw your best pitch, kid, and duck," Reggie seemed to say.
The kid just glared. He must have
known this wasn't Reggie's day.
His fist pitch was a blazer.
Reggie missed it clean
Fifty-thousand throats responded
with a Dodger scream.
They squared off, Reggie and the kid, each knew what he must do.
And seven fastballs later,
the count was three and two.
No shootout on a dusty street
out here in the Far West
Could match the scene:
A famous bat,
a kid put to the test.
One final pitch. The kid reared back
and let a fastball fly.
Fifty-thousand Dodger fans
gave forth one final cry...
Ah, the lights still shine on Broadway,
but there isn't any doubt
The Big Apple has no joy left.
Mighty Reggie has struck out.