Reggie Jackson: The Man, The Myth, But Really a Legend?

Monday June 18th, 2012

Robert Whitmer (Baseball Writer):  

            There are moments in time that stick in out head.  Moments that will define people for the rest of their days.  Most people have the birth of their children, their wedding day, or the first day on their first job.  We don’t need camcorders (for readers my age and older) or cell phones (for my younger readers who don’t know what a camcorder is) to record these images because they will be etched in our heads by our own accord.  We have these moments on the baseball field as well.  Most remember Jason Kendall for the horrific ankle injury that happened while trying to beat a throw.  You know the one where the bottom of his foot is upwards instead of downwards.  Babe Ruth was an outstanding player and the first power hitter of the game.  He is remembered for supposedly calling where his home run was going to land and backing it up by hitting it there.  Unless you watched him on a regular basis, you remember the great Willie Mays for that over-the-shoulder catch, the spin, and the throw while falling down to clear it from the outfield.  If you’re a Red Sox fan, you remember Curt Schilling, as great as he was, for that bloody sock in the World Series.  Often times, if we look beyond these moments, we see careers that should define the player but often do not.  You don’t have to be a legend to have moments that define you.  Sometimes it’s the moments that we don’t forget, that make you a legend.  Reggie Jackson had his moment that defined him as a player, but is that all that we should remember him for?

            Reginald Martinez Jackson, as he was born and named had three distinct topics that surrounded his career.  First we will discuss the home run.  The 500 home run club used to be something special and sacred.  Before the known “steroid era” in baseball there were 15 members of the 500 home run club.  During and after the roid rage we now have 25.  Reggie Jackson is one of those 15 original members because, pure and simple, he could hit the ball and he could hit it a long, long way.  Total in his career 563 landed on the other side of the fence.  He averaged 27 per season in the 21 years that he played.  Not too shabby.  His home runs combined with his 463 doubles earned him 14 all-star selections, two silver slugger awards, and one MVP award.  If you can knock him for one aspect of his offensive game, it would be his free swinging.  He has almost a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio.  This means that for every one time he got a free pass, he also got sent back to the bench.  He only had one season where he hit .300 or better which goes along with his strikeouts.  We talked about the moments people remember which are the basis of this article.  People remember him for his home runs.  The casual fan loves the pop and power of a ball thrown at 90+ miles per hour leaving a bat at 120+ miles per hour and traveling through the air and landing on the opposite side of a line where the architect decided to build a fence.  They don’t really care for the single, then the steal, followed by the mind games at second base which causes the pitcher to think twice about his pitches.  That is what the expert fan sees.  That is ok though.  We all start out as a casual fan.  That’s what draws us in.  As we learn the intricacies of the sport we grow to appreciate both styles of player.  Reggie Jackson was a player for the casual fan.

            The second area that surrounded Jackson in his career was controversy.  There are two things that sell in the world; sex and controversy.  We see it every day when we turn on the TV! If you watch those Real Housewife shows they spend 50% of the time fighting and the other 50% talking about the fighting that they showed in the previous episode.  Disclaimer:  My wife watches those shows normally while I’m writing the very articles that you read from me so give me back my man card.  For Reggie, controversy followed him on the teams that he played on.  He was always accused of not giving his 100% while running bases or playing the field.  This was obvious to teammates as well as broadcasters.  On one occasion the comment was made while Reggie was on third base and his teammate slammed a home run that the commentators said “Jackson should have no problem scoring on that hit” as he slowly trotted toward the plate.  Once he was quoted as saying, after being signed by the Yankees in the off-season, that the team “flowed through him.  I am the straw that stirs the drink.  Me and Munson (the current Yankee captain) that is.  But he only stirs it bad.”  Although he regularly denied making this statement, he repeated it again later that year stating that “I’m still the straw that stirs the drink.  Not Munson,not nobody else on this club.”  You can imagine how this went over on an already established Yankee team.  At one point in the 1977 season he got in a physical altercation with Billy Martin, the Yankee manager, in the dugout after being pulled for not perusing a ball hit in front of him with 100% effort.  His tenure with the Yankees ended with controversy when Steinbrenner consulted with Jackson about current free agent and future Yankee Dave Winfield.  Steinbrenner proceeded to sign Winfield while not re-signing Jackson making him a free agent.

            Thirdly we will visit Reggie Jackson and his post-season play.  There is a reason he was called “Mr. October.”  He was a beast when it came to playing after the regular season.  These are the moments that we know him for.  He batted .278 batting average with .358 on base percentage and a slugging percentage of .527 in 11 post season appearances.  Those averages combined with 18 post season home runs with 48 RBI.  The moment that we all know about and his legend is made of is that 1977 World Series game where he hit 3 consecutive home runs in game 6.  If you look back in to game 5, he homered in his last at bat, so technically he hit a home run in FOUR consecutive World Series at bats.  His play in October propelled the teams that he played for to 5 World Series titles in 11 years playing baseball past the regular season.  We talked earlier about the conflict between Thurmon Munson, the Yankee captain, and Jackson, but it was actually Munson who game Jackson the name Mr. October. 

            So Reggie Jackson went and got himself inducted into the Hall of Fame, but is that where he belongs?  I believe that he does.  He has the numbers to back up the nod.  It doesn’t matter how much you like the guy or don’t like the guy, he put up the numbers that it takes to get him in there.  If anything, I would think that he is really an underrated player.  The disadvantage that I sit is that I don’t know how he was thought of while he was playing the majority of his career.  I was 5 when he retired.  My opinion of him being underrated is from knowing and talking to people who saw him play.  When I ask people about him, they remember that moment in ’77 when he hit the consecutive home runs in the World Series thus the basis for the article.  Those moments in time that make us remember.  Reggie is the perfect example.  His numbers, if he were playing the game today, would still be enough to get him into the hall. But if you ask what people remember about him, the majority will answer ’77.  So it is with baseball and sports in general.  We remember the moments good or bad, the successes and the failures because those are the moments; the moments that define us. 

***Today’s feature was prepared by Robert Whitmer, MLB reports Baseball Writer.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Robert on Twitter (@rwhitmer)***


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Posted on June 18, 2012, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Great article. I enjoyed watching Reggie all those years in NY and Oak. Thanks for sharing with us the details that made Reggie such a great player to watch and enjoy.

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