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Reggie Jackson - A FRAGILE ‘SUPERSTAR’ IN THE ‘UNREAL WORLD OF BASEBALL’ – PART 1


(Photo: Reggie Jackson with the Oakland A's)


The term ‘superstar’ is not really thrown around the way it once was. It became a very oft-used term in the 1970s, especially following the origin and popularity of the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. That play and the album from it became omnipresent in the first half of the decade.


I’m reminded of a time when my brother and I were kids, and we were golfing with our grandfathers. One of our grandpas hit a bad tee shot and shouted the Lord’s name in vain. Then, he saw that there were two women walking on the adjacent fairway and he caught himself by singing “…..Superstarrrr…..”


In the world of sports, there have been plenty of athletes who could have fallen into the classification of ‘superstar’. And, since this article is about a baseball player, there have been a great number of ballplayers who would fit that term. Just in my childhood years, there were Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Rod Carew, Pete Rose, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax and a bunch more.


Ted Williams played into the early 1960s and was a brilliant man who also happened to be a great hitter. His self-discipline was legendary, but he had no patience for many members of the press. As a result, the portrayals of him in the papers were not necessarily complimentary. Fans’ only view of him was the one given to them by the writers. If he played today, there’s no doubt that he would have a media relations person to help him with dealing with reporters. Or shielding him from them.


In the 1970s, there was another brilliant hitter who had the propensity to rub people the wrong way. Reginald Martinez Jackson was a ballplayer who had made his name in Oakland with the Athletics right after they moved from Kansas City after the 1967 season. He was an integral part of their great team that won three World Series in a row from 1972 to 1974.


In 1973, he was the American League’s Most Valuable Player and from 1969 to 1975, his last year in Oakland, he was an all-star every year except 1970. Anyone who watched the 1971 All-Star Game will never forget the massive home run he hit at Tiger Stadium that flew into the light standard on the roof over the right field upper deck seats.





There may have been a time in his life though, when Jackson played in the Kansas City Athletics’ system in Birmingham in Double-A ball that helped shape and make him the person he became later. In June of 2024, he was back in Birmingham at a major league game to commemorate the Negro Leagues and spoke with the MLB on FOX panel about his experience in 1967 and the racism he had to deal with.


Jackson was asked a question by Alex Rodriguez about what it was like to come back to this city all these years later. “When people ask me a question like that, it’s like…coming back here is not easy. The racism when I played here…..the difficulty of going through different places where we travelled…..fortunately, I had a manager and I had players on the team that helped me get through it.”


“But I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. People said to me today – I spoke, and they said, ‘Do you think you’re a better person, do you think you won when you played here and conquered?’ I said, ‘You know, I would never want to do it again. I walked into restaurants, and they would point at me and say, ‘the n****r can’t eat here’. I would go to a hotel, and they’d say, ‘the n****r can’t stay here’.”


“We went to Charlie Finley’s country club for a welcome home dinner, and they pointed me out with the n-word. He can’t come in here. Finley marched the whole team out. Finally, they let me in there. He said, ‘we’re gonna go to the diner and eat hamburgers. We’ll go where we’re wanted’. Fortunately, I had a manager in Johnny McNamara that if I couldn’t eat in the place, nobody would eat. We’d get food to travel.”


If I couldn’t stay in a hotel, they’d drive to the next hotel and find a place where I could stay. Had it not been for Rollie Fingers, Johnny McNamara, Dave Duncan, Joe and Sharon Rudi…..I slept on their couch three, four nights a week for about a month and a half…..finally they were threatened….they would burn the apartment complex down unless I got out. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”


That racism stayed with Jackson his entire life.


But Reggie Jackson could flat-out hit. He could mash a ball hard and far. Rickey Henderson said in his Hall of Fame speech that when he was a kid, he would sneak into stadiums to watch Jackson hit. Jackson has talked about how, early in his career, he had a conversation with one of the misunderstood sluggers of his day.


“Richie Allen told me once, ‘Don’t speak with this (pointing to his mouth). Speak with this.’ With a flowing gesture, he indicates his body, and the bat. ‘Through this (he holds his bat up like a torch), you can speak to the world.’” If Jackson had listened to Allen’s words and acted upon them, he might never have brought any of the controversy to himself through his career that he eventually did.


Not to say that everything he did or said was bad. He cared about the teams he played on and wanted everyone to be as good as they could be all the time. In 1973, he was the union player representative for the Oakland A’s. Game 2 of the World Series that year went to extra innings. In the twelfth inning, the A’s were down to their third string second baseman, Mike Andrews.


Andrews made a couple of errors in the Mets’ half of the twelfth, causing Oakland to lose the game, tying the series as the teams headed back to Shea Stadium for the third game. The A’s owner, Charlie Finley, was incensed at Andrews and wanted to release him on the spot. That was not something he was able to do, by the rules, so he had to concoct a story that Andrews was injured, even though he wasn’t.


The team was incensed. Finley went as far as to force Andrews to sign a paper saying that he was injured and was not able to play any more games. Finley had wanted to replace Andrews with Manny Trillo before the series, but there was some rule that prohibited him from doing that at the time. The majority of the team had all grown up together in the organization. Utility infielder Ted Kubiak said that they were “like a family”.


Jackson described the mood of the team as “near mutiny”. He also told a reporter, “I’ve never seen the players more riled up over anything.” Pitcher Catfish Hunter said, “This is bush horsemeat. That’s the worst thing Finley can do. I can’t believe that Mike would quit during a World Series.” Sal Bando was the team captain, and he told the Oakland Tribune’s Ron Bergman, “Knowing Mike the way I do, I don’t think we’re getting the true story. It’s a very low-class thing to be done, very non-professional.”



(Photo: Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley and Reggie Jackson)


Jackson spoke to the New York Times’ Joe Durso, “It’s grounds for a grievance.” He also added “There could be a possibility of refusing to play.” The Oakland A’s were discussing the possibility of not playing a game in the World Series! The team, of course, did play the game but every member of the team did so while wearing white tape on their sleeves that bore “No. 17” on it. When asked why they did that, they replied that they did it ‘in memory of Mike Andrews’.


In a story that was co-written by Phil Pepe and Dick Young in the New York Daily News, “the firing of Mike Andrews, considered a heartless act by the Oakland players, triggered a torrent of vitriol against their boss, and an overt act of hostility at their afternoon workout.”


Pepe and Young spoke to Jackson. The star right fielder gave them his version of what happened. “Jackson said he first realized something was up when he counted heads on the team bus en route to the Oakland airport. ‘Where’s Andrews?’ somebody asked. Then everybody realized what had happened, and you should have heard the comments by the nucleus (the starters).”


Eventually, Finley apologized to Jackson and Bando about the Andrews Affair and asked them to convey his contrition to the team. The A’s fell behind the Mets 3-games-to-2 during the three games at Shea Stadium, but when they returned to the west coast, they came from behind and won the series in seven games. Finley celebrated with his rich friends and brought them down into the club house, disrupting the team’s party.


Finley loved winning, but he also loved making money. And according to Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger, Finley was eager to get out of Oakland, the city he moved the team to from Kansas City just five years earlier. “Charlie O. has the big eyes for Seattle or New Orleans. He is ready to move.” So, his players weren’t the only ones who didn’t like Finley. The baseball fans of Oakland were angry at him too.


It was disclosed after the series that Jackson had been playing under a murder threat.

Someone had written a letter promising to shoot him if he had played in the Series. Jackson had been protected by FBI agents throughout the entire week and a half. But given all that, he had performed well enough to be named the Most Valuable Player of the Series. He had some pent-up feelings though that he had to expend.


About half-dozen times, he told a reporter, “Please don’t give Finley credit. That takes away from what the guys in this dressing room have done. It was the easiest thing in the world for this team to lay down because of that man (Finley). The Andrews thing, the wives’ seats in New York (Finley got the players’ wives bad seats for the A’s games at Shea), Dick Williams quitting (Williams resigned following the final game of the Series)…who is responsible for all these things? You know who – Finley!”


Jackson went on, “I ain’t a bronco, don’t ride me. I want to play in the Series. I want to be a little boy. The stand the players took…was right. I want what’s mine, only what’s mine. I want to preserve my dignity. I’m a man. Our fans knew we were bitter, and they knew why.”


When a team wins the World Series, the Commissioner’s office sets aside some money for the winning clubs for rings. In 1973, they got $300 per player per ring. Finley took that money and added to the point that the rings for the 1972 champion A’s players cost $2,500 each. They came complete with a one-carat diamond at a time when this was considered extravagant. The players didn’t like them.


Finley said, ‘screw ‘em!’



Charlie Finley was so upset at the players’ reaction to the rings that he bought them, that he spent the minimum on the rings for the team after they won again in 1973. If the players were upset at the rings he got them the first time, they would be doubly so after they got these baubles. Reggie Jackson was the guy who took the leadership role in complaining about the cheapness of the rings.


There was no diamond, no sparkle, not even a chip. Just the name of each player and the date on which they won. Finley then is reported to have said, “If they don’t like them, they can send them back.”


If Ted Kubiak’s assertion that the Oakland Athletics were like a family was correct, then Finley’s ham-handed actions regarding Mike Andrews, the rings and then Dick Williams wanting to get himself out of the circus at the earliest possible opportunity, then they had to be characterized as a dysfunctional family.


Another smidgen of that dysfunction reached the eyes and ears of the media in the summer of 1974 and once again, Reggie Jackson was one of the principal actors in the play. The New York Daily News’ Phil Pepe wrote about a dispute between Jackson and A’s centre fielder Bill North. Pepe was told by one of the A’s that Reggie Jackson “tries too hard to be liked by everybody”. He also contended that it was “Reggie Jackson’s nature to get involved and he’s not going to change that either.”


It’s not known exactly what set all this off, but on Sunday, June 2, the A’s finished a series off with the Milwaukee Brewers. Oakland won that last game 6-4, and after the contest was over, they set off for Detroit. On Tuesday of that week, they played a twi-night double header at Tiger Stadium. The A’s won the first game 4-0 but lost the nightcap 4-1. Bill North went 0-for-4 in that second game and 1-for-7 on the entire day.


Jackson said something to North and, judging by reports, it was something to do with North’s hustling or lack of it. North didn’t appreciate Jackson’s input and the next day, in the clubhouse before their next game against the Tigers, North said something to Jackson along the lines of “F*** you! Who are you? You ain’t got Number 5 (the number of Alvin Dark, the Oakland manager) on your back. I thought we were friends. I never want to speak to you again.”


North might have said other things as well, because, according to the website Vintage Detroit Collection, “North gave Jackson a verbal jab that set his superstar teammate over the edge. North could hurt with his words, and the needling had finally got to the sensitive Jackson, who launched himself across the Tiger Stadium visiting club house at his teammate. The two were soon tumbling on the floor, exchanging blows while teammates watched.”


“(Pitcher Vida) Blue and (catcher Ray) Fosse eventually separated the two, with Fosse suffering for his peacemaking efforts – he too was pounded into the floor and rolled around a bit. Later it would be revealed that Fosse had suffered a herniated disc in his neck, which sent him to traction and sidelined him for several months.”


After this, which could only be termed ‘Round One’, North and Jackson went at each other again within a few minutes of their first go-round. More words were exchanged, and North got on top of Jackson. He had Reggie on the floor and was pounding him with punches to the head. During the melee, Jackson ended up hurting his shoulder. Eventually, other members of the team got the two men apart and then, when that was over, they went out and played their game.





The incredible thing was that with all the adrenaline flowing through him, Fosse caught that game that evening. And Blue went seven strong innings in a 9-1 Oakland victory. North went 2-for-3 with a double, walked a couple of times, scored a run and drove in a run as well. The only man who did not perform well in the game was Jackson. He went 0-for-4 on the day. Don’t feel too badly for him though. Even though his batting average fell nine points, he was still batting .381 at the end of the day. Also, the team was in first place in the American League West at this time, four games up on the Chicago White Sox.


And even though, Fosse played in the game that night, something was definitely not right with the Athletics’ catcher. In 1973, Fosse appeared in 149 games with Oakland. In 1974, he played just 69. Once his disc issue was diagnosed, he spent some significant time in a hospital bed. He ended up missing a couple of months and had to have surgery to repair the damage done trying to break up that fight.


That was on Wednesday. The A’s had the next day off and they headed up to Milwaukee for a weekend series beginning on the Friday. Finley, after hearing what had happened before the game on Wednesday, flew up to Milwaukee and held a meeting with everyone and North, Jackson, and Alvin Dark in particular.


After the meeting, Finley emerged and spoke to reporters. “Everything is ironed out to my complete satisfaction,” Finley said. “I am proud of them, all of them. I am confident there will be no more scraps on this ball club. There were no threats made. I just told them the facts of life. I came up here for the express purpose of talking to them, to tell them what a mistake they are making to let things like this go on. I said if we let things like this occur, we are going to find ourselves finishing down the line (in the standings).”


“I told them we have to catch these things in the bud. I told them I do not condone fighting in the clubhouse. Every club in the American League is getting a big kick out of this because they want to see us fall on our face. I told them we are world champions two years in a row, and acting like this is not the trait of a true champion. We want to play like champions, think like champions and act like champions.”


Someone asked him if it was Reggie Jackson who ignited the affair by insinuating that his teammate was dogging it earlier. “This is no criticism of Reggie,” Finley answered. “I am defending him in that I say he did not accuse North of not hustling. But I did get on both of them for fighting and how that sort of thing could hurt us.”


Indeed, at the end of the 1974 season, the A’s won their division by five games over the Texas Rangers. They then won their best-of-five American League Championship Series in four games over the Baltimore Orioles. In the World Series, Oakland knocked off the Los Angeles Dodgers in five. Their ace reliever Rollie Fingers was named the Series’ Most Valuable Player.


Finley may not have wanted to place any blame on Jackson in that altercation with North, but stuff like this seemed to follow Jackson around. There was definitely a vibe around Jackson that screamed “Hey, look at me.” Jackson’s teammate in Oakland and again with the Yankees in New York, Catfish Hunter, once said of Reggie that “He’d give you the shirt off his back. Of course, he’d call a press conference to do it.” And Darold Knowles, who was a reliever on those great Oakland teams once said, “There’s not enough mustard in the world to cover that hot dog.”


But Jackson’s hitting prowess was incredible. And as the 1975 season was coming to a close, the A’s were once again at the top of the Western Division. They would be swept by the Red Sox in the ALCS, however. Jackson finished the year pounding out 36 home runs and driving in 104 runs. But his contract was close to expiring and Charlie Finley was adamant that he was not going to pay too much for Jackson or anyone. He also did not want to let anyone go for nothing in free agency.


So, as the 1976 season was quickly approaching, he entered into talks with the Baltimore Orioles to see what could be done in this matter. The results of those talks was that, at the beginning of April, Jackson and lefty starting pitcher Ken Holtzman were dealt to Baltimore for pitcher Mike Torrez, hard hitting Don Baylor and 25-year-old pitcher Paul Mitchell. According to Michael Janofsky of the Baltimore Sun, the teams had been in communications on this deal for four months.


The fly in the ointment in all of this was the fact that none of Jackson, Holtzman and Baylor had signed contracts for 1976. Holtzman was thrilled to be out of Oakland and away from Finley. But he was looking for a big raise from what he had made in 1975. Jackson made no commitment to reporting to his new team, and through his representative, Gary Walker, said that the trade “presented a tremendous amount of problems.”



(Photo: Reggie Jackson with Baltimore Orioles in 1976/National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame)


Eventually, Jackson did play the 1976 season with the Orioles. He led the team in homers with 27 and finished the year by driving in 91 runs and batting .277. After the season, he was granted free agency and he signed with the New York Yankees. That was when the real fun started.


The Yankees gave Jackson a five-year, $3 million contract. It’s clear now that the only place Jackson wanted to entertain was New York, in terms of a place to play. There were a bunch of teams in on the discussions for Jackson’s services though, including the Montreal Expos, who were said to have offered a lot more than what the slugger signed for.


The Expos had endured a terrible 1976 season and after firing their manager, Karl Kuehl, they got a call from former Oakland manager Dick Williams. Yes, he called them and told them why he would be the best choice for the job. They signed Williams to a five-year contract. Then they went after Jackson. And they went after him hard.



(Photo: Expos President John McHale, Reggie Jackson, Expos Manager Dick Williams 1978)


Danny Gallagher has written numerous books on the Montreal Expos. His book Blue Monday outlines the team’s journey from their inception in 1969 to their National League Championship Series loss to the Dodgers in 1981. He wrote about the Expos’ quest to try to entice Jackson to play in Montreal. One of the people that Gallagher spoke to about this was their former secretary-treasurer, Harry Renaud.


“Reggie was available,” Renaud told Gallagher. “He was such a superstar.” There were some signs that maybe Jackson wasn’t completely serious about Montreal, though. A meeting had been arranged at Olympic Stadium with Jackson and members of the Expos’ management group and ownership. “Reggie was late. He came down to the stadium and arrived with an entourage. There were all these hangers-on. It was a travel party. They were all smoking dope. It was kind of strange with his stature. We had a big party at Charles’ (Bronfman) place.”


Renaud continued. “The party ended on a Saturday night. Reggie departed very suddenly. Next thing, he just up and left. There were no goodbyes. That was the end of the story.” The next day, Jackson met with Leo Kolber, a member of the Expos’ board of directors and a close friend of Bronfman. Kolber said the free agent was quite hungover. At this point, the Expos offered Jackson a five-year deal for close to $5 million.


The connection to Williams was an important one and Jackson acknowledged that when he spoke to the Montreal media. “I want to know if these gentlemen want to build a contender. There’s a lot more than signing for a lot of money. If Dick Williams hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t be here. People tell me that you have the most beautiful girls in the world here.”


Gallagher wrote that Renaud believed that one of the reasons Jackson chose New York over Montreal really had nothing to do with baseball. “It had something to do with crossing the border. He was held up by customs at the border. Apparently, he had an unregistered gun. Phone calls were made to Marc Lalonde, the minister of justice, and Reggie was allowed in the country.”


Another report indicated that Jackson was held up because of some marijuana was found in his luggage. Someone else intimated that he just didn’t like seeing other people going through his clothes. Regardless, he did not sign in Montreal. Instead, he ended up with George Steinbrenner, the Yankees, a $3 million contract and, according to Gallagher, a Rolls-Royce.


Montreal did end up getting a big fish via trade though. In mid-December, the Expos sent pitchers Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray to Cincinnati in exchange for reliever Will McEnaney and first baseman Tony Perez. Perez had been one of the stars who made Cincinnati ‘The Big Red Machine’ from 1970-76.)


***


Howie’s latest book MORE Crazy Days & Wild Nights, eleven new stories of outlandish and wild events that occurred in sports over the last fifty years, is available on Amazon. It’s the follow-up to his first book of 2023, Crazy Days & Wild Nights! If you love sports and sports history, you need these books!


You can hear Howie and his co-host Shawn Lavigne talk sports history on The Sports Lunatics Show, a sports history podcast, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, TuneIn Radio and Google Podcasts and at firedupnetwork.ca on 212 different platforms. Check out The Sports Lunatics Show on YouTube too! Please like and subscribe so others can find their shows more easily after you. And check out all their great content at thesportslunatics.com.

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