(…and a few baseball lessons.)
Like you probably, I have many great memories of Reggie Jackson.
My father and I arrived early at the Stadium, so I was one of the first kids to receive a “Reggie Bar” on Reggie Bar Day. I had already eaten mine so I couldn’t join the revelry a little while later when Reggie homered and fans who still had their bars celebrated by flooding the field with chocolate and caramel discs wrapped in red plastic. Flinging a candy bar on to the field seemed like an odd way to celebrate to me as a kid, so…
Gotta’ be honest: That bar was pretty good – I have no regrets.
I was in Cooperstown, NY on the weekend of July 31st through August 2nd, 1993 when Reggie was inducted into the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame game that weekend on Doubleday field between the Dodgers and the Indians featured Mike Piazza, Eric Davis, Daryl Strawberry, Pedro Martinez, Kenny Lofton, and Albert Belle on the teams’ rosters in addition to about a dozen other notable names. Reggie’s ceremony (yes, REGGIE’S ceremony – he was the sole inductee in ’93) on Sunday was attended by many people wearing pumpkin attire.
“Mr. October.” Get it?
But neither one of those great reminiscences is my favorite.
On April 27th, 1982, Reggie returned to Yankee Stadium for the first time after leaving NY to sign with the California Angels as a free agent that past January. George Steinbrenner who, for all his faults, was the one owner who had the foresight to see valuable and entertaining players as investments instead of expenses. And those investments, more often than not, would translate to wins on the field and asses in the seats which would increase the value of the business.
Well, George done screwed this one up. In a rare display of frugality, he decided Reggie wasn’t worth the $900 thousand per year with bonuses that Reggie received from California. George did think that Dave Collins was worth $2.4 million over three years, however, and went in that direction instead of Reggie’s.
For those of you who don’t remember Dave Collins, he was known for his unique ability to run fast. That was unique in the sense he had absolutely no other skills on a baseball field. Well, George felt his team couldn’t “…sit around and wait for the three-run home run…” anymore. If that drivel sounds familiar it’s because John Smoltz and Paul O’Neill still say it all the time and it’s as nonsensical a thought today as it was in 1982.
So Reggie walked on to the field that rainy night (so rainy the game would be called after seven innings) sporting a .200 batting average, .297 OBP, .255 SLG and a big ZERO in the HR column, to face Ron Guidry – who you may remember, was tough on everybody, but murder on lefties.
And in the seventh inning, leading off with the Angles leading 2-1, Reggie sent a hanging 2-1 slider from Guidry deep – VERY deep – into the Bronx night.
Then the fun began. In chronological sequence:
- The Yankee Stadium crowd gave Reggie a standing ovation as he circled the bases.
- As Reggie crossed home plate, he said something under his breath to Yankee catcher Rick Cerrone. (Doesn’t matter what he said, that’s funny in and of itself…)
- The fans called Reggie out of the dugout – the visitor’s dugout wearing a visiting team’s uniform – for a curtain call.
- The crowd started chanting “Steinbrenner sucks! Steinbrenner sucks!” Loudly and clearly, over and over. It was crystal clear what we were hearing on the channel 11 WPIX broadcast no matter what Frank Messer said.
The schadenfreude was strong among Yankee fans that evening.
Reggie would go on to lead the AL in HR in ’82, along with an All-Star appearance, a Silver Slugger award and a 6th place MVP finish while leading the Angels to the AL West title. The Yankees, who had been in the World Series the previous October…well, Derek Jeter was only seven years old at the time so it turned out to be a long decade and a half.
Was Reggie the only reason for that? Of course not.
But it is a reminder of a couple of baseball lessons that were true then and are true now:
One: Speed is not valuable if it doesn’t come with other skills. Guys who hit the ball over the wall are very always very valuable.
Two: Investing in good and entertaining players almost always pays off in wins on the field and in the bank account of the owners.
But for today’s purposes, on Reggie’s birthday, join me in remembering this:
Reggie was fun as hell to watch.
Did I miss something? Let me know.
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