It is November, so why not salute Mr. October?
The first year I collected baseball cards was 1978. I saw a lot of Red Sox games that year but also Yankee games as I spent my summer in Connecticut.
All of baseball was still buzzing from the record that Reggie set in the previous World Series and was honored on this card. He hit 5 homers in the 1977 World Series, three in the final game, all on the first pitch.
They showed those homers on 11 Alive (WPIX in New York) all the time. I remember asking my dad why they kept showing his World Series homers. He replied “Because he was incredible in that game.” My dad wasn’t wrong.
Now to 6 year old Sully, Reggie WAS the Yankees. And he might as well have been there since the Jurassic period. He was a Yankees for life the way Yaz was with the Red Sox.
When I got his actual card, not the record breaker card, I looked at his “Year Club”. (That’s what I called the listing of all the years on the back of the card.)
I remember being stunned that he had only played one year with the Yankees. It was also the first time I ever remember a team called the A’s. 2 letters and an apostrophe. The team looked so short on the back of the card.
He had all those years with the A’s, one with the Orioles and one with the Yankees. I remember there was a rhythm to the back of his card that a 6 year old version of me used to recite as I walked around Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“A’s, A’s, A’s, A’s, A’s, A’s. A’s, A’s, A’s, A’s, Orioles, Yankees.”
Why did the A’s get rid of him? Why didn’t the Orioles keep him?
Six year old Sully didn’t understand free agency and Charlie Finley’s relationship with his players. I still believed the Easter Bunny was real.
But it is funny that some of my earliest memories of Reggie Jackson revolved around the “What if’s?” of his career. What if he stayed here? What if the Orioles kept him?
There are some tantalizing “What if’s?” of Reggie’s career that could have sent him in a totally different trajectory.
What if he chose football over baseball? Colleges like Alabama and George were willing to make him their first ever black star. He might have been a racial pioneer in a different sport.
What if he signed a baseball contract out of high school? He was a high school prospect in the early 1960’s before the advent of the draft. The Giants, Twins, Phillies and Dodgers all scouted him. The Giants made a big push to sign him. He could have come up through the system and be teammates with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and be a left and right punch with Bobby Bonds.
He went to Arizona State was selected second in the 1966 Draft by the A’s. The Mets had the first pick. What if they used that pick to draft Reggie Jackson instead of Steve Chilcott, who never made it to the majors? Reggie would have emerged in the late 1960’s, right around the time of the Miracle Mets. He would have become a New York legend and there would not have been a need to sign with the Yankees. They would have made a Reggie bar long before 1977. He would haunt the Mets by being the MVP of the 1973 World Series.
What if Charlie Finley could have kept the A’s together? Free agency was looming and everyone hated Charlie O. But imagine if he somehow found a way to keep Catfish, Fingers, Rudi, Bando, Blue, Holtsman, Campaneris, Tenace and Jackson together even for a few more years. Would they have won another title or two? Would they have clashed with Kansas City in amazing AL West runs?
What if Reggie embraced Baltimore? When Finley decided to cut bait with Reggie and send him to the Orioles, Jackson stewed. He didn’t report initially and never seemed to warm up to the Orioles and the feeling was mutual.
The team got off to a sluggish start and were 6 1/2 games out by early May.
The team finished with an 88-74 record, far behind the Yankees. He seemed to have one foot out the door the whole year. But imagine if he looked around and saw he was in a stable organization. He had Earl Weaver, one of the All Time greats, as manager. He had a pitching staff led by Jim Palmer and hit in a lineup with Lee May, Al Bumbry, Doug DeCinces, Ken Singleton and, oh yeah, the next year Eddie Murray arrived.
Had he stayed put in Baltimore, he could have put up some big numbers and played in many more Octobers.
He became a free agent and the team that offered him the biggest contract was… drumroll… THE MONTREAL EXPOS. That’s right, the Expos wanted to being Reggie up and over the boarder and he did indeed go up to be wined and dined by the Expos brass. Of course he got a little hassled for the pot in his bag which may have soured him a bit on the experience.
Picture Jackson in Montreal just as the team was starting to blossom. The outfield of Ellis Valentine, Andre Dawson and Reggie Jackson would have been something. And guess what? He would have had a reuinion with his Oakland manager Dick Williams.
He went to the Yankees and everything was peaceful and tranquil in the Bronx.
Actually, it could have been quite different. Reggie had a good season in the Bronx but “Mr. October” was bombing badly in the ALCS against Kansas City.
Through 4 games, Reggie was 1 for 14 with 2 walks, 1 run scored and 0 RBI. He was SLUGGING .071 going into the final game.
Reggie was bench for the finale as Paul Splitorff historically had his number. He wound getting a key pinch hit RBI single to make the finale 3-2 Royals in the 8th, but Kansas City still had the lead in the 9th and were 3 outs away from the World Series.
Had the Royals clinched, Jackson’s reputation in New York would have been mud. He talked a big game about being the straw that stirred the drink. But when it came to the big spotlight in New York, he withered and batted .125. “He’s all talk.”
Reggie, who requested trades throughout the 1977 season, would probably have been dealt that off season. His time with the Yankees would have been a strange and ill fitting cameo.
The Yankees rallied but he started the 1977 World Series 1-6 with no runs scored and no RBI. He made up for it and clubbed the 5 homers that this card celebrates.
He played 5 years with the Yankees but the marriage became strained and when the contract was up, off he went to California, this time to the Angels.
What if Reggie and the Yankees could have coexisted? They needed each other. Reggie reveled in the New York spotlight. The Yankees floundered without an identity for years after Jackson’s departure. Reggie as the elder statesmen on the Yankees with stars like Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly in the lineup would have been a sight to see.
What if Reggie had homered off of Red Sox reliever Steve Crawford in the 10th inning of Game 5 of the ALCS?
The Angels never won a pennant with Reggie there but damn they came close in both 1982 and 1986. The Angels needed a single run to go to the 1986 World Series as Game 5 went to the 10th inning. Reggie Jackson came up. Steve Crawford, a right handed reliever who was only in the game because several other pitchers were injured faced Reggie.
Crawford was hardly an ace reliever and the idea of him grooving a pitch to Jackson was hardly improbable.
Had he clocked one, the Angels would have gone to the World Series, Reggie would have had his Angels glory moment, the 1986 World Series would have been California and New York and poor Bill Buckner would be a beloved tough veteran.
Lots of what ifs there.
What we got was a remarkable Hall of Fame career that made an impression on a 6 year old version of me.