Baseball great Reggie Jackson (born 1946) was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. Placed sixth on the all-time list for home runs, he also held the Major League record for strikeouts.
Former professional baseball player and Hall of Fame inductee Reggie Jackson's hard hitting, fleet footed style helped him lead two teams to five World Championships in only seven years. Called "the most theatrical baseball player of the last quarter century," by writer Mike Lupica in Esquire, Jackson made headlines with his egomaniacal remarks, hot temper, and flamboyant manner.
Reginald Martinez Jackson was born on May 18, 1946 in Wyncote, Pennsylvania. One of six children of African American and Spanish descent, he moved at an early age with two of his siblings to live with his divorced father in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. His father, a once semi-pro baseball player in the Negro leagues who made a living running a small tailoring and dry cleaning business, encouraged his talented son in sports. By the time Jackson entered his senior year at Cheltenham High School he was an all star athlete: in track he ran the 100 yard dash in 9.7 seconds; on the football team he played halfback; in basketball he was a unparalleled player; and in baseball as a lefty player, he pitched three no-hitters and batted .550.
Jackson always felt he would be a professional athlete; the difficult part was deciding between football and baseball. College scholarships poured in and he ended up accepting a scholarship form Arizona State University in Tempe. In his sophomore year he was a receiver on the football team, and was chosen to the All-American first team in baseball. His outstanding performance on the baseball team caught the attention of Charles O. Finley, owner of the Kansas City Athletics, who offered Jackson, a $95,000 bonus. Unable to refuse, he left college after his sophomore year and entered the world of professional baseball.
In 1966, Jackson was the second pick in the amateur draft. The New York Mets having the first pick chose another player, Steve Chilcott. Jackson played with the Kansas City Athletics farm teams for one and a half seasons. At the end of the 1967 season, he was called up to join the team in Kansas City, and in 1968 moved with the Athletics to their new home in Oakland, California.
In his first full season in the majors, he hit 29 home runs, and drove in another 74 runs. But he also made a dozen outfield errors and struck out a near record-breaking 171 times. The following season, in 1969, he again held a record number of strikeouts with 142, but hit a fantastic 47 home runs and led the American League in scoring 123 runs. Jackson credits then vice-president of the Athletics and Joe DiMaggio, the Hall-of-Fame center fielder of the New York Yankees, with developing his skills as a hitter.
The end of that glorious season was followed by a slump. The progressive pressures of trying to keep up with his own home run pace and the beginning of the eventual breakdown of his marriage to Jenni, his Mexican-American wife, contributed to his temporary decline. Further, he failed to negotiate successfully with Finley for a high increase in pay. The sour salary negotiations got the following season off to a bad start. Known for his hot temper, Jackson squabbled with teammates in the clubhouse, fought with Finley and often, after striking out, threw his bat in a rage. His average and his homers dropped and his continued poor performance caused him to be benched for a portion of that season.
In the Winter of 1970-71 he went to Santurce, Puerto Rico to work under an old idol, Frank Robinson. Robinson, a veteran player-manager, helped Jackson to ease up on himself and to put his own game into perspective. When he returned to the Athletics in Oakland he no longer felt the burdensome need to carry the team or to pressure himself for a hit every time he came to bat. Robinson's invaluable tutoring also helped him to cultivate his aggressive playing style while keeping his temper in check.
The following season saw him bouncing back to his high level of performance. Jackson helped lead the Athletics to the American League Eastern Division Title in 1971 with 32 home runs. But the Baltimore Orioles took the pennant at the playoffs. In 1972 the Athletics won the Western Division Title. In the playoffs, the Athletics beat the Detroit Tigers, with Jackson sliding into home plate to score the winning run in the final game. Tragically, during his slide he incurred an injury, a torn hamstring muscle, which forced him to sit out of the World Series. But as Jackson watched, the Athletics reigned victorious over the Cincinnati Reds.
Voted the American League's Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1973, Jackson batted .293 and led the leagues in 32 home runs. That year the Atheltics defeated Baltimore to win the pennant. The team went on to win the World Championship over the New York Mets, with Jackson batting .310, driving in six runs, and hitting two home runs in the seventh game. Leading the league in runs, he was chosen MVP in the World Series. As sensational as the 1973 series was, it was not without its dark cloud. Anonymous death threats were sent to the Oakland office warning that Jackson would be killed if he played in the Championship games. During the playoffs and the World Series Jackson was under constant guard from both private and FBI agents. In the end, seemingly nothing resulted from the threats.
The Athletics won their fourth American League pennant in 1974, with Jackson hitting 29 homers for the season, and went on to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers for their third straight World Series Championship. Finally, in 1975, after winning the American League Western Division Title and losing the pennant to the Boston Red Sox, Jackson, who had hit more homers and struck out more often than anyone on the team, ended his nine year stint with the Oakland Athletics. After unsuccessful contract negotiations, Finley traded Jackson to the Baltimore Orioles on April 2, 1976. The end of that season found Jackson a free agent, signed on with the New York Yankees for $300,000, and a five year contract, when Baltimore could not agree with Jackson's long term contract demands.
As a member of the New York Yankees, Jackson's ego and temper flared. He referred to himself as "the straw that stirs the drink," according to Jet magazine in a January 25, 1993 article. His comments and behavior antagonized his peers. Once again Jackson fought with teammates, his manager, Billy Martin, and the team owner, George Steinbrenner. And once again he led his team to the World Championship. The night of October 18, 1977 was one of Jackson's greatest triumphs. In the final game of the World Series, he hit three consecutive home runs, drove in five runs and brought the Yankees to victory over the Dodgers, winning 8-4. He had hit a Series record-breaking five home runs. "Maybe now, for at least this one night, I can feel like a real superstar," he was quoted in the Lincoln Library of Sports Champions. According to an article in New York written by Mike Lupica, Jackson had amazed himself on the day of the final game when during batting practice he hit 20 balls out of 40 into the seats. Amazingly enough, he had three more left to hit that night. He was named MVP of the World Series that fall and ended the season with 32 homers, 110 runs batted in (RBIs) and a .286 batting average.
Jackson followed that spectacular season with a second Series win against the Dodgers in 1978. He scored two runs, eight RBIs and batted .391. That year the first Reggie! chocolate candy bar appeared lasting only a short while as public interest waned. His walloping World Series hitting earned him the title "Mr. October," as he could always be counted on to pull his team to victory in a clinch.
1980 proved to be another fine season as Jackson hit a career high of .300 with 41 home runs and 111 RBIs. The Yankees won the American League pennant in 1981. In keeping with his fashion of coming through for the team, he hit his tenth and final Series home run that year. The California Angels signed Jackson on in 1982, and in a stunning achievement he reached the 500-homer plateau in 1984. Before retiring in 1987, he rejoined the Oakland Athletics for one last season. He was placed sixth on the all-time major leagues career home run list with 563 home runs during his 21 year baseball career. After retiring, Jackson worked briefly as a sports broadcaster for the Angels before moving on to coach for the Athletics. Dissatisfied with his coaching responsibilities he took a job with the Upper Deck Company handling sales of trading cards and sports collectibles.
The crowning achievement of his career came on August 1, 1993 when Reggie Jackson became the 216th inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame—the only player to be so honored in that year. On his plaque he chose to be shown in the Yankee stripes, the uniform he found most fitting. Speaking of New York in the January issue of Jet, he said, "I feel this is the place that's really claimed me." His plaque lists him as sixth on the all-time list, ahead of such greats as Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Lou Gehrig. His remarkable achievements run to both extremes: ten World Series home runs; five World Championships; 11 American League Championships with three different teams; and holding the major league record for lifetime strikeouts at 2,597. "Strung together, that's five years." Jackson quipped in Michael Angeli's article, "for five years I never touched the ball." At the induction, a passionate and eloquent Jackson spoke of the game he loved and his debt to the first Black Major League players, Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby. Quoting Lou Gehrig he ended by calling himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth," as noted in Jet, August 16, 1993. The Yankees retired his number 44 baseball uniform and the Reggie! bar was reintroduced the year of Jackson's induction, packaged with a specially designed Reggie baseball card put out by Upper Deck.
During the Summer of 1993, George Steinbrenner announced that his former ballplayer was returning to the club in the capacity of special assistant and advisor to the Yankees general partners. Jackson continued his work in California for the trading card company and was made director of new buisness at a California-based computer company for which he was already a spokesman. However, Jackson still took on the added responsibility of evaluating players for the team, returning to New York one week out of each month. Given his celebrity status Jackson felt his presence was an asset to the ball club. Speaking of his fans to Mike Lupica in Esquirehe noted, "If I walked out there right now, I could still stop the … place cold."
Jackson was emphatically disinterested in a career in sports broadcasting for the future. "I don't want to rip players," he stated in Angeli's article. "I don't want to talk on the air condescendingly about players. I know what it's like to try … and look like a bum." But he was open to the possibility of coaching for the Yankees down the road. "Never say never," he told Lupica. Going on to talk about his role with the ball club in the Angeli article, Jackson stated, "I'm very happy doing what I'm doing. I'm about as high as I can get here in this company without owning it….I got it all."
Further Reading on Reginald Martinez Jackson
Esquire, June 1993, pp. 69-71.
Jet, January 25, 1993, p. 46; May 1993, p. 47; August 16, 1993, p. 51; September 6, 1993, p. 51.
New York, April 19, 1993, pp. 158-160.
New Yorker, August 2, 1993, pp. 40-41.
Sports Illustrated, August 2, 1993, pp. 58-64.