Jackson became the first player to have a candy bar named after him, predicting that this would happen if he played in New York. Reggie could talk and Reggie could hit: a sportswriter’s dream. The peak of his career came in a boisterous five-year stint with the Yankees, which he began by asserting that he was “the straw that stirred the drink,” a statement that drew the ire of new teammate Thurman Munson and manager Billy Martin. But the outspoken, flamboyant, muscular outfielder was a winner wherever he went. In 21 seasons, Jackson played on 11 divisional winners, six pennant winners, and five World Champions. He has a .357 lifetime World Series average, nearly 100 points above his lifetime regular-season average, and the best career World Series slugging average at .755. His total of 563 HR was sixth all-time when he retired. His 2,597 strikeouts, however, are first all-time.
If the Mets had been wiser, Jackson actually would have started his career in New York after playing at Arizona State. But the Mets selected a catcher, Steve Chilcott, with the first pick in the 1967 amatuer draft, and the A’s got Jackson. Joe DiMaggio was a batting instructor with the A’s in those years, and tried unsuccessfully to get the youngster to cut down his swing to reduce his strikeouts. In 1968 Jackson came close to setting an all-time strikeout mark, fanning 171 times. In 1969 he set career highs in HR with 47, RBI with 118, slugging average at .608, runs with 123, and walks with 114, leading the league in the last two categories. He also led the league in strikeouts for the second of four straight years with 142.
His success in 1969 was haunted by what could have been. In a weekend series in June in Boston, he had 15 RBI in 14 at-bats, including 10 with two homers on Saturday the 15th. On July 2, he hit three HR in Oakland against Seattle. By July 29, he had 40 HR and was 23 games ahead of Ruth’s 1927 pace. He then stopped hitting. The slump lasted throughout the 1970 season and practically until the All-Star game in Detroit in 1971, where his mammoth blast over the right-field roof at Tiger Stadium would have left the stadium completely had it not struck a light tower. He made the 1971 All-Star squad only because of an injury to Tony Oliva.
Jackson was as aggressive on the bases and in the field as he was at the plate. In the 1972 LCS against Detroit, he twisted his knee sliding home, and he was forced to watch the World Series in street clothes. He came back with a vengeance in 1973. He won the MVP award with a .293 average and league-leading figures in HR (32), RBI (117), runs (99), and slugging average (.531). In the World Series against the Mets, Jackson was helpless in the three night games, getting only one hit in 10 at-bats. During the day, however, he was 8-for-17. In Game Six, he drove in two runs with a double, then scored the third Oakland run in the A’s 3-1 victory over Tom Seaver. He hit his first Series homer in the third inning of the seventh game, a two-run shot that proved to be the( h)h)h)difference in the clincher, and led the right-field bleachers in cheers throughout the game. He was named the Series MVP.
Jackson sometimes revealed surprising humility. He once admitted that he’d settle for being “one half the player Willie Mays is.” Modest or not, he led the A’s to their third straight world title in 1974. But regular clashes with owner Charlie Finley in 1975 prompted Jackson to seek greener pastures. Finley swapped him to Baltimore in 1976, where he led the league in slugging for the third time. But the pull of the New York media circus was strong to Jackson, and in 1977 he set up his permanent press conference in the Bronx. There were continual fights and headlines, but also the first World Championships in Yankee Stadium in over a decade.
Game Six of the 1977 Series was Jackson’s shining moment. He had already homered in each of the previous two games. In the fourth inning, he hit a two-run shot into the right-field seats on Burt Hooton’s first pitch to him to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead. The following inning, he hit Elias Sosa’s first offering into an identical location for another two runs and a 7-3 lead. In the eighth, when he knocked the first pitch he saw from Charlie Hough into the bleachers, he became the first player besides Babe Ruth to homer three times in a Series game, and the first ever to hit five home runs in one Series.
Jackson’s dugout fights with Martin and the clash of personalities with owner George Steinbrenner drove him to California in 1982, where he led the league in HR with 39 and the Angels to a division title. He also led the league in strikeouts, with 156, for the first time in 11 years. His final years with the Angels were spent in the pursuit of Mickey Mantle’s career home run total of 536, which he finally surpassed in 1986. He ended his career back in Oakland in 1987. He announced his intentions to retire before the season began, which created a grand farewell tour. (SEW)