Oct 2, 2010 Ken Braiterman

Part 1: Reggie Jackson’s Upbringing and Oakland Years

Reggie Jackson

Dayn Perry’s new biography of Reggie Jackson states assumptions about his psychological make-up as fact, though Perry never interviewed him.

Jackson refused several requests for interviews with biographer Dayn Perry, a columnist for Foxsports.com. Yet this first biography of Jackson in 25 years explores Jackson’s psyche, what made the man tick, in great detail. All of Perry’s psychological conclusions about Reggie’s inner self must be considered speculation – either the biographer’s or the many Jackson associates Perry did interview.

Blaming Reggie’s Parents for Jackson’s Adult Shortcomings.

When Jackson was 10, his mother divorced his father, and moved from the Philadelphia suburbs to Baltimore. She took Jackson’s three sisters with her, but left Reggie with his father. They visited occasionally, but Perry draws many conclusions about how Jackson’s abandonment caused his adult behavior.

Martinez Jackson was as good a father as he could be — inconsistent, frequently absent, sometimes incarcerated, Perry says. That is all well-known to Jackson buffs. Martinez Jackson’s one big contribution to his son’s life was insisting he go to college instead of signing a baseball contract in high school, Perry says.

Reggie and his father were never estranged, but in college and adult life, Jackson was sexually promiscuous and always had trouble maintaining trusting or intimate relationships. He was always looking for substitute father figures, according to Perry, who blames all this adult behavior on Jackson’s unreliable relationships with both parents.

Children of unreliable parents often look for strong, reliable substitute parents, and have trouble sustaining trust and intimacy. It is also a common psychological stereotype. Perry could not know how responsible Reggie’s parents were for his adult personality without talking to the man himself. His conclusions about the “inner” Jackson are all speculation or gossip.

Frank Kush, Bobby Winkles, and Arizona State University

Reggie looked for father figures in Frank Kush, his football coach at Arizona State University, and his college baseball coach Bobby Winkles, Perry says. Both were among the most successful college coaches of their time. Both won national championships with Reggie on their teams. Reggie responded particularly well to Kush’s strict discipline and regimentation, Perry says.

He was a fast, punishing running back, and a swift five-tool center fielder. He finished college with professional offers in both sports, Perry says.

Reggie also craved acceptance, Perry says, again blaming the parents. Growing up in Wyandote, PA, a Jewish suburb of Philadelphia, everybody he knew was white, Perry says. All his life, he made no effort to be discrete about dating white women. He never experienced racism or discrimination first-hand, Perry says.

The black athletes at Arizona State, mostly from urban ghettos and the South, did not accept him, despite his efforts to fit in with them, Perry says. As a major leaguer, Jackson was not active in the black community until he was a Yankee star, when the Rev Jesse Jackson got his ear, Perry says..

Reggie, Charley Finley, and the Oakland A’s

People who don’t remember the Oakland A’s dynasty of the early 1970′s might not know they were as dysfunctional as George Steinbrenner’s Yankee dynasty in the late 1970′s/ A’s owner, Charles O. Finley, was every bit the egomaniac and intrusive owner Steinbrenner was.

People who remember Jackson only as the Yankees’ plodding right fielder often don’t know he made the major leagues in Oakland as a fast power-hitting center fielder who could cover Oakland’s expansive center field, steal bases, and throw out base runners, Perry says.

As he got older, he had continuing problems with pulled and torn leg muscles, because the muscles were so large and tightly packed under his skin, Perry says.

Reggie was the hitting star of both dynasties. Neither team became a champion until Reggie arrived. So the commonly held idea that Reggie lost more games than he won because he was so divisive in the locker room does not stand up, Maury Allen says in his book The Bronx Zoo.

Oakland is a poor, blue-collar backwater, in the shadow of sophisticated San Francisco, Often, only one beat reporter traveled with the A’s on the road. To recreate the daily doings of those A’s, Perry had to rely on old newspapers, videotape, and interviews with Jackson’s teammates and local reporters. Though there is nothing new in his stories, the people in them are interesting, and Perry tells the stories very well.

Jackson and Vida Blue Act Uppity

According to Perry, the major cause of the split between Jackson and Finley were their annual salary disputes that became more bitter and public every year. Finley’s salary offers made Jackson feel unappreciated, as well as underpaid. Perry draws another mighty conclusion about how Jackson’s need for appreciation traces back to his parents.

Every year, Jackson refused to sign his contract and report to spring training on time, Baseball rules barred players without contracts from spring training. One year, Jackson did not sign and report till after the season started. He did not get his hitting stroke back until June. But the A’s won their division anyway when Jackson went on a hitting tear after the All-Star Game, and the A’s had one of the best August-September records ever.

Another Oakland player, Vida Blue, missed almost half a season in a similar salary dispute with Finley. Jackson often told reporters racism was involved, that Finley thought African American players who refused to sign were ungrateful and uppity, a racist notion from the Old South.

Another reason for the break, according to Perry, was that egomaniac publicity hound Jackson was getting attention egomaniac publicity hound Finley wanted, and thought he deserved.

Marvin Miller, Dave McNally, Andy Messersmith, and Peter Seitz Free Jackson

No matter how much Jackson grew to hate Finley, he was bound to him and the A’s for life under baseball’s “reserve clause.” The first crack in the system appeared when arbitrator Peter Seitz declared Finley’s best pitcher Catfish Hunter a free agent, after Finley refused to pay him $50,000 his contract called for.

Hunter signed with the Yankees for $3 million, setting an amazing standard for free agent salaries. The average player’s salary at the time was $47,000. But the Hunter case did not end the reserve clause because the facts of the case were so unusual.

Marvin Miller, the head of the players’ union, believed that, under the standard player contract, players could become free agents after playing a full season without a contract. The owners held that the contract gave them the right to extend the player’s contract unilaterally forever, It took Miller a few years to find a player willing to test Miller’s idea by playing a whole season without a contract, a terrible risk for any player.

In 1975, two aging pitchers, Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith, who each had long, successful careers behind them and few years, if any ahead, offered to take the risk. After they played a full season, the same Peter Seitz who declared Hunter a free agent, decided in favor of the players. Jackson was on the verge of freedom.

Jackson immediately declared he was playing out his option and would never play for Finley again. During Jackson’s option year, Finley traded Jackson to Baltimore so he could get something for him. If Jackson completed his option year and became a free agent, Finley would get nothing.

When Jackson’s one season with the Orioles ended, he was a free agent, and the story — to be discussed in a separate review — moved to New York.

This pivotal moment in baseball history, one of the most important changes the game has ever seen, has been written about so much, and is so well known to anyone who knows any baseball history. Perry tells the story as well as anyone. but there is nothing in it people do not already know.

Recycled Yarns from Reggie’s Yankee Years

Dayn Perry’s story of Reggie Jackson’s Yankee years skillfully retells all the old tales of Reggie, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, and Thurman Munson.

The Oakland A’s of the early 1970s won five American League championships, and the World Series in 1972, ’73, and ’74. The New York Yankees of the late 1970s won AL championships in 1976, ’77, ’78, and ’81, and the World Series in ’77 and ’78.

The two dynasties had three things in common: star pitcher Jim Catfish Hunter, star hitter Reggie Jackson, and two intrusive, erratic, publicity-crazy owners, Charles O. Finley of the A’s, and George Steinbrenner of the Yankees.

Tales of the roaring controversies between the owner and his team, and among the players themselves are skillfully retold in Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball’s Mr. October.

The problem with the book is that all these stories have been told, retold, and told some more from every angle since the 1970′s. For people unfamiliar with those Yankee teams, this book is an easy-to-read introduction to the library of books and documentaries about them.

The Yankees Before Jackson

The Yankee farm system had produced only one star since 1962′s Mel Stottlemeyer. Thurman Munson developed Yankee minors, joined the big club in 1971, and led the team from the cellar to 4th place, and an American League championship in 1976..

Steinbrenner signed free agents Catfish Hunter (1976) and Jackson (1977) for millions of dollars each, when the average Major League salary was $47,000, Perry says.

A’s owner Charlie Finley opened the door to modern free agency by refusing to pay Hunter $50,000 his contract called for. An arbitrator declared Hunter a free agent, able to negotiate with any team. Jackson was the first superstar to play out his option year under the new free agency rule. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner outbid all other teams for each one.

He bought the Yankees from CBS for $10 million in 1972, with Mike Burke,who had been operating the team for CBS. Steinbrenner promised he’d be an absentee owner, and leave Burke in charge. In April, 1973, Burke resigned over Steinbrenner’s humiliating treatment of him.

By the end of that season, everyone who had worked for the Yankees in the CBS years had either quit, been fired, or forced out. He promised a championship to Yankee fans, who had been saddled with bad teams since the Yankees lost the 1964 World Series. He also promised himself that he’d beat the cross-town New York Mets, who were beating the Yankees in attendance, TV revenue, and profits.

Early in his tenure as owner, Steinbrenner confided to friends that, someday, he’d have Jackson in his outfield and Billy Martin as his manager , Perry says.

Jackson and Thurman Munson

By the time Jackson joined the Yankees in 1977, catcher Thurman Munson had been their best player since 1971. He was the team’s first captain since Lou Gehrig. The only reason he was not the best catcher in baseball was that Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk were playing at the same time he was.

Munson was a proud, insecure, bitter man, blue collar by conviction as well as by birth. He dodged reporters as skillfully and regularly as Jackson cultivated them. Jackson preened for the camera, and easily turned quotable phrases.

One of his most famous quotes appeared in Sport Magazine: “I’m the straw that stirs the drink,” meaning he was the player most responsible for the Yankees’ success. Munson took that as a personal insult.

To Munson, Jackson was a show horse; Munson was a work horse, according to Munson biographer Marty Appel. Everything seemed to come too easily to Jackson, Munson believed, not just on the field, but with the media, and the public, Appel wrote.

The rift became a chasm when Steinbrenner refused to pay Munson the same salary Jackson signed for. Munson thought he had a verbal agreement with Steinbrenner that he would always be the highest paid Yankee except Hunter. He lost his ability to trust Steinbrenner completely when he learned the owner had given Jackson a Rolls Royce to induce him to sign, Appel said in his biography of Munson.

The rift between the two players got so bad and so public that Steinbrenner had to call them both into his office and order them to get along. Jackson’s performance in the 1977 World Series, including four home runs in four consecutive at-bats against four different pitchers, finally made a believer out of Munson, Appel writes. Their cold truce warmed up in the last year of Munson’s life, Appel says.

Jackson and Billy Martin

Again, Perry recycles things everyone has known about Billy Martin, and his relationship with Jackson, for over 30 years:

Billy Martin succeeded as a 2nd baseman with Casey Stengel’s Yankee dynasty in the 1950′s. , tHe was a little guy with modest talent, who overachieved with superior grit and savvy.

As a manager before the Yankees, he won championships in Detroit and Minnesota by getting teams of fast young players to overachieve — to play together as a team, outrun their opponents, and play sound fundamental baseball, like he did. But he wore out his welcome quickly in both cities. He was so competitive, and rode his young players so hard every day, that they eventually tuned him out, and he lost control of the team.

He also lost control of himself. His was a seriously twisted human being, an alcoholic, who was a mean, aggressive bully when drunk. He grew up dirt poor during the Great Depression in the slums of Berkley, California, a street fighter who fought for everything he had, including his success in baseball. He had fist fights wherever he went. He lost his managing job in Minnesota when he sucker-punched a marshmallow salesman outside a hotel bar.

Reggie Jackson was everything Billy Martin hated, Perry says, He was African American, college educated, seemingly able to succeed on talent alone, a publicity hound who criticized Martin in the press, and closer to Steinbrenner than Martin ever was. Jackson mixed easily with the rich and powerful, who looked down on Martin, Martin believed.

Martin worked hard to talk Steinbrenner out of signing Jackson to a large free agent contract. The reason he gave was that Jackson would be a divisive influence on the team that would cost them more than his hitting would help them. That was a widely-held belief during Jackson’s career. Perry, who tilts his entire book in Jackson’s direction, pooh-poohs that belief, as Jackson himself did. In fact, Perry makes Jackson sound almost like an innocent bystander in all the conflicts on those Yankee teams.

Steinbrenner’s favoritism toward Jackson, and his overall treatment of Martin, made Martin’s drinking and insecurity infinitely worse, and brought him to the brink of nervous collapse more than once, Perry says. Steinbrenner knew Martin had a psychological need to be the Yankee manager, and he exploited that weakness almost sadistically, Perry says. He fired and rehired Martin five times.

Martin played similar games with Jackson’s ego, moving him around in the line-up before finally settling him into the clean-up spot Reggie felt entitled to. He was on Jackson’s case publicly and privately all the time. Jackson gave as good as he got in the media. The climax came when Martin thought Jackson failed to hustle on a play in the outfield. In the middle of the inning, Martin sent out Jackson’s defensive replacement and pulled Jackson off the field.

Jackson came into the dugout screaming at Martin for showing him up on a nationally televised game. The two then had one of the most famous fistfights in baseball history, in the dugout, live, on national TV. That incident is rebroadcast practically every time TV looks back at the Yankees of that period.

The rivalry between Jackson and Martin, Martin and Steinbrenner, ended when Martin died in an alcohol-related car accident near his home.

Perry’s book about Jackson’s Yankee and Oakland years is a good introduction to baseball in the 1970′s, and those two dynasties in particular, for people who don’t remember that history. It was such a pivotal time for baseball — the dawn of free agency, the designated hitter, colorful uniforms, long hair and facial hair on players — all of which originated with Finley. For people who do remember, the book contains nothing they don’t already know.

Sources

Perry Dayn, Reggie Jackson, the Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball’s Mr October, ISBN 978-0-06-156238-9, Harper Collins, 2010, 325 pp,

Appel, Marty, Thurman Munson

Braiterman, Ken, “Thurman Munson: A Work Horse Among Show Horses,”.

Allen, Maury, The Bronx Zoo

Braiterman, Ken, “Jackson’s New Biography Recylces Old Yarns about His Yankee Years.”

Copyright Ken Braiterman. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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