Reggie uncut

Preisler@jeromepreisler.com

Not so long ago, his bat was the thunder at the heart of the Yankee lineup. In a major league career that spanned two decades, he played in ten postseasons, winning three World Series rings with the Oakland Athletics and two more with the New York Yankees. He was the American League and World Series MVP in 1973, and the 1977 World Series MVP when the Yankees defeated the Dodgers in six games. In the final game that series at Yankee Stadium, on October 18, 1977, he belted three homers on three pitches and three swings in three consecutive plate appearances to propel his team to the championship and earn the famous nickname Mr. October.

When Reginald Martinez Jackson hit those three homers, he became only the second a player in history to do that in a single Series game.  It’s probably no coincidence that the guy who preceded him holding that record also had a nickname that stuck: The Babe.

And, oh yes, Reggie Jackson was no stranger to controversy.

arod_235_062609.jpgIn Friday’s night 9-1 Yankee win over the Mets at Citi Field, Alex Rodriguez hit his 564th Major League homer to move past Reggie into 11th place on the all-time career home run list.  When Jackson retired in 1987 he’d ranked sixth behind Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Harmon Killebrew. Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro — and now Rodriguez — would later surpass his record.  But for Jackson A-Rod’s upcoming milestone had meant something special. A fellow member of the Yankee organization and friend of Rodriguez, Jackson had traveled cross-country from his West Coast home to hopefully be present when it was hit.

As the media crowded Rodriguez’s locker in the visiting clubhouse for his postgame comments, it was announced that Reggie would be taking questions in the corridor outside. A contingent of sportswriters broke off from the larger gathering to talk to him–and listen as Jackson stood in his trademark ballcap, fielding hugs from Andy Pettitte, waving to other players and clubhouse people, and reflecting on Rodriguez’s accomplishment and other subjects.

Gradually some of the writers filed off to listen to CC Sabathia’s press conference. I stuck around along with a couple of other guys. Though his voice was subdued, I found Reggie as brashly engaging, playful, and appreciative of an audience as ever.

Here’s some pure, unfiltered Reggie, with cuts only to eliminate repetition or because the hubbub in the corridor made some of his remarks unintelligible on playback.

On how A-Rod’s admission that he used performance enhancing drugs will impact his legacy: 

“The negativity that surrounds the steroids is certainly not something that I carry over to him. I do appreciate the fact that he admitted his mistakes. So from here we move forward. Judgment on him will be passed within the next seven and a half years. I don’t vote {on Rodriguez’s eventual candidacy for the Hall of Fame} If he doesn’t make it in the first fifteen years on the ballot, I get a chance.  But this guy’s probably gonna wind up with seven or eight hundred home runs.  I wanna enjoy the night tonight and watch my friend hit number five-sixty-four. And (grinning) maybe you’ll all drop my name in the paper when you’re all going by.”

On whether it is bittersweet watching someone pass his career home run record: 

“Not really.  You know, you get used to it, really. There’s been five or six {players} in the last four, five years.  I think when you see some of the great names fall, you get sad. Like I was watching the game the other night with Willie Mays.  I’m on the phone, Willie’s on the phone for about forty five minutes. We were talking about Alex. He was in a little slump there in Florida and Atlanta, and I was watching the game with Willie. And we talked about homer uns, we talked about steroids, and stuff like that. But today, I think, is a day for me to come and tip my cap, be a gentleman, be a fan. Really, I get a chance up close and personal to say ‘Nice going, congratulations to you and keep hitting home runs for the Yankees, and I’m here rooting for you.'”

On his own legacy:

“I think that I’ve been in such a wonderful position for the last few years, with the places I go . . . I was just at a Corvette show in Illinois, and people walk up to you — eight, ten, twelve, fourteen years old — a and ask for autographs, even though they weren’t born yet when I retired.  And so, I have a lot of friends in the game, and the game has been very good to me. And so thinking about it, re-experiencing it, sharing it . . . I enjoy it.  And I appreciate spending time with people and the fans.”

On why Derek Jeter (with whom Reggie watched last night’s game in the visiting clubhouse) is his favorite player:

“I’ve known him the longest. I’m kinda like a big brother to him . . .  He’s got all the ingredients, man. And he’s my friend.  So I’m certainly prejudiced.

arod_DIR_blog_235.jpgOn his relationship with A-Rod:

“Alex Rodriguez is my friend, so I’m prejudiced, and I don’t have a lot of negatives to say. If  I have negatives to say, I certainly can say them to Alex, I know him that well.  I certainly can get on his butt sometimes if I see some things going on on the field that I don’t approve of. But that’s man to man. That’s pro to pro. “

On Rodriguez as a player:

 “Alex Rodriguez plays as hard as any player I’ve ever seen.  He prepares as hard, and works as hard, as any player I’ve ever seen around the game.  You’ve got to tip your cap. I always say, they used to say about me, ‘Reggie Jackson, love him or hate him, you cannot ignore him.’ Alex Rodriguez goes to the post every day unless he’s in the hospital.  And that you’ve got to tip your cap to. You just have to, with all the adversity that he’s gone through, and all the tough times he’s had, he goes out there. And he’s had some days and some moments and some adversity that have been really tough.  So he’s vulnerable. A big target.  But you’ve got to tip your cap. . . . I look forward to the day that he has success to help this club win a championship.  Until then, we won’t let him up. We’ll keep the thumb on him, the spotlight’ll stay on him, and the critiques will be there till we win. So, as my friend, I would like to see him win . . . I’m a Yankee fan, and I’m proud of it. The places I go, and everywhere I go, I’m proud of it.”

On why he traveled to see Rodriguez top his career home run record:

“I’m more than just an ex-player and a Yankee. I’m part of this organization. I’m part of the franchise. From the Steinbrenner family down to the clubhouse people, I am part of it. So being a Yankee, the right thing to do is to be here. And I wanted to be here.  I’m not here because it’s the right thing to be here. I have a sister that’s very ill, I could be home. I have a child that’s deciding on college.  But I needed to be here.  I’m part of this ballclub. I talked to the owners, I’ve talked to the president of this team, and I’ve talked to the manager, so this is important to me. “

Addressing the press in the clubhouse even as Reggie spoke outside its doors, Rodriguez made it clear Jackson’s prese
nce was also important to him, calling Reggie “a close friend and mentor” and “an American icon.”

For this writer, having a chance to hear him share some thoughts was a gas, plain and simple.

Hope reading them been fun for all of you.

2 Comments

Jerome, when I was young, I was a loyal fan of Reggie Jackson’s. Growing up in the Bronx, I went to all the games I could to watch my favorite Yankee. Many years have passed and I did not have another favorite Yankee until A-Rod. In many ways, I see a lot of Reggie in A-Rod. So for me to know that these two men, my two favorite Yankees, are such close friends and have great respect for each other could not have been more wonderful to hear. And to see A-Rod pass Reggie’s record is in fact bittersweet but very rewarding. Many people wonder why I like A-Rod, despite his controversies. I sometimes look at many others who are at the Yankee stadium wearing the no. 13 and who like A-Rod, and I wonder their reason as well. Of course one of the most simple reason is that A-Rod is a great baseball player. The other reason for me has a lot to do with the respect I have for someone who works very hard, and no matter the controversy, can still go out every day and play the game he loves. And I am glad to see how A-Rod is working hard to stay out of controversy (he cannot be blamed for the intense desire the media has to write about him). But Reggie puts it best when he said, “And that you’ve got to tip your cap to. You just have to, with all the adversity that he’s gone through, and all the tough times he’s had, he goes out there. And he’s had some days and some moments and some adversity that have been really tough.” Thanks for this great inside information about my two favorite Yankees.

JP…thanks for that. It was better than Harold Reynolds saying tonight that when Arod passed Reggie it was ho-hum because of the steroids admission. Reggie is important to this franchise because just his presence is powerful. Reggie is right…Arod’s name might be made from here on out where there is no doubt.

Thinking about it too…Reggie might be a good one in case you run into Krod.

Mahalo for sharing…

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