I’d dare say that anyone who has even a remote interest in baseball knows the name Reggie Jackson. Certainly any baseball fan from New York, Oakland or Philadelphia is familiar with the man known as “Mr. October.”
Being one of those Philadelphia baseball fans, here’s what I’ve always known about Reggie Jackson:
ONE: He’s from Cheltenham/Wyncote, a northern suburb of Philadelphia, and played his high school ball at Cheltenham High.
TWO: He is one of the hallowed baseball Hall of Famers with more than 500 home runs (563 to be exact).
THREE: He has more strikeouts than any other hitter in MLB history.
FOUR: He won a ton of World Series with the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees.
FIVE: He became known as “Mr. October.”
That seems like plenty, but after reading Dayn Perry’s biography on Jackson, “Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball’s Mr. October,” I learned a whole lot more on Jackson … as well as former A’s owner Charlie Finley and former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
For starters — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — I had no idea that the “Mr. October” moniker was coined by Yankee legend Thurman Munson, sarcastically telling a reporter to “go ask Mr. October” during the 1977 World Series after Reggie had hit a paltry .125 in the ALCS. I did know all about Jackson’s “I’m the straw that stirs the drink” comment, a direct shot at Munson, but I had no idea how contentious their relationship was.
The book relays many stories like the above, but the focal point really does center on Jackson’s lifelong feelings of being somewhat of an outcast. While always recognizable and “popular” in a publicity sense, Reggie spent most of his life searching for acceptance.
Growing up in a a mostly white, Jewish section of the Philadelphia suburbs, Jackson was more comfortable around Caucasians than African-Americans coming up. Yet he was, in fact, black, so he never quite felt fully embraced by whites. At the same time, many of his peers and fans of his own race believed Reggie did not do enough for the black community. It was a push and pull Jackson struggled with throughout his life and playing career, that complexity detailed throughout the book by Perry.
While the racial aspects of Jackson’s life were touched on from beginning to end, the most fascinating relationships in the book are Reggie’s up and down times with Charlie Finley and George Steinbrenner. At one point or another, Reggie looked at both men as fatherly figures — and then as mortal enemies … and back to friends again. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that all three men — Reggie, Charlie and George — come across at times as both endearing and unbearable. Tales of Finley’s cheapness and even racist past are exposed, as well as his care for his players. Steinbrenner comes off mostly as a domineering, conniving man, but he also was the guy who brought Jackson to New York and made sure he became an even bigger star.
And Reggie himself is portrayed as both sympathetic and overbearingly arrogant. Perry paints a picture of Jackson as a man who conveniently played the race card when he needed it and conveniently avoided it when he didn’t. Jackson comes across as remarkably confident in his abilities and yet completely insecure in his life, struggling to find acceptance in teammates and managers alike, particularly with the volatile relationship he shared with Yankees manager Billy Martin.
Overall, the book is an interesting tale of Reggie’s life both on and off the diamond. His struggles in the South during his minor league days are detailed, as well as his college days at Arizona State as a running back and star slugger. Jackson’s incredible accomplishments on the field are of course relayed, along with his struggles, but the most gripping portions of this biography come in the complexity of Jackson’s relationships and behaviors that at times contradicted themselves.
All in all, the book is worth a read for unearthing much more than the casual fan knows about “Mr. October.” However, I was let down that Perry could not obtain an actual interview with Jackson himself, given that the biography subject is alive and well, and at times the recounting of certain games and situations was lacking.
Still, “Reggie Jackson” provides great insights on one of baseball’s most famous and outspoken players of all time — an intelligent man with amazing confidence at times, and a complicated athlete who seemed to lack self-awareness at others.
I certainly know more now about Reggie Jackson and his contemporaries than I did a few weeks ago, and with September reaching its midway point, it’s only fitting to usher in October with a little history on the man they call “Mr. October.”
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