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Mr. October

Reggie Jackson's career statistics

Reggie saved his best for October
By Nick Acocella
Special to

"I've always been able to hear and read what I say before I say it. That's why I'm a good quote. Or a good interview. If I say something that's uncomfortable for someone's ears, it's going to be the truth, I just happen to voice it. But it's the truth, it's not my opinion," says Reggie Jackson on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.

Reggie Jackson, who hit 563 homers and earned the nickname "Mr. October," will be profiled on Thursday, October 27 at 4 p.m. ET.

While Reggie Jackson was known as Mr. October, he wasn't too shabby
Reggie Jackson
Another curtain call for Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.
in the other months either. On the other hand, his braggadocio caused as much trouble with teammates as his bat did with opponents. Most noteworthy were his problems with New York Yankees manager Billy Martin.

Though he batted .300 only once in his 21-year career, Jackson clouted 563 home runs, ninth on the all-time list, and was the first player to hit as many as 100 homers for three teams (the Athletics, Yankees and Angels). The lefthanded-hitting slugging outfielder led the American League four times in homers, three times in slugging percentage, twice in runs and once in runs batted in. Fourteen times he was selected for the All-Star team.

The downside of his offense was a record 2,597 strikeouts. He fanned more than 100 times in 18 seasons and led the American League in striking out five times.

Jackson, however, always seemed to save his best for the autumn; He had plenty of opportunity to shine in postseason play, a member of 11 division champions, six pennant winners and five world champions. Among his records in the League Championship are most series (11), games (45), at-bats (163) and, of course, strikeouts (41). He is also tied for playing on the most winners (6).

His World Series batting average bested his regular-season mark by 95 points
Reggie Jackson
Time for a parade - Reggie celebrates with fans after one of his five World Series titles.
(.357 to .262) and he ranks in the top 10 in almost every significant offensive category, including first in slugging percentage at .755. His most memorable feat came in Game 6 in 1977, when he belted three homers on three consecutive pitches to him off three Dodgers pitchers as the Yankees won the clinching game. Babe Ruth is the only other person to hit three homers in a Series game. (Babe did it twice.)

In 1978, Jackson picked up where he left off in 1977, homering in the first game to give him six round-trippers in four consecutive Series games (another record) and in the sixth game to give him seven in back-to-back Series (still another record).

Reginald Martinez Jackson was born on May 18, 1946 in Wyncote, Pa., one of six children. When he was six, his parents split, and Jackson grew up with his father Martinez, who was in jail for bootlegging when Reggie graduated Cheltenham Township High School in 1964.

A four-sport varsity athlete in high school, at Arizona State he played both baseball and football. After his sophomore season, he was selected by the Kansas City Athletics with the No. 2 pick of the 1966 draft. He had a quick tour of Kansas City's farm system - Lewiston and Modesto in 1966 and Birmingham (where he led the Southern League in runs, triples and errors) the next year - before finishing the 1967 season with the Athletics, batting .178 in 35 games. He was one of the young players owner Charley Finley took with him to the West Coast, where Jackson helped lead the A's to five consecutive American League West titles from 1971-75.

It was in Oakland that Jackson became one of the most restive of the brawling Athletics. He tangled with Finley over the size of the size of a salary increase after hitting 47 homers with 118 RBI, 123 runs and a .608 slugging percentage in 1969. Though this was only Jackson's second full season in the majors,
Reggie Jackson
Jackson helped lead the A's to five consecutive American League West titles from 1971-75.
he would never better any of these numbers.

Jackson also verbally sparred with Dick Williams over the manager's dictatorial style and physically battled with teammate Billy North in 1974. Meanwhile, despite the turmoil on the team, the A's won three consecutive World Series from 1972-74. In 1973, Jackson was the American League MVP when he led the league in homers (32), RBI (117), runs (99) and slugging percentage (.531) and followed it up by winning the World Series MVP in a seven-game victory over the Mets.

With Jackson a year away from being a free agent, Finley traded him to Baltimore before the 1976 season. From the start, it was clear that the Orioles would not meet Jackson's demands for a three-year, $675,000 contract. Even when he settled for a one-year, $200,000 deal, the rest of the team became so unsettled that several other key players followed him into the first free-agent market after the season.

Becoming the game's highest paid player by signing a $3-million, 5-year contract with the Yankees, Jackson arrived in the Bronx in 1977 with baggage aplenty. He didn't win any friends in the clubhouse with his statement about "the magnitude of me." The reaction only worsened with the early-season publication of a Sport magazine article in which he called himself "the straw that stirs the drink," disparaging any notion that Yankees captain Thurman Munson could fill such a role. When Jackson complained that his statements had been! taken out of context by the author, a disbelieving Munson said, "For four pages?" Jackson exacerbated the situation by pointedly ignoring the extended hands of teammates after homering the night the article appeared.

In June, when Jackson casually played a bloop single into a double, Martin sent Paul Blair to replace him in rightfield. The ensuing dugout scene on national television showed Jackson screaming at Martin and the manager trying to break out of a cordon of coaches to get at Reggie.

At the 1977 World Series, it was Jackson's bat that was smoking; he hit .450 to go with his record five homers. He also set marks for the highest slugging average in a six-game Series (1.250), most total bases in a six-game Series (25), most runs (tied with 10), most runs in a game (four) and most times reaching base in a game (five).

Despite becoming the only position player to win two Series MVP awards, matters disintegrated further the following year. First, there was his desire to have a candy bar named after him. He may have wished no one had bothered when fans showered the field with free Reggie bars handed out at the Yankees' home opener.

Later in the season, amid griping to owner George Steinbrenner, slumping and being relegated to designated hitter, he defied Martin's order to swing away and bunted. Martin suspended Jackson for five games.

Reggie Jackson
Reggie means business as he comes off the field after a Yankees game.
The tension among the owner, manager and slugger reached critical mass the day Jackson returned when Martin said, "One's a born liar [Jackson]; the other's convicted [alluding to Steinbrenner's conviction for illegal campaign contributions]." The crack cost Martin his job.

Jackson wasn't all muscle and trouble, however. He often showed his baseball smarts. In Game 4 of the 1978 World Series, for example, he managed to get his rear end in front of a Bill Russell throw to first to break up a double play in unorthodox fashion. The Yankees went on to win the game in extra innings and the Series in six.

In 1980, Jackson belted 41 homers to tie for the league lead and hit .300. But in the strike-shortened 1981 season, Jackson batted just .237 with 15 homers in 94 games. This paved the way for Reggie to leave the Yankees the same way he had arrived, as a free agent.

Steinbrenner admitted his mistake in letting him walk when Jackson hit 39 homers to lead the American League as the Angels won the West in his first season (1982) with them. After that, Jackson merely played out the string for four more years with California and a final season back with Oakland, never hitting more than 27 homers or batting higher than .252.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, Jackson was the only player inducted in 1993, an appropriate situation for a player who always sought the exclusive limelight. Jackson is currently a member of the Yankees' special advisory group.

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