My birthplace of Abington, Pa., and my hometown of Wyncote, Pa. both small towns where everyone knew each other. A place where you could borrow sugar and eggs from the neighbor and where milk was delivered on the front porch. A corner grocery store, gas station, and a drug store with a soda fountain and scoops of ice cream, cherry sodas, comic books and root beer floats, all these places were owned by neighborhood families, the Swartz’s, The Kelso’s, the Bradshaw’s, and Fleisher’s. We walked to school in summer and winter through snow and rain, and whistled for my dog ‘Tony’ after baseball, basketball and football practice. Neighborhood softball games in our backyard, and out of play was Ms Gladys’ garden who lived behind us. Jr. High school was then 7th-9th grade. I played all 3 sports there. I enjoyed it even though we only had a 6-8 game football schedule and a 12 game baseball season.Believe it or not I hit .800 in Jr. High one season. This was something like 16 for 20 ab’s. Got a few walks in there. At the time I was a pitcher because I threw the hardest and also played some 1st base. Of course I had the long ball going back then too.
From Little League, Jr. High, Babe Ruth, American Legion to High School I continued to play first base, pitched, and some center field. I was a better football player than baseball player and mixed in basketball, Yes I could Dunk and 2 hands too, and could fill up the basket. I ran some track, the 100 yard dash, some relays and participated in the high jump. My best high jump was about 6’3?, not bad for a 5’10?guy eh? I was scouted by a lot of teams and could have signed to play professional after high school. My best sport at the time was football which I favored, but my Dad, Martinez C. Jackson wanted me to go to college to get an education. Dad always said, Reggie, if you get an education, no one can ever take that away from you, you’ll always be able to make a living and provide for your family, so you’re going to go to college! If you can get a scholarship with your sports skills that would help ‘ole’ dad and mom.
I got better with practice and games year around, with my dad always watching and helping me after work. My big brother ‘Joe’ was always encouraging me, before he went to join the Air force, he taught me about discipline and organization. It has stuck with me my whole life.
Arizona State University
After looking over lots of football scholarships, somewhere around 75, it was off to the desert and Arizona State University in Tempe Az. There I played for the legendary Frank Kush, who was as tough as an Arizona Diamondback, not a baseball Diamondback, a real one right from The Desert and its 100 degree heat. This guy I thought ate cactus for breakfast. However, in the long run his mental and physical toughness that he taught was just what I needed to become a successful professional. One of my all time memories as a scholarship athlete was that we could eat in our own cafeteria, and eat all we could! I tried everyday for weeks to be on a ‘see-food’ diet and eat everything in the room. On Saturdays we had steak before the game and I couldn’t believe they made steaks 2? thick. The only steak I ever saw was the minute steaks my dad brought home after work from the A&P or Acme stores that took 2 minutes to cook.
On a bet, ($5) I tried out for the baseball team and made it. I really wanted to get out of spring football and my dad wanted me to play baseball. Playing for Bobby Winkles a great disciplinarian, was tough. He taught me to hustle all the time if you didn’t, he’d run you until you dropped, which he did to me on a few occasions. I learned to bust my butt early and make sure he approved my effort. It helped me to show my skills to the numerous scouts that always came around the talent that Arizona State’s great baseball programs had.
I got a great story for ya about my college baseball experience, I’m the 1st black ever on the Team!!!
We’re going on a road trip to play New Mexico in Albuquerque. The team voted, with me outside waiting while they decided who would have to room with me. Nice eh?
Oh well the rest is all upside! As the story goes ‘the rest is history’
Becoming a Pro, My first look at Charlie Finley
The minor leagues were a real adventure. From my courting by Charlie Finley at his home in La Porte, Indiana. Breakfast at his house, with Charlie O doing the cooking. I had 6 eggs, steak, bacon, ham, sausage, pork chops, orange juice, apple juice, milk, biscuits, fruit, and to top it all off, a cantaloupe with a vanilla ice cream scoop in the center. I was living it up!
Charlie was in charge of everything, his family, the food, me, my dad, and everything else that was happening. We then talked about a bonus of $75,000 a new car and 8 semesters of college that he would pay $4,000 additional per semester if I would continue to go back to school and finish my education, that was it, I couldn’t wait to sign. My dad wanted me to wait until tomorrow to make sure we didn’t make any mistakes. Funny as it may sound, my dad probably had about $1000 to his name counting what he had in the bank, his pocket, and what was under the mattress. My signing in Kansas City was a dream come true and I couldn’t wait to get in uniform and become a professional. To this day I like to wait a day on most financial decisions.
Oooh, I almost forgot my 1st new car with my signing. A ‘typical me’ car. 1967 Pontiac Catalina, with a 421cu. inch 375 hp engine, a 2dr really cool ride, a 4spd transmission, Burgundy with a black vinyl top and of course an aftermarket 4 track stereo with some brand new tapes by my boys, the 4 Tops, The Ojays and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. I was ‘stylin’ my man…
I immediately went out and bought 3 nice cardigan sweaters, 3 pair Sansabelt slacks and a brand new pair of Bass Weegun loafers. I was da man!!
I had me a new ride, with some tunes, some new ‘rags’ (clothes), and a couple hundred bucks in my pocket in 10s and 20s, to make it look big when I flashed my roll.
My Minor League Time -Lewiston Idaho, Modesto Ca, and Birmingham Alabama.
I was in Lewiston, Idaho 2 weeks. I played a few other places, Tri-Cities also in Washington, Yakima Wash, Spokane Washington, and a couple more obscure places. I sure had fun though. I can remember it being a wintery couple of weeks in June. It even snowed during a game in Yakima. I remember that because I hit a homer in a snow storm and 30 degrees.
After a couple weeks there, it was off to Modesto, CA to play for the Modesto Reds. The meal money was going to jump from $2.00 a day to $3.00 per. I could now eat in a Hofbrau, have corn beef and cabbage, and choices for dessert. Man, I was living, in the Golden State…
Our manager was a guy named John Nierhas. He was a great guy and I loved playing for him. Playing there was a blast. We had a great team, a complete scoring machine! There I met a couple of my great friends of today, Joe Rudi who had just married his high school sweetheart Sharon, awesome guy and a great wife. They still are dear friends and live in Oregon. At the time Joe was from Modesto and playing for the Modesto Reds, for those 2 months I had a great time.
I had the good fortune of playing with Dave Duncan who is a still a good friend, Dave smashed 46 hr’s that year as our catcher, he was from San Diego CA. Unfortunately, I missed 3 weeks with a fractured hand.
I remember Larry Wilson our 1st baseman who led the league with 120 plus rbi’s and had 20+ hrs, and the great Rollie Fingers, a future HOFer. We destroyed teams and won our division by more than 10 games. I had a great time there playing 51 games driving in 60 runs, hitting 21 homers and hitting .299, I did strike out too much though. That of course never stopped.
From there I went Double AA in 1967 to play in Birmingham Ala.
The Birmingham A’s were in Charlie Finley’s hometown. Our General Mgr was Paul Bryant the son of the legendary Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant. I had a good year there, hit. 293 led the league with 17 triples and had 18hrs, the league leader had 19 Stan Woljcak, the league batting champion hit .295
In June of 1967 I was called up to the Big Leagues to play for the Kansas City A’s. My dad flew down from Philadelphia and helped me drive my car to Kansas City. After being there for a little over 3 weeks and not doing very well I was sent back to the minors again to Birmingham.
That was a tough trip for me. I met the team in Indianapolis, Indiana. The manager John McNamara talked with me and said, ‘just go out and play the way you know how and you’ll be back in the Big Leagues in a month or so’. I tripled my first time up and was on my way back to the ‘Show’.
On the phone was my Dad saying, ‘work hard and sooner or later you’ll be back up there in the big time where you belong’. Of course I thought my dad was the law.
Those conversations with Dad and John McNamara that day were huge in my career.
I was called up to the Big Leagues again in early September after the Dixie Series. The 2 best Double AA teams are matched in a best of 5 series, Albuquerque Dodgers vs. the Birmington A’s we won that series which was cool, I wanna say we won 3 games to 1. Hmmm I didn’t get a ring though. After the series I was called up to the meet the Kansas A’s major league team in Anaheim played right field. I was given the #9 and hit my first career HR off John O’Donohue a lefty, pitching for the California Angels Sept. 17, 1967. Check that date, its crazy, because in 1984 while playing for the Ca. Angels on Sept 17th I hit HR #500 off Bud Black a lefty, and he was pitching for the Kansas City Royals in the same stadium I hit one in the same spot in right center field off of a fast ball thrown by Bud Black another lefty. Go figure !!!
My bonus was a Panasonic TV. Oh by the way, it was Color!!!
Welcome to the Bigs
From the Kansas City A’s in 1967 to the Oakland A’s in 1968, those crazy times in Oakland with the ‘Mustache Gang’, Charlie ‘O’, Bob Kennedy, my first manager, and Oakland’s first Big League team in ‘1968. I hit .251 29hr’s and 170 k’s, In 1969 for Hank Bauer’s A’s I hit 47 hr’s, and 118rbi’s. For John McNamara who managed me again in 1970 I had a bad season with 23 homers and after a 6 week long holdout over a contract dispute with Charlie Finley who was legendary on being tight. He was tighter than the nuts and bolts on the Golden Gate Bridge.
In 1971 he signs me to a contract after being 2nd in the league in hrs with 32 and 277avg, 80 rbi’s and an All Star selection. After we agree to a $55,000 deal, an $8,000 raise on my contract of 1971 he looks at me and said, ‘now Reggie don’t tell anyone about our deal’.
I say, ‘don’t worry Mr. Finley I won’t, cause I’m just as embarrassed about it as you are’ Dick Williams was the manager in’71,’72, and the’73 World Championships, an AL MVP Award and a WS MVP award in ’73, all with
Captain Sal Bando, HOFer, Jim Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman, Bert Campaneris, John Blue Moon Odom, 72 WS MVP Gene Tenace, Paul Lindblad, Dick Green, Billy North and a slew of great guys that came through Oakland as we played championship baseball.
Felipe Alou, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Mudcat Grant, Matty Alou, Jesus Alou and many more it was a blast the whole ride. Playing baseball in Oakland in the 70’s, was what baseball was all about. I’m very proud of that era and those teams. I believe that the ’72’73’74 teams are officially recognized as Dynasty teams, because of winning three WS Championships in a row. I truly loved it, as well as the times I had there.
After 8 great years in Oakland and 3 World Championships with family and friends. The times in baseball were about to make a change that would financially impact and change the game forever. The Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith, Dave McNally court rulings pertaining to Free Agency and the 6yr Free Agent Rule allowing players to become free agents, and players with 2 years of service becoming Arbitration eligible.
I was traded to the Baltimore Orioles along with Ken Holtzman and Bill Van Bommel for Don Baylor, Mike Torrez and a couple others in the spring of 1976, oh by the way, after leading the American League in HRs again with 36 and driving in 105 RBIs. I was devastated; I’d been with the A’s since I signed at 20 yrs old. I was leaving a family; I was now 28 and didn’t know anything else but the A’s. Joe Rudi, Dave Duncan, Vida Blue, Campy, Sal and the others. It took me a few weeks to get to Baltimore. I held out for a couple weeks before going to Baltimore for a raise to a $200,000 annual salary.
I’d been cut in salary by Charlie because he was trading me and I wasn’t going to be playing for the A’s. So I received a 20% cut. After the trade I went to Hawaii to hang out for a few days, then to Arizona to work out with the Arizona State team and basically laid low while my agent Gary Walker talked to the General Manager Hank Peters about a contract for me that would approach $200k per Yr. After a couple weeks of negotiations with the Orioles general manager Hank Peters, I signed for $190,000 which at the time was 2nd highest in baseball to Dick Allen with the Chicago White Sox. Dick was earning $200,000. I agreed on the night of May 3rd. flew to Baltimore the 4th, took batting practice after a night game. Started and played the next day. So much for Spring Training eh?.
I had a decent year, after missing the first month. A .277 avg, 27hrs, 84runs scored 91 Rbi’s and 28 steals. For the record I offered the Orioles this deal to stay; 5 years for $1,250,000; Plus a Jackson Family Support Bonus.
$250,000 per yr. to me, $20,000 per yr. for the five years to my mom and $30,000 per year to my Dad. The total was $1,500,000 for the 5 yrs. or $300,000 per yr. They said no. I said bye! bye!
The New York Yankees
The Big Apple, 5th Ave, Park Ave, Madison, So Ho No Ho, Greenwich, Broadway Action, Candy, Cash, a Rolls, models, Ladies and all the other Gingerbread that goes with New York.
My times with the Yankees are special to me, my family and friends.
Although I spent more time, 9 yrs, in Oakland and won more World Championships there, 3 New York impacted my life and career the most. It has become my second home, New York is ‘Big’ and no one, anywhere, can deny that when it happens in New York City, ‘it doesn’t get any bigger’, can’t.
It’s Yankee Stadium and The Babe, The Iron Horse, and Joe D, the Yankee Clipper, Mickey Mantle The Mick’, to Whitey Ford, The Chairman of the Board, Yogi, Mr. October, Thurman, ‘Louisiana Lightning’, to Derek, Mariano, ‘the Sandman’ and Jorge, to the next Yankee great, is it Arod, CC or AJ?
The Big Apple has its Yankees, 26 time World Champions with 39 American League Pennants a team that has set the standard for all to aspire to become.
It’s a place without equal, home runs and perfect games, plaques and Monument Park. It’s a team that changes all that get a chance to play there and wear the pinstripes.
It has been a privilege to be a part of their history. Because when you define the History of the Yankees it starts with winning, and ends with winning.
If you want to compete with the best in the history of the game it’s the comparison of the history of the Bronx Bombers that has set the standard. To be included in the fraternity that is comprised of Monument Park, retired numbers, its championships and greatest moments, is something I honor.
The ‘Greatest’ have played there, and with the utmost respect to Bill Russell and Red Auerbachs Celtics and 11 World Championships, The Montreal Canadiens, Gretzky’s Oilers, Michael Jordan’s Bulls, The Rooney’s Steelers, Lombardi’s Packers, Jerry Buss’s LA Lakers with Magic, Kareem, Big Game James, Jerry West, Chamberlain, Baylor, Riley, Shaq, Kobie, and Jackson, Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson’s ‘Boys’, it’s the Yankees that have created a legacy that has become the standard in sport with the most World Championships. The closest in baseball in World Championships is the 10, by the St Louis Cardinals.
My 5 years there was some of the best times in my life, but I gotta tell ya’ I earned them.
‘The Straw that stirs the drink’ (We can talk about that on the Yankee pages within my site.) Man it was great, and man it was tough. I remember my first game in the stadium we beat the Milwaukee Brewers, I got 2 hits in 4 trips. I remember being in the front page of the New York Times, I thought that was very cool. I started off decent, but as we all have read and heard a 1000 stories about Billy (Martin) ‘the kid’ and I didn’t hit it off.
It got ugly real fast and Billy I never were a fit. I had a tumultuous first year and had no idea what the press had in store for me. The whole situation drove me crazy. I drove to the ballpark some days deeply saddened, some days a ball of nerves, and some days not knowing whether I was coming or going. Believe me; I didn’t know whether I was up or down! The article in Sport Magazine in early April, May of 1977 was a killer for me as it destroyed any chance of Thurman Munson, our team captain, and fan favorite of me having a relationship together. Man that was one tough season emotionally. It was brutal at times and was sometimes unbearable, mentally and emotionally. At times it was hell.
Though it was tough and a nightmare at times I wouldn’t trade it for anything, While the experience was at times brutal. The rewards I received by my successes in New York far out shined any place I’d ever been. As we all know there’s only 1 NY.
Gotta tell you this little ‘tid bit’…
I mentioned to Thurman that I was misquoted. He looks at me with a puzzled look and says, for ‘3000 words!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????’
The California Angels
I went to the California Angels in Anaheim to play my next 5 years and enjoyed it.
The only bad part of going to the California Angels was leaving the New York Yankees. Before the 1981 season the Yanks signed Dave Winfield to a 10 year $20 million contract. At the time and I was in the last year of my 5 year $3 million deal. Just like when I was with the A’s and Free Agency was coming I did not want to leave the team, my home in NY, friends and family that were close again, I was born in Pa. and my dad could come and see me play anytime he wanted. Most of my family was living in Philadelphia and Baltimore and I enjoyed that closeness. I also had gotten very comfortable in the city and had many friendships there that I enjoyed. However, I was not offered a contract to sign again with the Yankees and when they signed Jerry Mumphry to a $3,500,000 5 year deal I was jolted and thought that was a sign that I would not be signed back to the team.
One of my closest friends, Bill Bertucio said to me in NY as we got ready to play the Red Sox in September that the signing of Mumphry meant that I was a ‘goner’.
I did not want to believe him and had always felt that my relationship with George S. would over ride the hear say that I would not be offered a contract to return. It hit hard when I realized that the Yanks had a meeting and that our hitting coach at the time, Charlie Lau, thought that I had too muscular of a body and that my career was over. In spite of the strong argument that our talent scout Gene Michael put up that the team would miss my left handed power and clutch hitting.
Oh well, the next year proved that Gene was right as I led the league in HRs with 39 tying with Milwaukee’s Gorman Thomas. A couple years later in a TV interview ‘The Boss’ George Steinbrenner admitted letting me go was one of his biggest regrets.
In Anaheim I really enjoyed myself. Playing in Southern Ca, was close to my Berkeley home, and that was enjoyable. We had a great team with lots of All Star players, Rod Carew, Don Baylor, Fred Lynn, Bobby Grich, Tommy John and a few others. We had an outstanding no-nonsense manager in Gene Mauch a great Old School General Manager Buzzie Buvasi and a beloved owner in ‘the Cowboy’ Gene Autry. I had a great relationship with Buzzie from my past, as a visiting player we talked all the time. Gene Autry was a great person that had a reputation of treating his players as if they were family. I quickly became a son. I’m no dummy!
We had a great offense, but not enough pitching or a closer to shut the game down, like when we had Rollie in Oakland, Sparky or Goose in NY to win American League pennants. We were favored to win, but after leading the playoffs 2-1 we traveled to Milwaukee and lost the final 2 games and the series because we didn’t have enough pitching. Gene Mauch pitched Tommy John on 2 days rest over a rested Ken Forsch and we got whipped. I enjoyed my 5 years there and had a great contract. I was the first player in decades, I think since Ruth to have an attendance clause in my contract. It worked and started at 2,000,000 people. In 1982 we set an American League record that season with 2,800,000+ in attendance, I made a nice bonus.
We played well the rest of the years except for 1983 we had a terrible season. We finally returned to the playoffs again in 1986, won our Division, but again lost in the playoffs for the AL pennant to Boston after leading the series 3 games to 1, We lost 3 in a row. However I did have a total of 11 post season playoff opportunities while getting into 6 World Series and winning 5. Great teams with great players, give you an opportunity to play in the postseason.
I was fortunate to have played with great organizations that had leadership and the ownership to make the commitment to winning. It takes ownership to start and implement it as well as getting the right people to facilitate winning.
I had 5 good years there with 124 homers and 2 Division Championships.
I still own a home in Southern CA.
My Last Year 1987 Oakland A’s
This was an interesting and enjoyable season. Management from the Angels talked to me and gave me a heads up that I would not be invited back to the team for the 1987 season but, that they had heard that the A’s were interested in me as an outfielder DH. They asked about releasing me or was I going to retire? I said I’ll probably try to work out a deal with the A’s to play 1 more year. They said they’d release me to give me the freedom to do a deal. I was excited to play one more year, and to do it in my hometown was enticing. I had family, a home, friends, and my hobby of Car Collecting was just a few blocks away from my house. Dude, I was jazzed, the payday didn’t really matter. Just like today’s’ game right?
I did make a great deal with the A’s or I should say my attorney did, Steve Kay of Oakland, San Francisco. He and his partner, Ed Blum got real creative with my last contract. I mentioned to them my attendance clause with the Angels and they did a similar deal with the A’s.
The ownership of the A’s was awesome. The Levi Strauss/Haas Family, I have to say I really enjoyed meeting and developing a friendship with the Haas family, Walter Sr. his wife and Wally Jr. and his family, they were and still are the absolute best people I or you ever want to meet.
They originally bought the team to keep it in Oakland for the community. Their whole focus was to win games and to have the A’s be a positive focal point for the community.
I really enjoyed playing my last year for them in Oakland in front of family friends and my hometown fans. I had plenty to look forward to; Tony LaRussa was the manager and Dave Duncan the pitching coach, 2 players I’d played with in the A’s organization since turning pro. From the minor leagues, Modesto and Birmingham. When I was beginning as a ‘rookie’ both Dave and Tony were teammates and friends, so my last year was great, I enjoyed everyday as I wound down my career of 20+ seasons.
Here’s a great story!
I remember a day in spring training when Tony was having a meeting with the everyday players to discuss offensive strategy. Ok here’s the setting; He’s addressing the team and talking about playing the game the ‘right way’ the ‘professional way’ of winning games. Now you gotta know Tony the manager, he’s all business in uniform and always thinking about his players, the opposition, and how he’s going to help his team win a game. He’s leading the meeting in his usual no-nonsense way. He’s talking about hitting with men in scoring position, and wants to involve some of his players that have past success in driving in runs. Listening to him, is Carney Lansford, who has won a batting title, Jose Canseco, 1986 Rookie of The year, Mark McGwire getting ready to start his career, by hitting 49 hr’s and yours truly. He looks around to find someone to get involved in the discussion. He calls on me and asks me, Reggie, you have 500+ hr’s, 1600+ rbi’s can you explain to the younger players what you do differently with men in scoring position?
I pause and off the top of my head deliver one of my all timers. I say, Well Skipper, (managers are respectfully called Skipper of the Ship,) I play it about the same, cause when I’m hittin’ and there’s nobody on base I still feel like there’s a man in scoring position!!!
A true ‘Reggie Moment’, we all cracked up and even tough guy Tony did too.
Anyway I had a great time my last year in the game.
During my last season as we went around the league teams and the media wanted talk to me about leaving the game. To be honest with you I wanted to play another year or two but couldn’t get with it mentally. I also got a couple of injuries that just wouldn’t heal. A pulled hamstring and had a sore tendon in my wrist. I believe because of age, I was 40 yrs old and it was taking 6-8 weeks for a 3-4 week injury to heal. I could have hung on, but I was just starting to feel that I was a piece of the past and playing with McGwire and Canseco when they were 23 & 24 yrs old was speaking clearly to me. I was starting to understand the meaning of the signs in the clubhouse, Exit, and No Visitors allowed. I was getting to the time where I needed to read the signs. I had a great ride and as they say in Disneyland I had an E ticket! Or one that lets you ride free on all the rides as long as you want
Cooperstown – The Final Stop
Loving the game came to me from my dad and brother Joe, they were always willing to help me with my game. Mostly by hitting balls or organizing neighborhood games in our backyard.
I’ve always felt like a fan that got the chance to play in the big leagues. I remember playing Little League in Glenside, PA. My dad watching me play after work from the outfield so that he wouldn’t be a distraction to the team or me.
Playing at school, elementary, Junior High and High School. I pitched and played some first base, a little outfield but I was a hitter at a young age with power.
I remember having so many great times playing games, pitching and playing first base or the outfield. I could smash as a kid.
I remember the day I dreamed to play in the big leagues.
The local Little League had an All Star team that was organized by our local area teams in the State of Pennsylvania, with the best players from the eastern part of the state. We were to play an All Star team from the State of Florida and a couple other southern states in a 3 Game Series at our local Little League field, Glenside Park a suburb of Philadelphia. I was selected to the team and was the best player on the team, but was told that although I was on the team I probably wouldn’t play because of the fear of an altercation that may occur with a slide into one of the bases or something of that nature that may trigger an incident or fight because I was ‘colored’ and the team we were playing was from below the Mason Dixon line. It was tough to hear that and I did not understand, I was 12 years old. I didn’t play the first two games, but was inserted to pinch hit in the last inning with 2 out and our team losing. I remember being scared and not knowing what to do or think. I was frozen at the plate and took 3 straight strikes for the final out. I was crying after my at bat. I remember my dad feeling worse than I did at the time. He asked me if I wanted a ride home, I declined. I wanted to walk, think and cry alone. My dad followed me in his work-truck that had the lettering, ‘Greenwood Dry Cleaners’ TU 4-6425 that was our phone number on the side written in red and white paint. He drove along and circled the neighborhood until I got home always staying behind me. I remember talking to myself, repeating ‘I wanna be a big leaguer’ over and over until I got home.
I lived a dream. I was a fan that dreamed about playing in the same ballpark that had Willie Mays on the field and I remember the day it happened.
It was in Phoenix, Arizona, Municipal Stadium when I saw Willie Mays, no. 24 for the first time. He was always my favorite. I would get up in the morning before going to school and look for the West Coast box scores in the Philadelphia Bulletin our local newspaper, which most times had only the first 2 or 3 at bats printed because of the EST and PST time difference. It changed my attitude going to school if Willie had gotten a hit or hit a homer.
Now I was in his presence on the same field and he was ‘the show’. He warmed up cool, ran cool, threw the ball cool, he had the basket catch and he wore his uniform ‘tailor made’ I was excited to see him play and just run on the field. I got caught up in watching him play as I’m sure all players did the same, like watching Jordan do his thing with his unmatched style. Willie was Willie. I loved it. I then got a comment from Willie I’ll never forget. Someone had told Willie I wanted to meet him and he says to me, ‘Reggie Jackson, I’ve heard about you.’ That’s all I remember, I was done……., and now ready to star in my own movie.
The next 21 seasons were all I could have hoped them to be ….Thank you Willie you were then and since, always the idol I hoped you to be. I still call him a few times a year and look forward to seeing him at the HOF or wherever. I make sure I call him every birthday.
After almost 21 seasons and 5 years I was elected to the Baseball Hall Of Fame. It happened Jan 6th, 1993 in Carlsbad Ca. in my office while working for the The Upper Deck Co. I was in my office with friends and family when the President of the Baseball Writers Association, Jack Lang called to congratulate me on being elected to The Baseball Hall Of Fame. I was ecstatic, I kept thinking what would I do if the phone doesn’t ring? Well it did, just a couple minutes after 1 pm EST. He said I was in on the first ballot and that I’d received one of the highest voting percentages in history. I never thought I’d be one of the highest vote receivers. It was unreal!
The Hall of Fame was a great time for me, my family and friends. My dad got be the focal point of the town that entire week. Every time I went by the Otesaga Hotel, the headquarters hotel in the village, he was holding court in the lobby about his son.
Talking about how he’d taught me everything. He spoke to everyone, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Stan The Man Musial, Billy Williams, Willie McCovey, Joe Morgan, Tom Seaver, Warren Spahn, Bob Feller, George Steinbrenner, Charlie O’Finley, he was the Mayor for the week. He spoke to all and anyone else that would listen. It was easy to see where I got my gift of gab.
The last week of July of every year is the date for the ceremony. August 1, 1993, a date I’ll always remember. My mom and dad were together for the first time since, Nov 30th 1976 in New York the day I signed with the Yankees. I remember how cool it was to see both of them being proud and happy together for the first time since I could remember.
So that week was more than special to me. It was really cool to see all the people that were with me along the way of my 40 year journey to Cooperstown, NY. People, from my hometown when I was a kid 10 years old, junior high and high school.
People I’d gone to college with and people I’d played ball with along the way in the minor leagues. All part of my life as well as the journey to the Hall of Fame, this small remote village that is home to Baseballs Hall of Fame. It’s an awesome place in nowhere, NY but it’s the ‘Mecca’ of Baseball and to be enshrined there with the other greats of the game is a dream that can not be planned. I don’t know how one gets there. It just happens over a 10-15 year stretch of great play that makes an imprint or carves your DNA on the game like no other. You must dominate your position for a period of a decade or more to be considered for enshrinement into Baseballs Hall of Fame. It’s something that no player plans because he can’t. It’s too far ahead of you, too difficult to do day after day for a decade or more. No one knows how their career will go, if you’ll get injured or whatever may happen. No one knows. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Denton Cy Young, Grover Cleveland Alexander Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, Say Hey Willie, Hammerin’ Hank, Joe D, Mickey, Stan the Man, Gibson, Koufax, Bench, Seaver and Morgan. Wow,,,………. How did I get to be included into this great corral with the greatest in the history of the game? When you get the call that you’ve been elected into the Hall of Fame it’s unbelievable and when you’re a fan as I was, it’s ‘livin’ the dream.’
The Hall of Fame is truly something special and I’m proud of being called a Hall Of Famer. But lets remember, when you get in you are voted in by a panel of sports writers that supposedly saw you play. The Hall of fame is the ultimate honor you can receive as a player, and I admire those that are in this cathedral. However, I have to add that there are Hall of Fame people that are some great players that aren’t in this Hall of Fame of baseball yet, for me
they are,……….. Jack Morris the best pitcher of the era I was part of, day in and day out, right there with, Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter and a few others. He wasn’t as glamorous, but he was one of the great pitchers of my era.
Tommy John one of the 5 most prolific Lefthanders in the history of the game.
I never faced Lee Smith, but no doubt he’s a Hall of Famer.
That’s my story.