Reggie Jackson, "Mr. October"
On October 18, 1977, Reggie Jackson knocked 3 home runs in the 6th game of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, catapulting the New York Yankees to their first title in 15 years. Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner had bought the struggling franchise from CBS just a few years earlier and built the club into pennant contenders, but a national title still eluded the team. The acquisition of Reggie Jackson would help land the 'Bronx Bombers' two consecutive World Series championships and reignite their storied past.
In a kaleidoscopic summer that saw the Big Apple beset by the “Son of Sam” murders, a power blackout and a fiscal crisis, the Yankee slugger lit up the Bronx with all the hopes and dreams of a city in despair. Figuratively and literally, the Bronx was on fire. In Game 2 of the World Series, which took place at Yankee Stadium, the television crew cut to a live aerial shot of a nearby building that was engulfed in flames. The scene was eventually spun into the ubiquitous phrase “Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning”, and a book that was released 30 years later with the namesake title.
Jackson joined the pin-striped club after spending 9 years with the Oakland Athletics where he built his reputation as a post-season clutch hitter. A four-sport varsity athlete in high school, he grew up north of Philadelphia before going off to Arizona State on a football scholarship. Still wearing his football gear one day after practice, he impressed the baseball coach on a casual try-out by hitting 3 home runs on 5 at bats. The talented club handler would switch to baseball from football after his freshman year and join the Kansas City Athletics following his sophomore year.
Jackson was one of the young players that owner Charles Finley carried off to Oakland when the team moved from Kansas City in 1968. An offensive producer with a restive disposition, the left-handed thrower and hitter ended up tangling with Finley over his salary in 1969 after delivering 47 home runs, 118 RBI, 123 runs and a .608 slugging percentage. He also sparred verbally with Dick Williams over his dictatorial management style and later engaged in a brawl with fellow teammate Billy North in the locker room before a game at Tiger Stadium. Despite the overall dysfunctional relationships inside the A’s clubhouse, the team won three consecutive national championships in 1972, 1973 and 1974. Jackson emerged from the 1973 season as the American League MVP and followed up with a World Series MVP in a hard-fought seven-game series against the Mets. His two-run blast in the decisive match helped seal the final victory.
The bat-swinging star was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1976 but was then offered a 5-year, $3 million deal by George Steinbrenner to join the New York Yankees, becoming the highest paid player in Major League Baseball. After losing the Fall Classic to the Cincinnati Reds in 1976, the autocratic baseball executive picked up the West Coast slugger to bolster his roster. Similar to his tenure in Oakland, Jackson’s five seasons in New York would be fraught with ego clashes and team friction, highlighted by back-to-back championships.
It didn't help the team's camaraderie when Jackson referred to himself as the “straw that stirs the drink” in the Yankees ball club. After winning the 1978 World Series, he also had a candy bar named after him called the ”Reggie”. The internal dynamics of the team always seemed to be strained. In a summer header against the Red Sox, Yankees Manager Billy Martin removed Jackson from the field for failing to hustle for a ball. Following a heated argument in the dugout, Martin lunged at Jackson but was restrained by the Yankees coaching staff. The entire scene was captured live on TV and only added to the jeering exuberance of fans at Boston's Fenway Park.
It was Thurman Munson, Yankees catcher and captain, who gave Jackson his nickname “Mr. October” in an off-the-cuff remark to a reporter. Jackson drove five home runs in the 1977 World Series, three of which came in the clincher Game 6. The batting virtuoso became the first player to hit three balls out of the park in a single World Series game since Babe Ruth achieved the feat in 1928 (and 1926). Jackson’s performance in the final match electrified the stadium. Stepping up to the plate in the 8th inning after hitting his first two homers, the crowd of 56,000 chanted “REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE!” and was rewarded with a third launch that sent the ball 475 feet into the middle-section of the stands. Once the game was over, a mob of fans stormed the field in celebration, prompting Jackson to take off in full-speed towards the Yankees clubhouse, dodging and body-checking everyone in his path like a football linebacker.
All three of Jackson’s blasts came off the first pitch from three different hurlers: starter Burt Hooton (4th inning), reliever Elias Sosa (5th inning), and reliever Charlie Hough (8th inning). Only two days earlier, in Game 5 of the series, Jackson belted a homer off the first throw of another Dodgers starting pitcher, Don Sutton (8th inning). Facing Los Angeles again at the 1978 World Series, Jackson would rip two homers, including one in Game 6 that helped propel the Yankees to their second straight win and 21st overall in franchise history. New York repeated the 4-2 winning score over their West Coast adversaries.
After leaving the Yankees in 1981, Jackson joined the California Angels for a 5-year stint. By the end of his playing days, his World Series batting average bested his career stat by 95 points, .357 compared to .262, cementing the clutch hitter's well- deserved nickname of “Mr. October”. Jackson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993 with a 94% vote in the first ballot.
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