#19 Reggie Jackson, OF
January 22, 1982 - The day the Angels signed Reggie Jackson - was one of the most exciting days in franchise history - probably the most exciting in offseason Angels history. At that moment, Jackson was the most electric and controversial player in baseball if not all of sports, as well as one of the best - combine Barry Bonds' bat and mouth with Derek Jeter's Championship-derived popularity/infamy and you might have an inkling of what Reggie's profile was.
That the Angels signed him was a victory for the franchise. The national media took the team seriously; it definitely gave them a presence that even the greatest Nolan Ryan season had never possessed.
And Reggie delivered, leading the team to the 1982 playoffs. He was integral to the 90 win 1985 season and the 1986 Division Crown, but the most fantastic point to Reggie's tenure as an Angel (besides his in-uniform cameo in The Naked Gun) was that his five year contract was paid for in the season seat sales that occurred in the week that followed his signing. His presence as an Angel probably put more young fans in the seats, currently the Angel lifers bringing their kids to the park to see Vlad. The Angels drew 2.8 million fans in Reggie's first year, leading all of baseball. That record stood as the franchise mark until the 2003 season. The Angels had to win the World Series to surpass what the excitement of signing Reggie created. The Angels were the #1 draw in the American League, attendance wise, in 4 of Reggie's 5 years and 2nd in the other.
Reggie left his mark on the Angel record books as well - he hit 123 homers (9th most) as an Angel - 2 more than Jim Edmonds in 230 fewer plate appearances. His single season record of 39 homers stood 18 years, and is still tied for 3rd place. He stands in 2nd place all-time among Angels with 18.9 ABs per HR. But he had a good eye, walking 362 times as an Angel, 10th most and just 7 behind 9th place Albie Pearson.
For a detailed picture of the man behind the candy bar, Rob McMillin of the 6-4-2 Southern California Baseball Blog has the prose...
Reggie Jackson, born Reginald Martinez Jackson but who will forever be "Mr. October" to the Yankees, could have started his career with that other New York team. The Mets had the first overall pick in 1965 -- a reward for their godawful 59-103 season the year before -- and, nervous of the fact that he had a white girlfriend, plucked catcher Steve Chilcott, who subsequently became famous as The Guy The Mets Got Instead Of Reggie Jackson. Drafted by the A's, he got a cup of coffee in 1967, spending nine years with Oakland, collecting a pair of MVP awards, both in 1973 when he won the league MVP and the World Series MVP.
Jackson helped the A's to three consecutive World Series titles, the only club in major league history to do so outside of the Yankees. Jackson publicly feuded with A's owner Charlie Finley, and with the advent of free agency, Finley knew he wouldn't be able to pay his star slugger what he could get in baseball's new salary environment. So, in April, 1976, Jackson was traded to Baltimore. Spending only one season there, he signed as a free agent with the Yankees in the following offseason, where he had by far his most storied exploits. In an interview with Sport magazine writer Robert Ward, he called himself "the straw that stirs the drink... Maybe I should say me and Munson, but he can only stir it bad." The remark immediately made Jackson as unpopular with his teammates as Thurmon Munson was liked, launching the acid pit known as the Bronx Zoo. It was, in fact, a sarcastic Munson who even gave Reggie his nickname "Mr. October" when he suggested a journalist find a better interview subject during the 1977 World Series. Jackson had earned that distinction by homering in three separate games, including three off the first pitches from three different Dodger pitchers in the deciding Game 6, homering in four consecutive at bats. His five home runs in that Series were an all-time record.
In the 1978 World Series, his homers weren't as prolific, but he played a key role in a moment no Dodger fan will ever forget in Game 4: with one out, Roy White on second and Jackson on first, Lou Piniella hit a popup to short. Jackson, who wasn't sure whether the ball would be caught and had advanced halfway to second, should have been a dead duck. Instead, he stuck out his hip, deflecting Bill Russell's throw into centerfield. Jackson should have been out on interference, and the inning over. Instead, Munson scored, despite vociferous argumentation from Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. The Yankees won the game 4-3, and ultimately the series, 4-2.
Jackson got along with George Steinbrenner, his teammates, and his managers Bob Lemon and Billy Martin about as well as he did with Charley Finley -- which is to say, unevenly at best and poorly at worst. Once Steinbrenner decided to let Jackson go, Gene Autry vigorously recruited him. It was a good fit: Reggie wanted to return to California, and so he signed a four year deal that nearly doubled his annual salary from the $588,000 the Yankees were paying him, to just over $1 million per year, including a clause that paid him fifty cents for every gate admission over 2.4 million. The team wasn't, apparently, sure why they'd signed him: "I don't know how many home runs Reggie will hit," Executive Vice President Buzzie Bavasi said, "but we're in the entertainment business and he's an entertainer. Either you love him or you hate him. The man has charisma." Home runs or no, the Angels outbid the Orioles and Braves to get him.
At his introductory press conference, Jackson said, "I don't know if Reggie Jackson will ever know total serenity," he said, talking about himself in the third person as he often did, "but I recognize that about myself and I do believe that to a greater extent than ever before, I'll be able to relax here and do my job.
"I don't want trouble. I just want to play well and reach a third World Series with a third different team. Being that lightning rod in New York, the center of attention, beat me down. There's still pressure, of course. There's the pressure of proving to the fans that I can still play and the pressure of justifying the money, but there's always pressure and I hope it stays that way. Besides, what's pressure when you've just come out of Three-Mile Island?"
Jackson, who had always been a diffident defensive player, would be playing out his age 36 season when he came to the Angels; playing time in the field would also limit his plate time. His age was a crucial reason why the Yankees decided to let him go, and the threat that his playing days were nearing an end was a serious one. Jackson had always struck out a lot, and could go through agonizing slumps, like his 1969 season in which he was hotter than Babe Ruth in 60-homer 1927 season: on July 29, he had 40 home runs and was 23 games ahead of Ruth's pace when he stopped hitting, a slump that lasted through the next year. But no such problem existed for Jackson on the Angels, at least, not at first. By way of easing his new manager's concerns, he called Gene Mauch and told him, "I don't want you to worry about what you may have heard about my attitude or my personality. I'm willing to do whatever you want me to do. I'll play right field, I'll DH. It's your call, your team. You just point me in the right direction."
Mauch was grateful, replying "I don't need to hear anything like that. I appreciate you calling me like this, but all I want you to do is play for me the way you did against me." The exchange, while much appreciated on both sides, marked a high water point for Jackson's relations with Mauch. Jackson started in 1982 mostly in right field, with Mauch often pulling him in late innings for superior defensive replacements. Reggie started to chafe when the Angels fell behind and he found himself on the bench, at one point telling Mauch, "I want to be out there when we win."
Mauch, knowing his aging star lacked the stamina to be in the field every day, replied firmly that "You've got to trust me on this. It's my way of giving you rest and keeping you strong. I want you to be right there for me in September and October, because this team is going all the way and I'm going to need you." On the Yankees, Jackson might have thrown another fit, but he uncharacteristically bit his tongue. Mauch's strategy worked: Jackson slugged 39 homers that year, his best offensive season with the Angels, and admitted, "You were right and I was wrong. You handled me perfectly."
Unfortunately, Mr. October came up short that year in the postseason, going 2-18. Despite a dominating .357/.457/.755 line in the World Series, his career numbers in League Championship Series were appreciably worse, .227/.298/.380, and as Jackson went, so did the Angels. But he could count a little schadenfreude moment to console him: on April 27, 1982, on his return to Yankee Stadium -- his first game in an Angels uniform there -- he ended a season-opening slump, scoring the winning run, and blasting a homer off Ron Guidry. Yankee fans, still smarting from the club's refusal to re-sign Jackson, opened his at bat by chanting "Reg-GIE", and ended it with, "Steinbrenner Sucks".
Jackson's 1983 was a lot like the team's 1983, spent injured. He crashed into a rightfield railing at Texas on June 21, 1983, needing a stretcher to be carried off the field. He was the seventh Halo to be put on the DL that year, a list that included Rod Carew and Doug DeCinces. Outfielder Brian Downing had predicted this in 1983: despite the star-studded lineup, it was an old team, prompting the long-time Angel to remark, "What we have here is a very talented team that can't afford to let this opportunity get away. Many of us don't have a lot of years left." Jackson only appeared in 116 games, hitting .194 while his strikeout total (140) was nearly double his number of hits (77).
By 1984, the wheels weren't off, but they were noticeably wobbly. Jackson's age and declining power production made his rich contract start to look a bit like an albatross on an 81-81 team that was headed nowhere. His 1985 -- the last hurrah of Reg-GIE -- he recovered a bit, hitting 27 homers and 27 doubles, but he was no longer Mr. October, not on a team that couldn't reliably get to the postseason, Reggie or no Reggie. In November of that year, Jackie Autry told him he should retire. "She went on to say a lot more, but I don't want to talk about it yet," he said. "I don't want to knock the Autrys. I still have a sweet spot for Gene Autry and I respect Gene Mauch, but I told her, 'If that's the way you feel, then you should move me elsewhere.'"
It was a discussion that both Autrys denied ever having with him, though Gene was quoted to say that "I have kept my commitment to Reggie, just as I kept it to Carew. I was fair to both. If Reggie wants a contract for 1987, he has to show me first he can play in 1986. I'm through giving some of these 40-year-old players another year at their option." Autry, who had given millions to marquee players over the years, chafed under the team's inability to get results from his expenditures. While Autry knew the value of a name, he also knew Jackson's star power was fading: rookie Wally Joyner was now the most popular Angel, voted onto the All Star team as a starter, while Jackson was overlooked for the second year in a row. The team let Jackson go to free agency that year following yet another miserable postseason performance in which he hit .192; he signed with the A's as the starting DH, making a final victory lap with the team he first came up with in 1987. He went into the Hall of Fame in 1993 on the first ballot with 94% of the votes.