Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball’s Mr. October
By Dayn Perry
William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2010
List Price: $25.99
From his turbulent early years clashing with Charlie Finley in Oakland to his five-year stint stirring the drink in New York, Reggie Jackson was no stranger to the headlines and back pages of newspapers coast to coast. The Hall of Famer left a rich legacy in print, detailing his World Series exploits as well as his clubhouse battles. Dayn Perry has mined those archives to compile “Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball’s Mr. October.”
Perry, a columnist for FOXSports.com, also made extensive use of several books penned on the A’s and Yankees, including Jackson’s own autobiography, published in 1984. He had to. Jackson declined two requests to assist with the book. Subsequently, several former teammates also refused to participate. In fact, the list of people interviewed for this biography is light on players and heavy on writers and reporters who covered Jackson throughout his career.
This forced Perry to “enter Reggie’s head and presume to communicate his thoughts.” It also, however, gave him the freedom to include numerous stories that might have raised objections from the slugger, had he authorized the project. Indeed, many of the incidents discussed do not paint a flattering picture of Jackson. Jealous and self-centered, he had few friends in the Yankee clubhouse. At times Jackson almost went out of his way to alienate teammates. His attack on Thurman Munson in a Sport magazine story before he even took the field as a Yankee set the tone for his relationships with the New York catcher as well as most of his other teammates.
Jackson also battled racial issues throughout much of his career. Having grown up in a largely white community, he was sheltered from many of the problems other black players of his era had confronted all their lives. He played with white teammates and dated white girls. An assignment to the A’s Double-A affiliate in Birmingham in 1967 dropped him into one of the most racially hostile environments in America. On the field he was sensational, winning the Southern League MVP award. Off the field he was miserable, forced to live in fear, away from his white teammates.
Jackson’s preference for dating white women stirred controversy in later years, but it was consistent with his inclination toward white friends in general, which occasionally raised the ire of black teammates. They, and others in the black community, criticized him for not being black enough. He was often accused of standing up to racism only when it was safe to do so. Jackson also had a pattern of using race as a defense mechanism, adding it to the long list of reasons men like Yankee manager Billy Martin persecuted him—whether valid or not.
Martin, like Finley and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, is not portrayed in a positive light. Of course, neither is Jackson, who comes off as the biggest narcissist in the history of team sports. Many of the things he told reporters were calculated to maximize his press coverage, and his main motivation for signing with the Yankees was wanting to play in the biggest spotlight the game had to offer.
Unfortunately, Perry gets some key facts on Jackson’s free agency incorrect. He writes when Jackson and Finley were discussing his contract prior to the 1976 season, “Reggie had but five years of major-league service time, so he wouldn’t be part of the first class of free agents.” Jackson had eight years in the big leagues at that point, which Perry should have realized having recapped each of them in the previous chapters. And Jackson was indeed part of the first free agent class, which hit the market following the 1976 season. Finley knew this was coming, which was one of the reasons he dealt his star to Baltimore that spring. Perry (and his editor) also scores an error for saying owners voted to raise the mound prior to the 1969 season. The mound was lowered that year.
This is a very different book than it would have been with Jackson’s cooperation. That doesn’t mean an authorized biography would be more truthful. The Reggie we see here wasn’t averse to bending truths to fit his situation. Thirty or forty years after most of the events took place, it’s anyone’s guess how accurate a storyteller he would prove. But don’t be surprised if we find out in the coming years.
Though Perry says in his prologue “After so many years, Reggie’s life—Reggie’s ‘magnitude of me’—begs for fresh testimony,” we don’t really get that here. This is largely a rehashing of old stories. James Hirsch’s release on Willie Mays earlier this spring will likely be the Mays bio to end all Mays bios. Perry’s book, conversely, may actually serve to spawn future Jackson biographies. After all, we know how much the man enjoys the spotlight. He’s not likely to want this to go down as the last word.
James Bailey is a former associate editor at Baseball America. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.