- Programming note: Tune in to "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" on Friday, Oct. 23 at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.
As a member of the Oakland A’s, he puffed out his chest and boasted, for all to hear, that if he played in New York, they’d name a candy bar after him. Five years later, he was a Yankee. And there was, shortly thereafter, a candy bar bearing his name and swing-from-the-heels likeness.
Reggie Jackson, whose postseason exploits earned him the nickname “Mr. October,” concedes that, yes, he enjoyed being The Man and didn’t much mind if folks knew it.
There was, he says, a line he was unwilling to cross that now, 40 years later, has become a topic of debate. How to enjoy the game without disrespecting it? It is one thing for a player to attract attention through unique characteristics, and boy did Reggie have them, quite another for youngsters to shove their greatness in the face of opponents.
A guest on “Race in America: A Candid Conversation,” Friday night on NBC Sports Bay Area, Jackson believes the impudently exultant ways of such young stars as Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. and San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr., to name two, can be scaled back without losing the desired oomph.
“I do admire the talent. Fernando Tatis, great admiration,” Jackson says. “But there’s a line that needs to be drawn, or a conversation that needs to be had.
“I get your excitement. I get your enthusiasm. And there’s nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with jumping and up and down and doing cheetah backflips when you hit a home run in the (World) Series.
“But there are times when you want to respect the pain of the opposition. And you want to have the class of being a great champion.”
This isn’t exactly a 74-year-old Hall of Famer bellowing for the youngster to “get off my lawn.” Coming from Reggie, it sounds more like fatherly advice.
Jackson hit the big leagues in 1967, when rosters were at their most diverse – and some insist, with merit, their most spectacular. Any list of the 50 greatest players of all time would include at least a dozen players who graced All-Star teams in the 1960s and ‘70s.
If a batter got too full of himself, Bob Gibson would let him know. Batters knew better. Some of today’s batters don’t mind getting under the skin of opposing pitchers and managers.
“I think that there’s a way of passing on how you should act,” Jackson says. “The players that I admired and played against, Mays, Aaron, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Gibson, Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra. (There was) the appreciation, the understanding and the gratefulness they had for the game.
“I don’t like the over-exuberance. I don’t think that’s the way of showing your energy.”
Me, personally, I welcome the exuberance. I’ve always felt baseball, postseason celebrations aside, was too priggish to embrace overt exhibitions of joy. Reggie pimped a home run or two on his way to 563. He is a huge fan of Rickey Henderson, whose unique style rubbed even some of his teammates the wrong way.
It’s the way of the game. Choreographed dances are for football players. Blowing kisses to the crowd is for a track superstar like Usain Bolt. Giggling, wiggling and gesturing is for basketball players. How popular would Stephen Curry be if he had the countenance of, say, Kawhi Leonard?
Baseball, though, is different. There are rules of decorum and they can get tricky because so many of them are unwritten.
“I hit a home run, I ran around the bases, I had my own little style, if you will,” Jackson says. “But I didn’t linger. I didn’t point. I didn’t flip things up. I styled and showed off and was a hot dog as good as anybody. But I didn’t . . .
“Rickey Henderson. Rickey Henderson! There was no better hot dog than Rickey. But he didn’t point at the opposition. He pointed at the sky. He pointed to himself. Did his own thing.”
It must to noted that both Jackson and Henderson were no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famers. They snuggled up to the brightest lights and performed best beneath them. They won MVP awards and World Series championships. It’s conceivable that Reggie is implying that such accomplishment grants one a measure of latitude.
If you have walked it, you’ve earned the right to talk it. At least a little bit.
In which case, I offer no rebuttal.