Thirty-nine years ago today the New York Yankees signed thirty year old Reggie Jackson to a Free Agent contract for $3.5 million. Over the next five years with the Yankees, Reggie hit .281 with 144 homers. In that five year period, he played in three World Series, two of which the Yankees won.
In those three World Series appearances, Reggie hit .400 with 22 hits, including eight home runs in 55 at bats, one homer every 6.9 at bats. To put that in perspective, in 1973, when he led the league in homers, he got one homer for every 16.8 at bats.
He had played in two World Series with the Athletics for a total of five and his average of .357 for 27 games with 10 homers and 24 RBI’s earned him the nickname Mr. October. His teams won four of the five Series in which he played. In 1973 and 1974 the Athletics beat the Mets 4 games to 3 and the Dodgers 4 games to 1. With the Yankees in 1977 and 1978, the Yankees won both series against the Dodgers, 4 games to 2, and then lost to the Dodgers in 1981, 4 games to 2.
His performance in the 1977 Series, where he hit .450 and had five homers and eight RBI’s, including three homers in Game 6, earned him his second Series MVP Award. All three of those homers came on the first pitch from three different Dodger pitchers and carried the Yankees to the World’s Championship. He was the first player to ever win the World Series MVP Award for two different teams.
Before his three homers in Game 6, he had homered in his last at bat in Game 5. In his first at bat in Game 6, Burt Hooten walked him on four pitches. Hitting first pitch home runs in his next three at bats gave Reggie four World Series home runs on four consecutive swings of the bat against four different Dodgers pitchers.
Reggie had begun his career in 1967, with the Kansas City Athletics who became the Oakland Athletics the next year. He had played ten years with the A’s before becoming a Free Agent in 1976.
He won his first World Series MVP Award with the Athletics in 1973, going 9 for 29 as the A’s beat the Mets for the title four games to three. He was also named Major League Player of The Year that year and MVP in the American League. His 32 homers, 117 RBI’s and 99 runs scored all led the league.
In his ten years with the A’s, he hit .262 and had a .490 slugging percentage with 269 homers and 776 RBI’s. In April of 1976, in the last year of his contract with the A’s, he was traded to Baltimore with pitcher Ken Holtzman for Don Baylor, Paul Mitchell and Mike Torrez. He became a Free Agent at the end of that year and the Yankees signed him.
While his five years with the Yankees were very productive years, they were marred by controversy, particularly between Jackson and the Yankees fiery and often drunken manager Billy Martin. At one point in a game against the Red Sox Martin actually had to be restrained from hitting Jackson in full view of a national television audience.
Jackson also got into a controversy with Yankee Captain Thurmon Munson over a remark that Jackson made when he said that he was ‘the stick that stirs the drink’ for the Yankees. Jackson claimed that the remark was taken out of context and not intended to slight anyone but those were the George Steinbrenner years and he and Martin could make a problem out of anything.
He became a Free Agent, again, in 1981, after the Yankees lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the California Angels signed him for $1.1 million. He spent the next five years with the Angels, hitting just .239 with 123 homers and 374 RBI’s in 687 games. With the Angels, he never made the World Series but was in the Playoffs in 1982, when they lost in the ALCS to Milwaukee and 1986, when they lost in the ALCS to the Red Sox.
Born May 18, 1946 in Abington, Pennsylvania, he played his college ball, like many Major Leaguers, at Arizona State University and was drafted by Kansas City in the first round of the Amateur Draft of 1966, the second overall pick in the draft. He signed with
them and made his Major League debut on June 9, 1967, going 0-3 against the Cleveland Indians.
In his 21 year career, between the Athletics, Orioles, Yankees and Angels, he hit 563 homers, making him 13th on the all time list, drove in 1,702 runs, had 2,584 hits and a lifetime average of .262. (His lifetime average was obviously made lower by the fact that he struck out more times than any player in baseball history, failing to put the ball in play 2,597 times in 11,418 at bats, or once in every 4.4 at bats.) He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993 with 93.6% of the vote.
At 6 ‘, 195 pounds, Reggie was not one of the bigger sluggers to play the game but he packed a lot of power and had the ability to get the big hit in the clutch. His performance in the 1977 World Series was one of the greatest individual performance of all time in the Fall Classic. There is no question that, at least for that Series, Reggie was the ‘stick that stirred the drink’.