Love Him or Hate Him - He's Still Mr. October
H

e was called a publicity whore but he could also hit a baseball a mile. Catfish Hunter once said that he was the type of person who would give you the shirt off his back and then call a press conference to announce it but this man also backed up his bragging with clutch performances.

Many considered him a shameless attention grabber. Bob Marshall once made the comment that he filled a spotlight the way nature filled a vacuum but everything stopped when he came to bat.

Jackson

Some were downright disgusted by his self-promoting antics. Darold Knowles once sniped that there wasn't enough mustard in the world to cover his hot-dogging but others considered his hot-dogging a fun change in style – he made things exciting.

Others just simply downright hated him. Leo Durocher once made the statement that Jackson couldn't shine Willie Mays' shoes. "He never hit .300, he's a butcher in the outfield and he's got a big mouth," Durocher went on to say. "He makes $8,000 a week. I wouldn't pay him $8 a week. He's a bum."

Jackson

Well, bums don't hit 563 homers in their careers.

No one could deny that he had a major league sized ego. On numerous occasions, he declared that he was the best player baseball had ever seen. He once told a reporter that after Jackie Robinson he was the most important black player in the history of baseball. He said that there was one reason why he didn't like playing in the World Series – because he couldn't watch himself play. And when he became the first major league baseball player to have a candy bar named after him, Hunter quipped that when you unwrapped one it would tell you how good it was.

His fellow ballplayers, teammates, team managers, team owners and even some of his fans called him a variety of names which, being a family magazine, we can't publish. There are however two names we can publish – The name that sports fans the world over will always know him as: "Mr. October", and, his given name – Reginald Martinez Jackson.

Jackson

Better known as Reggie, he was born on May 18, 1946 in Wyncote, Pennsylvania. Athletic from the time he was very young, Reggie excelled when he got to high school. A four-sport varsity athlete at Cheltenham High School, he was granted a scholarship that saw him matriculate at Arizona State where he played both baseball and football. After his sophomore year, the Kansas City Athletics scooped him up in the first round of the 1966 free agent draft.

Reggie played for the A's during their last year in Kansas City and then moved with the team to Oakland where he played until he was traded to Baltimore in 1976. That would have never happened had the New York Mets, who had first dibbs in the '66 draft, grabbed him instead of catcher Steve Chilcott.

During Jackson's first year with the A's, the team's batting instructor, a guy by the name of Joe DiMaggio, who knew a little bit about swinging the lumber, tried to get the young Jackson to cut down on his swing to reduce strikeouts. DiMaggio's attempts were futile and in 1968 Jackson came close to setting an all-time strikeout record by fanning his way back into the dugout 171 times. The following year he again led the league in strikeouts with 142, but he also set career highs by hitting 47 home runs and chalking up 118 RBIs.

Jackson

His success during the A's '69 campaign all came in the first half of the season. In June, he had 15 RBIs in 14 at-bats. By July, he had hit 40 home runs and was 23 games ahead of Babe Ruth's 1927 pace. Then it all stopped. Jackson went into one of the most well known hitting slumps in major league baseball. A slump that would last throughout the 1970 season and continue on - though he blasted a ball over Tiger Stadium's right field roof in the All-Star Game of 1971 – a game in which he played only to cover the injured Tony Oliva.

From that point on, Jackson became aggressive on the field, at the plate and on the bases. So aggressive that he missed out on playing in the 1972 World Series due to a twisted knee that he suffered in the playoffs. The following year, he came back with the same fire in the belly and grabbed the MVP award with a .293 average, led the league by hitting 32 homers and 117 RBIs, and helped the A's get back to the October Classic.

Facing the New York Mets, Jackson struggled at night as he connected for only one hit out of 10 times at bat. In the daylight, however, it was a different story. In the day games of the Series, he was 8 for 17 and in Game Six he drove in two runs with a double and then scored the third Oakland run as the A's downed the Mets 3-1. Reggie's first World Series homerun came in the third inning of the deciding game of that Series. It was a two-run shot that helped clinch a championship for the A's and garner the Series MVP Award for himself.

In 1974, Jackson played an instrumental role in seeing his team take their third straight world title. But, despite the team's winning ways, Reggie was constantly finding himself in clashes with the A's owner, Charlie Finley and by the following season he found himself in the uniform of the Baltimore Orioles.

Jackson

Playing on the east coast, Jackson got a taste of how the newspapers and television stations of Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston and New York played a more significant role in sports than he was used to back in Oakland. They created a media circus when it came to sporting events, and Jackson wanted to be in the center ring.

In 1977, as a free agent, he stepped foot into the biggest circus of them all – the true "Big Top" of major league baseball – Yankee Stadium. It was in New York that Jackson would define himself as an egotistical superstar who thought nothing of offending teammates, opponents, fans, the team's manager and owner as long as what he was doing and saying kept him in the good graces of the press. And one of the things he did to keep in good graces with the Fourth Estate was to make outrageous statements:

"I didn't come to New York to be a star, I brought my star with me."

"In the building I live in on Park Avenue there are ten people who could buy the Yankees, but none of them could hit the ball out of Yankee Stadium."

"The will to win is worthless if you don't get paid for it."

"The only difference between me and those other great Yankees is my skin color."

"Hitting is better than sex."

"Fans don't boo nobodies."

"I'm the straw the stirs the drink."

Jackson

Media darling? Sure! Who wouldn't be when you're throwing out lines like that? But behind the scenes, even many sportswriters thought Jackson was far too full of himself. And while the reporters kept their feelings to themselves because he made for such good press, some of his teammates were not so secretive about their disdain for Jackson – none more notable than Yankee catcher Thurman Munson who was very open about his dislike of Jackson and who never forgave him for the "straw that stirs the drink" comment.

But, while some Yankee fans may not have had a taste for Jackson, all Yankee fans had a gnawing hunger for a world championship, and in 1977 that's just what they got, for the first time in over a decade.

It was during the 1977 World Series, as the Yankees took on the Los Angeles Dodgers, that Jackson became "Mr. October". Having homered in both Games Four and Five, he sent another ball over the right field seats during the fourth inning of Game Six, giving the Bronx Bombers a 4-3 lead. The following inning he hit an Elias Sosa pitch into the same location for another two runs and a 7-3 lead. And then in the eighth, he took a Charlie Hough offering and again whacked it into the bleachers, giving the Yankees an 8-4 victory and their first World Championship in 15 years. That home run hat trick also put Jackson in a league with only one other player to homer three times in a World Series game – The Babe; and in a league of his own by being the first player to ever hit five homeruns in one Series.

Jackson

Still, despite the fact that REG-GIE was the darling of every Yankee fan as the Champagne was uncorked, after the bubbly was gone, Reggie was still Reggie, and his infamous squabbles with team owner George Steinbrenner, manager Billy Martin and many of his teammates ultimately sent him packing back to California. As a California Angel, Jackson led the league in homers by hitting 39 and assisted in seeing the Halos win the 1982 Division Title.

During his four-year stay with the Angels, Jackson's main goal was to catch and surpass Mickey Mantle's career home run total of 536 and he reached that goal near the end of his stay with them. The following year, taking his career full circle, Jackson played his final games right back where he had started, as a member of the Oakland A's.

Retiring after the '87 season, Jackson's legacy included having been voted to the American League All-Star team 14 times. His stats include 2,584 hits, 463 doubles, 49 triples, 1702 RBIs and 563 home runs. In his first year of eligibility, Jackson was granted entrance to Cooperstown by being named on 396 of the 423 ballots submitted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

On August 1, 1993, Jackson made his way to Cooperstown, New York. Unlike most years when newly inducted Hall of Fame players share the limelight of Cooperstown with other inductees, Reggie basked in the glow by himself. After the induction, Jackson's former teammate Willie Randolph commented on the fact that Reggie was the only inductee of that year. "When you think about his career, especially in New York and the way he wanted to be on center stage, maybe it's appropriate that it worked out that way," said Randolph.

Jackson

Today, from a collector's standpoint, Jackson's name still evokes feelings both positive and negative. But no matter what one thinks of Mr. October there's no denying that, in the words of Billy Joel he had to have "the white hot spotlight" and "the front page bold type". It is perhaps because of his controversial nature, coupled with the fact that he is a member of the 500 Home Run Club, that Reggie Jackson's rookie card has been, is, and always will be a hot commodity.

Although there is a 1969 Topps Supers Reggie Jackson card, the 1969 Topps #260 Reggie Jackson is the more recognized rookie offering featuring Mr. October. The Topps '69 set is of course hugely popular in its own right and as most collectors know, extremely deceptive in terms of difficulty. Centering problems are notorious in this issue and many are found with 70/30 centering or worse. Defects specific to the Jackson card are black print spots that significantly show up on the light colored background.

When you take into consideration that the card is widely considered to be one that is less than appealing from an aesthetic standpoint to begin with, you can rapidly see why these ink problems make finding one in NM-MT condition all the more difficult. Jackson's Topps rookie card also has inherent problems that stem from wear, chipping and fading along the pink-colored reverse.

Jackson

"This can possibly prevent an otherwise mint copy from reaching top grade levels," points out Sports Market Report editor Joe Orlando. "You can find (this card) sharp but not always on the mark. This is a deceptively tough card. It often lacks the eye-appeal that other cards possess in the very same set"

As Reggie Jackson's playing days fade further into history, perhaps the disdain that many have harbored towards him will dissipate.

Then again, it may not.

Sports writer Thomas Boswell believes that to be the case. "Mark Twain said that politicians, old building and prostitutes become respectable with age," Boswell once wrote. "Reggie Jackson would like to make it a foursome."