After Game 4 in Los Angeles, Reggie Jackson left the Yankee clubhouse and waled past a group of newspapermen. He'd hit a home run and he'd answered a hundred questions about the day's controvery. Whatever it was, and Jackson stopped by a reporter. "Love me or hate me, but you can't ignore me," he said. He said it as if he'd just finished chipeling the words into stone.
What Jackson did inand 50 years from now they'll say no one ever had the night Reggie Jackson did. There home runs on three pitches in consecative athas in the deciding game of a World Series. His last four swings produced home runs and the performance moved even the enemy to awe. "When he hit it." said Charlie Hough, the Dodger pitcher who served up the last Jackson homer. "I wondered where it would land."
Some people believe Muhammad Ali became the heavyweight champion 13 years ago and kept the title on the strength of abnormal psychology. They said Ali was a hysteric, a fine athlete working himself into a hysterical frenzy that produced superhuman physical abilities. The angry linebacker. Dick Bu'kus used the imagery of violence as motivation. His public ambition was to hit a ball carrier so hard the poor fellow's head came off. He meant it. For Bill Russell, the thought of failure made him vomit in the minutes before a basketball game.
And what moves Reggie Jackson?
In the natural order of things, baseball games produce dramatic situations daily, and throughout his career Jackson has demonstrated an uncommon ability to deliver when it means the most. As Jerry West always wanted the last shot in a basketball game - coaches pray for a guy willing to take the responsibility for a last-shot defeat so did Jackson always want victory riding on his work. The Yankees keep a statistic called "game winning hits." Jackson had twice as many as the second-best man.
Jackson's problem is that when drama eludes him, he creastes it.
Or at least he thinks he's creating drama.
He insults the league's Most Valuable Player. Teammate Thurman Munson, a Yankee so respected by his peers they made him the team's first captain since Lou Gehrig. And Jackson insults him in a national magazine.
We could go on but you've heard it all, all the controversy, the pouting, the bragging. In the center of an eternal firestorm, Jackson did his work well and his father, Martinez Jackson, who said his son played all sports to keep from working in his tailor shop in Philadelphia, said, "His ego is inflated to a certain degree, but I think that makes him a more competent performer. He is similar to Cassius Clay in that he's a great public relations man and he is capable of rising to an occasion."
No one doubts it.
The lingering question is: Can any team long survive when its big man creates turmoil - creates it for his good, no one else's?
The Yankees' owner, George Steinbrenner, expects us to believe the year-long controversy was good for his employees. It toughened them mentally for the playoffs and Series, he said.
Well, la de da.
Steinbrenner and the Yankees' managerBilly Martin, say things will be smoother next season.And Jackson agrees.
"I doubt it," said first baseman Chris Chambliss, asked if serenity would arrive in 1978.
Lou Piniella, the left fielder, said, "If things don't change from how they were this year, we'll be a good fourth-place club next year. I am emotionally drained from this season. Not from playing the game, but from all the questions about our internal problems.
"To be honest, I don't think this club can take another year, another two weeks, another week of all this. You don't have to be one big, happy family to concentrate on playing ball, but if everything isn't going to be tranquil we might as well write off next year."
The captain and catcher, Munson, said he has nothing against Jackson personally. The insults have been repaired, he said, and besides, "Reggie didn't hit three home runs tonight. Our right fielder did."
But Munson doesn't want any more so-called drama.
"Psychologically, it's just too hard," he said. "Everything that happened to this team hurt us or we might have won by 20 games."
They had a ticker parade in New York yesterday. The mayor of the city said it was the greatest parade since Charles Lindberg's in 1927.
Hundreds of thousands of celebrants cheered as the Yankees rode two flatbed trucks along a mile-long route up Broadway. The people chanted. "Reg-gie, Reg-gie," Jackson - you may love him for his child-like spontaneity, or you may hate he for his childish selfishness - said of the cheezing, "It's the appreciation. That's what it's all about." No one was ignoring him.*