A passion for fame, for a lasting place in folklore, is perhaps the most easily comprehended, and the most easily excused of vanities.
Yet, Reggie Jackson of the New York Yankees, the slugger who has hit more home runs in the last 10 years than any man in baseball (313), is seldom judged generously.
Few exceptional athletes have had to hear the words "fraud" and "phony" applied to themselves so often - by teammates.
"Reggie's an average player," said Baltimore's average pitcher, Jim Palmer, after Jackson left the Orioles.
Billy Martin, Jackson's manager until three months ago, never said anything that kind.
Billy The Kid rewarded Jackson for having the greatest slugging World Series in history in '77 by platooning him against southpaws, batting him seventh, and putting a slew-footed catcher in his right-field position.
What other star has been so preposterously treated and remained so silent?
Even in his finest hours, Jackson is praised grudgingly within baseball. This week, Jackson ran his consecutive-times-on-base streak in postseason play to a dozen by reaching six straight times against Kansas City in the American League playoffs.
"I'm not that impressed," said K.C. Manager Whitey Herzog. "If all the Yanks had played like Reggie did against us last year [two for 16], they'd never have been in the World Series.
"I'm not sure Reggie's a great clutch hitter . . . With a man on third and two out and the game on the line, my picks would be (Thurman) Munson and (George) Brett . . . Reggie just seems to rise to the level of exposure. He loves to be on TV."
Like politicians and poets on a grander scale, Jackson does not live a life in the conventional, everyday sense. He manufactures a legend, a personal history, with himself and his exploits at the center.
Jackson's sin is that is uniquely bad at hiding this conscious myth-making process.
"Reggie Jackson has never done anything in his life that was not for effect. He's a total phony," said Boston pitcher Bill Lee this week, perhaps proving the adage that we say of others those things that apply best to ourselves.
Baseball elects its heroes for life bleacher plebiscite, not by self-appointment.
The old game has never forgiven Jackson for proclaiming himself a "superstar" - the one-word title of his autobiography - before his public and peers had time to come to the same conclusion.
Now, when Jackson should by rights be reaping the genuine acclaim of 11 uniformally excellent seasons, his every move is examined with suspicion.
An hour before Monday's playoff between New York and Boston, an enormous bleacher cheer went up during batting practice, followed immediately by loud boos.
"Reggie musta dropped a fly ball," giggled Yankee Cliff Johnson.
When Jackson arrived at the batting cage for his swings, he tried to start a conversation with another Yankee regular. After a moment, the other Yankee turned to Jackson and snapped, "Reggie, you've said that to me three times in the last minutes."
Like a little boy rebuked by the big kids, Jackson clammed up.
In that historic Al East playoff game, Jackson hit a potential homerun ball that was blown back into the park, practically knocked the rightfielder over with a line-drive out, then finally produced the winning run with a through-the-wind homer into the center-field bleachers.
After circling the bases, Jackson showed the perfect knack for insuring maximum alienation - he slapped hands with Owner George Steinbrenner in the boxseats before receiving his teammates' congratulations.
After the victory, Jackson was the only New Yorker to visit the Boston clubhouse, seeking out buddy George Scott for a gabfest while TV cameras captured the moment. Friendship or fraud?
Even when Jackson knows that humility is the right card to play, he always tips his hand. Asked about his game-winner, he said slyly, "I'm just a face in the crowd." Since when?
Jackson can mix hokum and genuine insight, subtle phrasing and pathetic bombast like no other star.
"Man is not big enough to handle these intense pressure situations by himself. In a no-deposit, no-return game like this, you have to find some sort of way to key down, to find an inner peace so that you can let your native talent express itself," said Jackson.
Right on, Reggie. So far, so good.
"So I just put myself in God's hands. Let him do with me what he wills. Whatever his divine plan is for me, whether it's four home runs or four strikeouts, then I accept it.
"I ask the Big Man Upstairs for a good pitch to hit, and then whatever happens happens."
If Jackson discussed the Bill of Rights long enough, he could make you want to repeal it. Few men match his knack for having a good idea and then mooping the floor with it.
Yet this marathon philosophizer is the soul of pith: "It was an insurance homer," said Jackson of his playoff blast, "that's why I hit it halfway to the Prudential Building."