A year ago, Reggie Jackson leaped into World Series lore with his bat. This year, he did it with his hip. The Reggie Bump yesterday was the most controversial play in three years and, before testimony begins, remember that both major witnesses are bad enough at what they were involved in to be telling the truth.
The important word is intent. Did Jackson intentionaly deflect shortshop Bill Russell's throw so that what would have been an inning-ending double play in fact led to a run that helps the Yankees win game four of the Series, 4-3, in ovetime?
Did Russell intentionally drop Lou Piniella's sinking liner so he would have a better chance of executing that sixth-inning double play? Would television replays have altered the decision? Baseball is basking in the controversy, and if more would happen its rulers might be brave enough to challenge the NFL on prime-Sunday television.
Russell admits he had "an easier chance" for the double play by dropping Piniella's smash near second than he did by catching it and trying to beat Thurman Munson to the bag. But anyone who has watched Russell more than a few games realizes he is capable of missing easier liners.
What of Reggie, that sly fellow who, even as the umpires were explaining their role in the play, was rocking backward in a chair, his hands spread across the back of his neck and his face aglow with satisfaction.
Jackson took the stand during a postgame press conference after Yankee Manager Bob Lemon admitted confusion and added: "I realized something odd happened, but then it always does around him." He turned toward Jackson and said: "Go get 'em, motor-mouth."
What follows is Jackson's version and the rebuttal, from 150 yards away, by the most doubting Dodger, first baseman Steve Garvey.
Jackson said he started toward second when it appeared Piniella's ball would be a hit. Then he stopped when Russell seemed capable of catching it. Then he moved toward second when Russell dropped it.
"Then I froze," Jackson said, smiling.
"yeah," said Garvey, "he froze - and thought - and deflected the ball."
"Things were happening fast and I'm a slow thinker," Jackson said. "You know, I don't see good. I don't move too good. When I saw the throw coming, I didn't have a glove, so I just tried to tense up and take it."
By now, Jackson was near laughter, for he seemed to stick his right hip toward the ball.
Garvey was outwardly calm, but angry.
"Instead of moving out of the way, he moved to deflect the ball," Garvey said. "He moved his leg. As the ball was in the air, I had the feeling he knew what he was doing. Human instinct is to get away from the ball."
"If I could have gotten out of the way," Jackson said, "I'd have done it against (reliever) Terry Forster when he hit me (in the eighth). There is no way I like to get hit by a baseball.
"If I'd seen the ball (Russell threw) the whole time, I could have gotten out of the way. I picked it up when it got on top of me."
Would he say the same thing under oath?
"I can't answer that," he said. "But it's a good question."
By being coy, Jackson has the best of all worlds, the adulation he so covets and no future wrath from umpires he might embarrass by admitting he interfered with the ball. Even if Jackson had ducked out of the way at the last moment, Garvey said the damage might already have been done.
"He was about six feet away, so I expected him to just screen me out," Garvey said "It would have been tough to pick the ball up again, but I knew where it was."
The Yankee first base coach, Gene Michael, said the throw might well have been where it frequently is coming off Russell's hand - in the dirt.
Said Jackson: "Even after the ball hit me, I still thought I was alive."
The umpires, Frank Pulli at first and Joe Brinkman at second, saw no intent. Said Pulli: "I couldn't tell whether Reggie went out of the way to interfere with the ball, and in my judgment I ruled that there was no intentional interference on Reggie's part."
With a bat in his hands, Jackson seems without peer in October. In the outfield and on the bases, he is ordinary at best, fully capable of being in a dither during a tight play.
Did Jackson cheat?
"Maybe a subcategory," Garvey said."But that's what they always say, that it's only cheating if you get caught? If I were Reggie, I wouldn't say anything, either. I congratulate him."
"Tell him thanks," said Reggie.