It was the seventh inning of game three that Thurman Monson went to bat with two Yankees on base and Ron Guidry yearning for the comfort of another run or two against the Dodgers.
All eyes were, presumably, on Munson. Not quite. Another Yankee, Reggio Jackson, off to himself but not quite out of view, was creating a diversion of sorts. Innocently or otherwise. Jackson, the baseball millionaire who was next up, disdained the kneeling position in the batter's circle. He was on his feet, nearer to the plate and closer to the sightlines of people watching the batter. Reggie was taking vigorous swings, looking down the side of his fully extended home run bat, flexing those magnificent shoulders, knowing he was a compelling sight.
Jackson, the old scene-stealer, was not permitting Munson to have his moment, and almost reduced the Yankee at bat to second billing.
In this series after two games, Jackson already appeared to be bigger than the series itself, or threatening to be. Even in a losing cause in game one, he extended the home run binge of last year wherein be hit four homers in four swings. In another Yankee defeat by the Dodgers in game two, Jackson still managed to be the talk of the town, through his failure to establish a meaningful relationship with three fast balls thrown at him by Dodger rookie Bob Welch, with the tying and winning run on base and two out in the ninth.
How did the New York Post headline that Yankee defeat the next day? Did it say the Yanks lost game two and now were two down in the series, as a strict news sense dictated. No. It opted to go with the screaming banner line: "Reggie strikes out." A Washington Post headline described Jackson unfairly as "goat" of the game.
Before game three in the Yankees' dugout, Jackson said he didn't like that "Reggie strikes out" headline. "Why didn't they say 'Yankees return home two down,' or something like that Why do they have to single Reggie Jackson out?"
That's what Jackson said. There is other belief that Reggie was secretly pleased to be recognized as the most important figure, whether he hits one out of the park or whiffs. Reggie doesn't duck ink. Before game three when 30 Yankee players and coaches were glad to retire to the clubhourse in the hour before the contest, Jackson was outside holding court for reporters on the Yankees' bench.
Perhaps Jackson had counted the house and found it satisfactory and was telling all . . . no, he hadn't created all that fuss after Welch struck him out cause he was simply angry at striking out . . . "there was something else on my mind that was bothering me," he said. Thereby he made a mystery of what everybody had believed was a simple strikeout.
Yes, he said, he had been distracted by those two Yankee runners on base taking off a three-and-two count with two out, althouth runners had been doing that ever since Abner Doubleday approved that strategy in 1859. "No," Reggie said, "it wasn't really the runners who bothered me. I was aware of them . . . Maybe I was trying to concentrate too much on the pitch." (Yogi Berra had once asked his manager, Bucky Harris, "how can a guy hit and think at the same time?"
Properly, the young Dodger pitcher, Welch, only four months in the majors, was the story of game two with his strikeout of Jackson, but Reggie almost preempted top billing. He managed this by working up a fury on his way back to the clubhouse, Punching thin air, throwing bats, tossing helmets, threatening to punch his coach, Dick Howser, and actually shoving his manager, Bob Lemon, who shoved back.
"I've had bigger fights with my wife," said the unflappable Lemon.
Yesterday, Jackson surface again as a player of controversy when, as a base runner, he allegedly stuck his hip in the path of a thrown ball. Heated Dodger protests failed to erase the run that danced across the plate on the play.
They are now calling Reggie Mr. October, a name that implies he is the boss of all the playoff and World Series happenings. Where did he get the name? He gave it to himself with a fine sense of aptness, if not modesty. Unarguable have been his October heroics for two years.
Nobody gets as much mileage out of their deeds as Reggie does. He never hit 300 in his life, but he got a $20 million contract from the Yankees for five years. He hit three home runs in a single World Series game and woke up the world. Big deal. Babe Ruth did it twice without causing nearly the furor.
Reggie earns his big salary despite the fact he can't play right field well enough to hold down a job out there and is in the Yankee kineup as a designated hitter. His sponsors don't care. They are important ones like Volkswagen and Getty oil, and his is their darling on TV and printed ads. And he has that candy bar named after him.
Yet 58 guys in the American League outhit him and his .274 average this season. Four of them drove in more runs and seven hit more homers. Reggie led the league in nothing except endorsements.
For all of his wonderful run production for the Yankees Jackson is not even the best home run hitter on his own team. Graig Nettles usually out-homers him, and tied him at 27 this year, besides hitting 10 more doubles and producing only four fewer runs.
Unfortunately for his income, Netties is not a chormer like Jackson, who can entertain a whole battery of reporters with his willingness to discuss everything, or articulate a heart-felt eulogy to Junior Gilliam at the funeral services of that late Dodger hero. When he is done with baseball, Jackson is certain to be the No. 1 jock-turned broadcaster, and the hidding networks already know it.
For the benefit of baseball writers he was speculating the other day that no man alive was strong enough to hit a ball clear out of Yankee Stadium. "They might reach the back rows," he said. "But I don't think anybody will put a ball out." Then, no man to base in the reflected baseball glory of others, Reggie added, "if I was a little younger . . ." Just something to think about.
About "Reggie!," the new candy bar they named after him, Jackson said it had already caught the onetime favorite Baby Ruth, and was now taking dead him and gaining on the leader of the candy bar line, Snickers.