Reggie is mad. Reggie has had it up to here with George. Reggie wishes George to go swimming in concrete underwear.
"George Steinbrenner is a spoiled brat," Reggie Jackson is saying this morning in the hotel lobby.
Reggie is burning.
A man hands Reggie a little pamphlet to autograph.
The pamphlet's cover is a picture of a toothless, grizzled bum with a noose at his neck.
"Is that Steinbrenner?" Reggie says. "I hope so."
My, my, Reggie is upset.
He is upset by the notices in the morning papers.
The papers say George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' owner, doesn't like to lose.
This is I news flash along the lines of saying Ann-Margret is a girl.
But the papers go on. They say Steinbrenner is mad. Steinbrenner, who is Mount St. Helens in a three-piece suit, gave Reggie almost $3 million to come to New York four years ago. When the Kansas City Royals beat the Yankees, 7-2, in the first game of the American League championship playoffs the other day, Mount St. Stenbrenner erupted. He told reporters he didn't like it that (1) the pitcher pitched poorly, (2) a popup fell between the left fielder and the shortstop, and (3) the cleanup hitter left three men in scoring position.
Well, maybe we don't know who the pitcher was and we don't care who the shortstop is.
The cleanup hitter, the guy with the double 4s on his back, Mr. October, is Reggie Jackson.
And Reggie is steamed.
Steinbrenner said this series is a confrontation between George Brett and Reggie Jackson, the leading candidates for this season's most valuable player award. "Head to head," Steinbrenner said. "And Brett is ahead." Brett had a double and home run that first game.
So this morning, Steinbrenner called his team's manager, coaches and scouts together for breakfast before tonight's second game.
He told them he didn't like to lose.
In a very loud voice, he told them he didn't want it to happen again.
"So what's he going to do?" Reggie is saying in the hotel lobby, where he stands and signs autographs. "George is a spoiled brat. He can't relate to anybody who has had to work hard to make a living. What's he going to do? He thinks he can go out and buy another cleanup hitter between yesterday and today."
Reggie is thinking of an analogy.
"Remember that TV program, 'The Millionaire'? That guy who went around giving way a million dollars, what was his name? Marvin Anthony? That's Steinbrenner. He thinks he can do anything he wants because he's got some money.
"If he doesn't like what he reads, he can buy himself a newspaper and write all the stories himself. He can't buy a TV network, but he could buy a station. If your pitcher can't get anybody out and your shortstop can't catch a popup and your cleanup hitter can't hit, hell, go out and buy replacements."
What all this means, of course, is nothing.
It means Reggie went zero for four.
It means he's looking for something to think about besides having gone zero for four. He's in the lobby the morning after, saying he can't understand why people come up and ask for autographs."I'd feel uncomfortable doing that," he says. "I'd feel like I was intruding." But he stands in the middle of the biggest lobby between St. Louis and Denver -- Mr. October, the Ali of his game, the man in the purple Rolls-Royce -- and signs every piece of paper put to him.
He loves it.
He won't say so. He says he's standing there only because he's been cooped up in his room for three days and needs to get out.
He loves it.
"If you didn't sign these," a man says to Reggie, "would the press criticize you as a bad guy?"
"Sure," Reggie says. "But they criticize me, anyway."
And he loves that. "You writers can love me or hate me," he once said, "but you can't ignore me." Hell for Reggie would be a day without his name in the New York Times.
Heaven is cursing Steinbrenner.
It's part of the act.
Forget Bowie Kuhn. Forget George Brett trying to hit .400. Jim Palmer can wear all the teeny-tiny shorts he wants, and Pete Rose can slide head first into a vat of Aqua Velva. The act that has sold baseball best the last four seasons has been Mr. October and Herr Steinbrenner, the most voluble dictator.
"Think about this," Reggie is saying.
"What if you were a 39-year-old ballplayer for George?
"What if you hit only 19 home runs?
"And what if you drove in only 50?
"How do you think he would treat you? If he wants to go buy a new cleanup hitter between yesterday and today, just think about it. What would he do to you on the way down?"
A storm cloud has settled on Reggie's furrowed brow.
He seems serious.
"Are you," someone asks, "serious about this? Or is this part of your Reggie and George show?"
"Damn right I'm serious," Reggie says seriously.
"Then you don't sound like a guy who at 34 is ready to sign another long-term contract with Steinbrenner," someone says.
Jackson has another year on his present contract, then an option year, before he becomes a free agent again.
"I'd love to comment on that," Reggie says, "but you don't have enough space in your newspaper."
Coming off his best year (.300, 41 homers, 111 RBI) since he won the MVP award with the Oakland A's in 1973, knowing he's coming up to his last big contract, Reggie is building a case for -- what? -- $1 million a year. And why not? He sells more tickets than any other player. Love me or hate me, but come see me. Steinbrenner knows that of the $17 million worth of free agents he has signed, the biggest bargain of all was Mr. October. A little Reggie-Steinbrenner feud will only sell more tickets.
Er, Reggie, anything else to say about your boss?
"Yeah," Reggie says, "wouldn't it be great to be an adolescent at 50?"
Reggie smiles. "Like that one?" he says before going to answer a page in the hotel lobby. Someone named Valerie is calling.