When he was toiling for the small-town Oakland A's, Reggie Jackson was fond of saying, "If I were playing in New York they'd name a candy bar after me." It was the ultimate chutzpah. This guy was equating himself with Babe Ruth.
Jackson did get to play in New York and did become an authentic hero, and they did name a candy bar after him. What Reggie could never foresee was the coming of a day when he'd be merely the second-highest paid outfielder on the Yankees.
When George Steinbrenner bestowed on Dave Winfield a $13 million contract that is nearly five times the once-munificent $2.66 million at which Jackson was signed in 1977, it offended Jackson's sense of swagger as well as his awareness of the dollar. i
It is evident that Steinbrenner has set up a confrontation between Jackson, baseball's Narcissus, and his new man, Winfield, no blushing figure of modesty himself. They have not been told to come out fighting, or anything like that, but the elements of contest are there, along with signs that Yankee Stadium next summer will be one great cockpit, not between bantams, but between giants. In his Meditations of a Parish Priest, Joseph Roux wrote, "The egoist does not tolerate egoism."
Jackson has been polite enough in welcoming Winfield to the Yankee scene but has clearly indicated he does not intend to abdicate the throne as "mr. Yankee" and "Mr. October," nor relinquish any other sobriquets simply because the talented and rich Winfield has arrived.
In a not-so-subtle slur against the paltry 20 homers Winfield hit for San Diego last season, Jackson said, "If you hit balls over the wall things will take care of themselves." The emphasis on the home run, at which Jackson excels, came up again: "I hit 40 homers (he hit 41) last season and I think the manager will find a place for me."
The day after Winfield signed, Jackson told Dave Anderson of the New York Times that it wouldn't be fair to comment on Winfield's contract."I don't think it would be right to say that because he got this much I should get more. That would put pressure on him." Ha. Reggie wouldn't want to put pressure on Winfield.
But later in the day, he did put some pressure on Steinbrenner, including discussion of a five-year extension, at a new figure, of his five-year contract, which expires in 1981."We discussed the contract, and the length of it, and some of the little extras I would like," Reggie said. Including, no doubt, the cost-of-living gimmick Winfield taught him were available. No jealousy there -- just recognition of who puts the people in the park.
After signing for all that money, Winfield was low key with his interviewers. "Now we'll see how good I am," he said, indicating that wasn't possible on weak San Diego teams that didn't permit him full sway for his skills. "Yes. I do think I'm a very good ballplayer, a very substantial one . . . without a doubt."
The teammates he left behind at San Diego could not be called Dave Winfield fans, despite his acknowledged skills. Phil Collier, the San Diego Tribune's noted baseball writer, says Winfield was a pain in the neck to the rest of the team with his habit of belittling them. "They resented Winfield's arrogance and his kind of talk made it seem to them that he was surrounded by a bunch of boobs."
Jackson has already told Winfield about New York: "It's the greatest place to play in and the toughest. It can be Disneyland or it can be hell." Perish the thought that Reggie would be trying to intimidate Steinbrenner's new pet.
The versatile Winfield, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound paragon of the ballfield, surpasses Jackson on most counts. But not in the most electric and visible aspect of the game -- the home run. That is Reggie's turf, the game-breaker, the shot that stands for macho, the one every fan came to see. Yankee fans could be slow in picking a new favorite.
Winfield's career average is a bit better than Jackson's, and he hits those line drives, but for a big man, he is somewhat deficient in the slam department.
When asked at the signing ceremonies for Winfield if he could coexist well with the new star of the Yankees, Jackson said, "No problem." But he couldn't wait to upstage Winfield; he appeared in an eye-catching lynx coat and floppy Stetson. And his comment on Winfield's big salary was a clear warning to Steinbrenner: "A precedent has been set now."
Jackson said, "I got a house that I paid $300,000 for in 1978 that's probably worth a million now . . . I got a Rolls Royce . . . and I know I'm gonna get a lot when my turn comes . . . I've seen the light at the end of the tunnel and it's green."
Winfield may be an imposing figure in the batter's box, but so is Jackson. And Reggie starts to compete for attention even before he gets to the plate. In the batter's box Jackson commands the TV cameras with his special calisthenics, the skyward thrusts of both arms to full length, the outstretching of those good-looking legs one at a time, and even the regulated spitting between closed teeth that is his practice.
Winfield says he wants to bat third and that would put him just in front of clean-up hitter Jackson, meaning Winfield will never have the scene to himself, if Reggie can help it. If Winfield complained that circumstances in San Diego, where they had such weak teams, could not bring him out, he'll get the full challenge in New York.