Ever since Steve Garvey's home run streaked out of Jack Murphy Stadium here Saturday, baseball's little world has been trying to figure out what to make of the Senator's show.
"Except for Reggie, I have never seen anything like that," said San Diego's Graig Nettles after Garvey got five RBI on four pressure hits, three of them with two out, as the Padres beat the Chicago Cubs, 7-5, to force a fifth National League playoff game.
The Jackson-Garvey comparison is perfect, statistically and personally.
If Reggie Jackson is the wizard of the World Series, then Steve Garvey is the prince of the playoffs.
If Jackson's three homers in Game 6 of the '77 Series was the greatest individual game in any classic, then Garvey's four clutch RBI hits in Game 4 of the '84 playoffs is the best playoff game anybody's ever had.
If Jackson's 10 homers, 24 RBI and .357 average in 27 games in five Series make him the best performer ever on that stage (and they do), then Garvey now has an equal claim that he's the best playoff man.
In five playoff series, plus one division series in the fluke '81 season, Garvey has 10 homers, 25 RBI and a .358 average in 27 games.
Maybe you already got the little chill down the spine, or maybe stats go in one ear and out the other. These shouldn't. One more time.
Jackson in the Series: 27 games, 10 homers, 24 RBI, .357 average.
Garvey in the playoffs: 27 games, 10 homers, 25 RBI, .358 average.
It's almost equally interesting that Jackson has been merely good in the playoffs while Garvey has been merely good in the Series.
In 39 playoff games, Jackson has six homers and 18 RBI, which is decent -- a 25-homer, 75-RBI pace over a season. But his .234 playoff average is weak.
In 23 Series games, Garvey has a flashy .344 average, but it masks a power failure: one homer and four RBI.
In both cases, solid but unspectacular on one stage but almost beyond belief on the other.
The parallel between Jackson's '77 Series show -- four home runs on four consecutive swings -- and Garvey's four straight season-on-the-line clutch hits, goes further.
Jackson was vindicating himself after a season of warfare with his manager, Billy Martin, and a year of pressure and criticism as baseball's highest-paid player in the new and controversial free agent era.
Garvey was vindicating himself after enormously painful and public rejections by his lifelong team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his "perfect" celebrity wife Cyndy.
From the time his father drove the Dodger team bus in spring training and Steve Garvey became the club's bat boy, he really felt he had Dodger blue in his sentimental veins. After 15 years in the L.A. organization, many of them very underpaid by fair-market standards, Garvey couldn't believe that the Dodgers wouldn't come across with the sort of $6 million for five years contract that the Padres eventually gave him.
Garvey assumed the Dodgers knew how much they owed him, how much he could still contribute and how he would always let him be their organization symbol.
The Dodgers not only didn't meet Garvey's price, they made it obvious that they much preferred he leave so they could give his job to super rookie Greg Brock (who hit .218 this year).
The connections between Jackson and Garvey may go even deeper. Both are enormously proud, some would say vain. Neither tries to hide it. Both rub a good percentage of their teammates the wrong way because they don't hide their ambition, their love of fame and adulation or their desire for a lasting place in our national culture.
Jackson's niche is pop culture. He wants to be in every TV commercial, have his biography on every bookshelf, be a TV commentator, ride into the Hall of Fame and maybe (don't laugh) put together a syndicate and buy a team.
Garvey has never hidden his hopes of joining Bill Bradley and Jack Kemp as an ex-athlete who really is involved in jock diplomacy. When players call him "Senator," it's partly out of respect. However, as with Jackson, there's also the suspicion that Garvey is so emotionally guarded, so self-centered, so locked into a master plan that he's never "off," never vulnerable or sincere.
Jackson and Garvey, and you could to some degree put Pete Rose in the same unsettling pot, react to trauma in their personal lives by redoubling their focus on athletic prowess. Lead from trump and hope nobody guesses your void suit.
The more Jackson and Garvey reach into their reserve of wounded self-esteem, the better they seem to play and the more famous they become. Advertising polls show that Jackson is now the most recognized face of any American athlete. Garvey, despite coming off his worst season in '83, got more All-Star votes (1.7 million) than any other player this season.
Perhaps the greatest achievers in any field have special gifts, special abilities that enable them to focus and reject everything that distracts or limits them.
That, in its turn, breeds special demons and, perhaps, deep secret hurts.
"Reggie and I have talked about this," said Garvey after getting an RBI hit and drawing a walk in Game 5 to wrap up a record third playoff most valuable player award. "Both of us understand that this is the showcase of the game.
"This is where history is made, where tradition is continued. We're both hoping to make history. That chance doesn't come around in life very often.
"It's that old idea that everything really is up to you. I've just been able to carry it off. I've always played under the principle of controlled aggression. I stay within myself. I can block things out and focus. Rise to the occasion. It's tough to explain.
"After 15 years, I have a lot of respect for psychology . . . You have to take the good and turn it to your use. And you have to take the bad and turn that into something good, too."
Most men think it hard enough to live in reality. A few twist and shape it, even distort it if that's what it takes to function best, until finally events begin to bear their own image.