Everyone is helpless and in
That, says Reggie Jackson, is the impression that suffuses him after one of his majestic drives, and it is becoming commonplace as the Oakland slugger races on to a higher stardom, unfettered in life as he is at the plate
by Roy Blount Jr.
Excerpt from June 17, 1974
The nearly empty clubhouse of the world champion Oakland A's looks like the men's room of an old, disreputable movie theater, except that Reginald Martinez Jackson, a superstar advancing toward superduperstar status, is naked in it, taking his his naturally beautiful left-handed stance and swinging a 35-inch, 37-ounce flame-treated bat, intensely, reflectively. Whupp. Whupp. Even though he is cutting through thin air he seems to be making good contact. Last year, after seven big-league seasons of ups, downs, moping and controversy, he was the American League's home-run leader, RBI leader and Most Valuable Player. This year he might win the Triple Crown, and he has alreadynobody else could haveone-upped Henry Aaron's 715th and subsequent home runs.
Whupp. "My strongest point is my strength," he says. "Shoulders to fingertips." Indeed, he has 17-inch biceps, as Sonny Liston had, and he is one of the top raw-power men in the league, along with Chicago's Dick Allen and Detroit's Willie Horton (who once broke a bat in two by abruptly checking his swing). But mighty isn't all he is.
By birth Afro-Latin-American, by faith an Arizona Methodist, Jackson is a man who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood outside Philadelphia, roomed in the majors with a WASP named Chuck, currently pals around with two Portuguese motor sportsmenone weighing 250 pounds, the other 305wears around his neck a string of wampum beads and a gold crucifix he bought from a Cuban pitcher and is built like a Greek god.
Jackson's two most famous drives are the ball he hit off the beer-bottle cap on a sign in right center field 517 feet from the plate in Minnesota and the one he hit off a light tower atop the right center field stands in the 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit. "I have never seen a ball jump off the bat like that one," says Royals veteran Cookie Rojas. "The guys in the dugout and everybody in the standsit just brought us all to our feet. The ball hit that thing way up there and bounced back to the ground before he had time to leave the plate." When you hit a terrific shot, says Jackson, "all the baseball players come to rest at that moment and watch you. Everyone is helpless and in awe. You charge people up. And when you're a good hitter, you do that every day. You're the center of confidence. The man can hit, they say that. And you know it. You're a master. Dealing. The man who can do it is a dominating force when he walks out of the dugout. There's no feeling like that."