Mister October has gone nose-to-nose with his own December this March, and it has been a frigid encounter. At the very least, it has not been a banner spring for the care and feeding of Reggie Jackson's ego. First, he has slowly, inexorably digested the notion that he is not entirely welcome with the California Angels. Since the Angels are Jackson's team, this is not a good sign. On May 18 he will be 40, and while the Angels will pay Reggie $975,000 this season, they have not agreed to sign him to a contract for half that much in 1987. They let him know that he can say a proper goodby to baseball in '87 only if they like his '86. As the man says, sentiment doesn't pay the light bill.
And then came this: It was a late afternoon private-plane flight from Mesa to a Hopi Indian reservation in northern Arizona, an area so secluded that it is surrounded by still another reservation, this one Navajo. To get there, Jackson had left the Angels' game against the Cubs in the seventh inning, forsaking dinner and a decent night's sleep. He had landed on a desolate runway that would have been several hundred feet too short for his own jet, piled into a Chevy Impala and driven another 30 minutes across desert rock and past rudimentary stone shacks to warn a few dozen Hopi kids to stay away from drugs and alcohol. Because a good many Hopi boys are alcoholics by the time they reach their mid-teens, Reggie had some talking to do, and he did it well. "It's like my father used to say, 'If Grandma can't make it, then don't you touch it,' " he told them.
That done, he opened the floor up to questions and, finally, one of the Hopi parents raised a hand.
"Yessir," said Reggie.
"Some of the children," said the man, "would like to know who you are."
Yes, Virginia, there are still places left in the world that don't get Reggievision.
This is the kind of stuff that can give a guy a mid-life crisis.
"Man, I'm almost 40 years old!" Jackson said on that plane flight. "I can't deal the cards the way I used to when I was 30. I was a power broker in baseball then, but I'm not anymore. I have to take what I'm dealt."
The first hand was played in an off-season New York Times article in which Jackson was quoted as saying he felt unwanted. "No matter what," he said then, "I'll get kicked on the way out. They traded Willie Mays, didn't they? They traded Babe Ruth."
And though they haven't traded Reggie Jackson, he thinks they want to. Jackson said that Angels general manager Mike Port called in October (now there's an irony) and said, "We don't want you on our team." Not only that, Jackson told the Los Angeles Times, but Jackie Autry, the wife of Angels owner Gene Autry and a woman whose power grows yearly, also suggested he retire. Her husband later denied that, but when you ask Jackson who's fibbing, all he says is, "Ask Jackie."