O.K., Charles O. Finley, wherever you are. O.K., Oakland and San Leandro and Alameda and Berkeley and all the other places across the Bay from San Francisco. You insisted that when the Oakland Athletics produced a young superstar there would be a community love-in at every game in the new Coliseum. There was, in fact, going to be slobbering devotion if the object of your affections also happened to have short hair, neat clothes, polite manners and spoke respectfully and intelligently.
Well, what's so wrong with Reggie Jackson (see cover)? He is 23 years old, stands 6 feet and weighs 197 pounds. He wears No. 9—just like Ted Williams—and so far this season he has hit 29 home runs, three more than any other player in the majors, putting him nine and five games ahead of the home-run-record paces of Babe Ruth and Roger Asterisk, and propelling the A's into first place in the American League West.
This same Reggie Jackson has hair almost as short as his manager's, and Hank Bauer's bristles are the shortest in baseball. He dresses like Ken Harrelson and Steve Carlton only on the baseball field. His manners are impeccable. The words he uses are carefully selected and almost always polysyllabic. Jackson never will be called a "dumb jock."
So where are Jackson's Oakland fans? Already the people around the White House, the one in Washington, think Jackson is the only man who plays the game. Julie and David Eisenhower twice have gone out to see him play, and each time he happened to hit home runs. One night they dragged Julie's father along. Afterward the President dashed off a letter to Jackson and suggested that he subsidize Julie and David with tickets for all Oakland games. Jackson would be pleased to do just that.
Members of the First Family are not Jackson's only Washington admirers. An even more impressive accolade has been bestowed by old No. 9 himself. Ted Williams said of Jackson: "I wasn't sure the first time I saw him. The second time I was amazed. He is the most natural hitter I have ever seen."
Jackson also has enlisted thousands of fans in such towns as Detroit, Kansas City, New York and Boston. Particularly Boston. For three games one weekend last month Jackson did more to ruin the Red Sox than Bob Gibson ever dreamed of. He started slowly with only a home run in a 4-1 victory on Friday night. Then, on Saturday, he hit two home runs and drove in 10 runs (a good season for some players). Finally, on Sunday, he hit a home run, a triple and a double to drive in four more runs. More than 81,000 Red Sox fans cheered wildly the times Jackson came to bat to wreck a Boston pitcher.
Sadly, there were no such wild emotional displays for Jackson or his team when the Athletics returned to Oakland. The A's, in fact, seemed less popular than ever at home. Neither Finley, who has seen only two home games (the first two in April) this year, nor the residents themselves have responded to Jackson's inspired assault on the records of Ruth and Maris, and no one really cares that the A's are the only Bay Area team in first place.
Last week, for instance, Oakland averaged fewer than 8,000 paid for six dates against Kansas City and Chicago. The club is already running more than 50,000 behind last year, when it drew only 850,000. The community is not totally to blame for the small attendance, however. Despite the on-field successes of the Athletics, the Charles O. Finley organization has done nothing to promote them among prospective fans.
The absentee owner sits in his Chicago insurance office or his La Porte, Ind. farmhouse, listens to telephone recreations of games and then decides what moves he must make. Two weeks ago he decided the Athletics needed a special pinch runner. Presto—Allan Lewis appeared in Oakland. Then Finley decided the Athletics did not need a special pinch runner. Presto—Lewis disappeared. The dictatorial policy of Finley, who makes most personnel changes, annually prompts almost a total turnover in. Oakland's executive personnel. Two weeks ago Carl Finley, Charlie's cousin, quit as business manager.
In this world of suspicion and disruption, the A's play mostly in front of empty seats, a fact that bothers all of the players, but Reggie Jackson in particular. "Crowds do something for me," he said. "Like in Boston that weekend. Even when the people booed before the first game, I knew they were booing in appreciation. I was excited. It's the same when we are playing Washington and there are not many people in the stands. That's all right. Playing in front of Ted Williams in Washington can get me excited, too. The people who do come to see us play in Oakland are good fans, but there are not enough of them. I hope I am in Oakland when they fill the park day after day. We are going to be a dynasty. We are going to roll over teams like the Orioles are rolling over teams now."