Now, as the rest of the team grapples on the field with the Kansas City Royals, Jackson is in the whirlpool, discussing his assets. "I've got seven people I can call my friends. That makes me an awful rich man. People who would hurt themselves to help me." One of these is Gary Walker, an intense white 35-year-old who tried to sell Jackson a $10,000 life-insurance policy nine years ago when Reggie was at Arizona State College. "I turned him down, I stood him up," Jackson says. "But he kept after me. And now my life's insured for one million eight!" When Jackson signed on with the A's for an $85,000 bonus and began making contacts among professional athletes, he and Walker formed the Tempe, Arizona-based United Development, Inc., which puts together syndicates of investors to speculate in land.
"He was making $5,000, $6,000 a year then," says Jackson, "and our office was in his extra bedroom. Now he's making over $100,000 a year, and we've got an office that costs $2,500 a month. He's my best friend in the world." Reggie lends his fame to the business and also rounds up investors—some 300 athletes so far, including a number of the pitchers he faces.
Not only has United Development achieved its goal of "proving that black and white could equal green," it is trying to hasten the greening of America, or at least of Arizona. The company's 61-employee office features a piano for impromptu community sings, an art gallery complete with resident artist, a crafts room and encounter-group sessions in which Jackson takes an active part during the off-season. There will be company plays, too, in which Reggie will probably act, and United is setting up two homes for delinquent boys and even plans to found a college—' 'an alternative to the four-year rip-off most of us went to without learning anything," in Walker's words. When UCLA's Bill Walton was looking for a relevant pro basketball team, United Development went to him with a proposal that would have built around him a new ABA franchise with, among other things, subsidized seating for poor fans, freedom for all players to sign with other teams after a year and a woman psychological coordinator who would have set up programs on the road so that players could, says Walker, "go to the ghettos and work with kids instead of trying to see how many broads they could chase and how much trash they could smoke." For signing, Walton would have received such bonuses as a 10-speed bicycle, a mountain house (provided he designed and built it himself with the help of experts and boys from the homes for delinquents) and a $1 million loan (on condition that he spend 20 hours a month working with the delinquent boys). "I think it freaked Walton out," Walker says.
Jackson has not been freaked out by anything in the last couple of years. Other friends he cites are the bulky Portuguese brothers, Wayne and Tony Del Rio, at whose garage in San Leandro he works on the four show and racing cars he owns. After Jackson received a death threat involving a "voodoo curse" during last year's World Series, Tony Del Rio served as his bodyguard.
"How did the death threat make you feel?"
"Like a star," Jackson says with a sort of radiance from the whirlpool, but quickly his expression becomes more discreet. "Naw," he says. "It scared me." But not enough to deter him from driving in six runs, making superb catches in right field and being named MVP.
"A lousy MVP," said A's Owner Charles Finley, speaking of Jackson's regular-season honor, when contract arbitration time came around. "They had to give it to somebody." Finley is an innovative businessman himself, but not in the spirit of United Development. The people of Oakland come out in very small numbers to see the A's, and accordingly Finley has made economies: getting rid of the ballgirls (one of whom Jackson was dating), ceasing to furnish stamps for the players' answers to fan mail, keeping the clubhouse seedy and fighting as hard as ever to hold down salaries. He is the only owner in baseball whose leading players—with Jackson in the forefront—regularly denounce him for quotation. The A's don't mind faulting their manager, either. Last year, when it was Dick Williams, Jackson criticized him for being too critical of players. This year it is Alvin Dark, and the A's criticize him for not being critical enough. Dark takes stoically the kind of interference and abuse Finley has always handed out to his managers. One night recently after a loss, Finley went into Dark's office and chewed him out loudly enough for everyone in the dressing room to hear. "If you'd lose 25 pounds off that fat [expletive] of yours, you could think better" was one of the things Finley yelled at Dark.
This is the way Jackson is currently managed: Dark crosses his path in the dressing room, wordlessly pats him on the behind and goes on by. Jackson shrugs. After being lifted from a game when he was still going strong, lefthander Ken Holtzman told Ron Bergman of the Oakland Tribune, the only reporter who travels with the team, "Dark is [expletive] and so is Finley, and print that."
"Finley is so cold-blooded," Jackson says, "he ought to "make antifreeze commercials. But actually he's very sensitive. When the players voice their opinions about him he is really hurt. If he would just quit thinking that people are trying to take advantage of him. He wants to be the dominating party."
So does Jackson. The newly instituted arbitration procedure this past off-season gave him real financial leverage against Finley for the first time, and with such documentation as a telegram from California's Frank Robinson calling him the best player in the league he won a $60,000 raise to his current $135,000. That and his half interest in United Development add up to an annual haul of $250,000.