So what was he doing in the whirlpool? Well, the score was 4-0 in the bottom of the 4th against the Twins the Saturday before Mother's Day, and Jackson was on second with none out. In that situation, according to all baseball wisdom and a consensus of his teammates, a power hitter has no business risking injury by trying to steal. But Jackson was interested in doing what Bobby Bonds of the Giants had won acclaim for doing: hitting 30 home runs and stealing 30 bases in the same year. "I know one way to play," he says. "That's hard-ball. If I don't steal a base when I can, I'm shortchanging myself, my family, my peers, the owner and the fans—and the man upstairs, God." So he lit out for third and about halfway there his right hamstring went sproing. "You know how a pulled hamstring feels?" He reaches out and digs deep into the back of the interviewer's leg with hard fingers, producing a sensation of grave fundamental insult, like a poker up the nose. The injury will cause Jackson to miss six games and consign him to designated hitting for 12 games after that. "I guess I'm going to have to cut down on running," he concedes.
His primary job, after all, is getting the big hit, and that is what thrills him most. When asked to explain what hitting feels like, he grimaces fiercely, clenches his fists and causes the whirlpool water to slosh dramatically as he searches for words. He finds plenty of them:
"Being in complete control. You have been the dominant force—not the ball, not the pitcher. You have taken over and lined it somewhere. Right on the sweet part of the bat. And you can look back and smile, 'cause you have done it. You have dominated. You have won for that particular moment."
And when you jump on a heater, or fastball, and hit a long dinger, or home run, it is an overwhelming sensation. 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 stands—it 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."
But Jackson wants to be more than an astounding hitter. "I started thinking about playing ball when I found out who Willie Mays was," he says. "Guy who could beat you the most ways. He could go 0 for 4 and beat you."
Jackson acknowledges that the A's call him Buck, which is what the Giants called Mays. "Yeah, Chuck Dobson gave me that name because he knew how much I admired Mays," he says. "I wouldn't...it wouldn't sound right coming from anybody but them." "Buck" from his teammates means a lot to him, but there are other, fancier tags he aims to earn.
"Star is a tarnished word. And superstar.... I want to maintain some consistency of greatness. Win five world championships in a row. There are guys better than superstars."
"Yeah. Tom Seaver. Pete Rose. Frank Robinson. Henry Aaron. Jim Palmer. Pete Rose is a living morale. A living philosophy. These guys are living human definitions of the word determination. They walk on the field and you sense it. They buy an ice-cream cone and you sense it. They can go to a movie and stand out in the crowd with the lights out." Jackson wants to be such a complete ballplayer, so "you can feel guys looking at you when you pass their dugout."
He subsides into the vortical bath to read a collection of quotes about him from ballplayers around the league. Most of the comments are glowing, for example, "I'd pay to see him play"—Ralph Houk. There are what might be taken as criticisms, too.