"Jesus. Nolan Ryan says I could be better! 'If he ever plays up to his potential he's going to be something else.' That's a compliment. Nolan Ryan throws harder than anybody since 1 B.C. And he could be better." A little potential right back at you, Ryan! Jackson sloshes happily, thinking of being better.
The next evening he is still sidelined but that doesn't mean he is inactive. He has plenty to do in his capacity as the league's foremost fraternizer. Players caught talking to opponents on the field before a game are subject to a $50 fine. Jackson disapproves of this rule and flouts it expansively.
"What's $50 to a man like you?" he says to Kansas City slugger John May-berry as the A's and Royals warm up.
"See where Texas pitched to you with first open," Mayberry says. This is a dig because dominating forces are supposed to be walked in such a situation. But then again it is not a dig, because there were two outs in the eighth, and the A's were behind 2-1, and what Jackson did, feeling challenged by such a lack of deference, was foul off seven of Steve Hargan's pitches until he got the one he wanted and then hit that one out of the park—"left the yard with it" is the current expression—for a game-winning three-run job. That is what you call bat control.
"Understand you're not hitting the deep ones anymore," says Mayberry, chortling. "Getting consistent and losing that good depth."
"Yeah," Jackson says. "I'm staying down around 400 feet. Here...." He hands Mayberry one of his own bats, a 288 RJ. "No, you better not swing that timber," he adds. "Might sprain your wrist."
Then he exchanges a few words with the fans. There are so few of them, he says, he' almost feels he knows them all personally. "You enjoying that hot dog?" he asks one. "Where'd you get that watch?" he asks another. A boy in the stands wants a ball. "No, son, I don't give anything away, except a hard time. Especially if you're 60 feet away with a ball in your hand." But the boy is six feet away without a ball in his hand, and he persists. "You're here every day," Jackson objects. "How many balls you got at home?"
"I ain't got no balls at home. I swear to God, Reggie, I sell every one of 'em before I leave the park." Unable to resist such candor, Jackson tosses the boy one of Finley's strictly rationed spheroids. "I was going to steal that one for myself," he grumbles.
Then he goes back to the dressing room, hits the whirlpool again and returns to watch the game in civilian clothes from a vantage along the walkway to the dugout, between the stands and the screen behind home plate. He yells at everybody—A's, Royals, umpires, fans who yell at him.
The A's are having trouble with Lindy McDaniel's forkball, and Jackson keeps admonishing them to look for it: "He got to come in with that pitch. And it's always the same speed. You got to wait for it." Jackson used to have trouble with off-speed pitching, but now he looks forward to facing junk-throwers like Wilbur Wood and Mike Cuellar. He is a guess hitter—"I call it calculated anticipation"—which means he goes up to the plate looking for a certain pitch (not a ball inside or outside, which is what Allen and other area guessers lay for, but a curve, say, or a fastball, anywhere) and waits until he gets it. If a two-strike pitch is not the one he is set up to rip he will just try to get his bat on it, either fouling it off, as against Hargan, or perhaps slapping it for a hit. He can generate such last-instant momentum that he may power a ball out by just flicking at it this way. "I've hit balls that I wonder how I hit them. Balls past me. It's strength."