Ever since that painful separation Mr. Jackson has kept in close touch with his son, writing him to hang in there against lefthanders, to be quick with the bat, to have respect for his coaches and managers. Reggie also now enjoys warm relations with his mother, who lives in Baltimore—he bought her a new house—and with a lot of other relatives. "I play ball for my family." He was divorced two years ago—"I was too wrapped up in being a good ballplayer, I had no conception of being a husband"—and says he misses the steady companionship of one woman, as opposed to several. He has no children, but he lavishes gifts on his young nieces and also on a poor Indian-Mexican-black community in Arizona.
Finley likes to call his ballplayers "Son." Jackson, of course, doesn't go for that, but he can deal with his owner coolly now, and thanks to psychotherapy and the avuncular or big-brotherly counseling of Dick Williams and Frank Robinson, who managed him in Puerto Rico in the winter of '70, he says he is over his rage and stubborn "meanness." He says, "I had to learn that R-E-G-G-I-E didn't spell J-E-S-U-S. I've got good linear thinking now."
But in the Chicago airport, after having some beers with teammates, discussing how to hit and how to deal with Finley and accommodating yet another kid pestering for an autograph ("I'd like to slap him in the head," he says, but he signs), he strides down the concourse restlessly and says, "I hate airports. I hate airplanes. I'm callused. I'm in a cage now. I like to be left alone by people snatching at me, grabbing at me. I don't go out all that much with that many people on the team. I just float until the game. When I get that bat in my hands people are paying attention. I'm alone then. I'm out of my cage. I'm free to move, to run, to go. I'm like an animal running through the woods."
He seems to be fascinated with the calluses on his hands, from hitting. "Feel those," he says, and indeed they are formidable. " Jesus Alou shook my hand the other day and said it was like shaking the damn road, it was so hard." Women are often amazed to touch those calluses, he says. "He's hard all over," Summers says. "He's one big callus. Skin's tight."
He comes into the dressing room in Minnesota after the rest of the team one evening and sees his interviewer talking to Centerfeilder Bill North. North has refused to speak to Jackson ever since Reggie chewed him out in front of everybody for not running out a ground ball hard. (And last week the two traded punches in the Detroit locker room.) Dark will not upbraid people, so Jackson takes it upon himself. "Who does he think he is?" teammates complained after Reggie criticized North.
It bothers Jackson that North, who is black, formerly his friend, a fine base runner, a very cool and intelligent talker, won't make up with him. "I see a lot of me in him," he says of North. He feels eager to help teammates (and opponents, too, for that matter). Before he has a chance to ask the interviewer what North said, Jackson is pleased that an occasion arises for him to show how he can deal as player rep. Finley has called up minor-leaguer Phil Garner, but now threatens to send Garner back down right away if he won't sign a big-league contract on Finley's terms. Jackson takes over. He gets Finley on the phone and reasons with him, tells him that sending Garner back down will only reflect badly on the club. Finley listens—everyone is amazed. Garner gets the contract he wants.
"Is it true you have to have a law degree to be player rep on this team?" Reporter Bergman kids Jackson.
"That, or be indispensable," says Reggie. But he is worried about something. "What did North say?" he asks the interviewer.
"That you were a great player, but off the field he didn't have any use for you."
Jackson suppresses agitation. "But nobody else on the team said that, did they?"