"Perfect speed, my son, is being there."
—Jonathan Livingston Seagull
The nearly empty clubhouse of the world champion Oakland A's looks like the men's room of an old, disreputable movie theater, except that Reginald Martinez Jackson, a superstar advancing toward superduperstar status, is naked in it, taking his naturally beautiful left-handed stance and swinging a 35-inch, 37-ounce flame-treated bat, intensely, reflectively. Whupp. Whupp. Even though he is cutting through thin air he seems to be making good contact. Last year, after seven big-league seasons of ups, downs, moping and controversy, he was the American League's home-run leader, RBI leader and Most Valuable Player. This year he might win the Triple Crown, and he has already—nobody else could have—one-upped Henry Aaron's 715th and subsequent home runs.
Whupp. "My strongest point is my strength," he says. "Shoulders to fingertips." Indeed, he has 17-inch biceps, as Sonny Liston had, and he is one of the top raw-power men in the league, along with Chicago's Dick Allen and Detroit's Willie Horton (who once broke a bat in two by abruptly checking his swing). But mighty isn't all he is.
By birth Afro-Latin-American, by faith an Arizona Methodist, Jackson is a man who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood outside Philadelphia, roomed in the majors with a WASP named Chuck, currently pals around with two Portuguese motor sportsmen—one weighing 250 pounds, the other 305—wears around his neck a string of wampum beads and a gold crucifix he bought from a Cuban pitcher and is built like a Greek god. On paper he is a millionaire in land development.
Whupp. Facially, thanks in part to his mustache, beard and fullish Afro, he resembles the charismatic civil-rights leader Jesse Jackson, with overtones of sprightly pop-off Pirate Pitcher Dock Ellis. He has the eagerly concerned, unsettled, open-eyed look of a man who will never be cynical, boring or fully aware (or unaware) of how he affects people. He is a half inch over six feet tall and weighs 207 pounds, and aside from an arthritic spine, near-sightedness and astigmatism, there is only one thing wrong with him.
"Feel that," Jackson says, indicating the back of his right thigh, which is as big around as a good-sized woman's waist. Though unflexed, it feels like an only slightly deflated football. "Hard, isn't it?" he says. His thighs are overdeveloped. That is why he is prone to pull a hamstring when he turns on his 9.6-in-the-100 speed. This day in Oakland he is out of the lineup and nearly alone in the dressing room because of such a pull, rashly incurred. But he is keeping in touch with his stroke. Whupp. Whupp.
" Richie Allen told me once, 'Don't speak with this [he points to his mouth], speak with this.' " With a flowing gesture he indicates his body, and the bat. " 'Through this [he holds the bat up like a torch] you can speak to the world.' "
But even though Jackson may be on his way to one of the best years anybody ever had with a bat—after two months of the season he is hitting close to .400 with 42 RBIs and a league-leading 15 home runs—it was orally that he faded the man who recently passed Babe Ruth. A reporter asked Jackson, who is 28, what he thought of his chances of breaking Aaron's lifetime home-run record. Jackson replied, "No way. They couldn't afford to pay me to play that long."
Now that was a partly humorous remark. Please do not consider it over-proud, because Reggie is loath to come on as a braggart. He even feels dubious about all the bare-chested pictures of himself that have been appearing lately. "My peers may not like it," he says. "And I am one of my peers."
To be sure, White Sox Pitcher Stan Bahnsen says of Jackson, "He's a helluva ballplayer, but I'm not one of his fans. I don't like him. I think he's a prima donna. That whole team seems to think they're spokesmen for the game." And the aforementioned Allen, whose own thighs are lean and flowing, the way he likes a racehorse's to be, says, "I look in the record book and I see Reggie has never hit .300. And I wonder how he can do all that talking." But other players commend him roundly. He is established. Whatever his flaws and rough edges, Jackson has put together a package of power, speed, science, flash, funk, outspoken quotability, popularity, fun-lovingness, social and economic independence, responsibility, diversification and winningness that is unique among ballplayers. And Reggie knows and loves it. Whupp.