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Afterward, Jackson pleaded innocent to outright defiance, and after coming off suspension he detailed his reasons for bunting. "I had not been playing regularly and I wasn't swinging the bat very well," he told a mob of reporters in Chicago. "I thought under the circumstances that bunting was the best thing I could do. Even after Howser spoke to me, I didn't realize exactly what the consequences would be. I didn't consider it an act of defiance, and I don't feel I did anything wrong. I would even do it again if I didn't know what the consequences would be. For that reason, it would have been better if I had struck out swinging and avoided the hassle."
Although Steinbrenner believes that one of Jackson's motives for bunting might have been to help the team, he also thinks that defiance was a more compelling reason for Reggie's action. Perhaps the best explanation comes from young Outfielder Gary Thomasson, a recent New York acquisition from the A's. "I tried to understand how it happened," Thomasson says. "I said to myself, 'I'm Reggie Jackson. I've done a lot in baseball and signed my last contract. Why would I get overly excited or overly depressed about things?' Then I decided the answer was ego or pride. Sometimes ego and pride can be your worst enemies."
The Yankee locker room is a storehouse of ego and pride, a lot of it bruised these days. Jackson says he is not sure if he wants to play next year or where, but at least he is leaving open the possibility of another season in New York. Other Yankees have no hesitations. Munson wants out. Roy White wants out. Sparky Lyle wants out. Figueroa wants out. Cliff Johnson wants out. Jim Spencer wants out. Several of them are likely to be accommodated. Martin probably wanted out, too, but he had not foreseen his departure coming as early as it did. Steinbrenner had guaranteed Billy his job for the rest of the season, but two weeks ago, when he learned about Martin's liver condition, he offered him a lucrative and graceful way to retire immediately. Although Martin turned down this offer, he was almost certainly aware at the time that only two things could have prevented his firing at the end of the season: the Yankees pulling out the division title, which was highly unlikely, or Martin quitting before Steinbrenner could give him a pink slip.
It seemed eminently logical that if Jackson stayed, Martin wouldn't. If Martin stayed, Jackson shouldn't. Steinbrenner's preference was for Jackson, because George and Billy always seemed to have too much in common to stay together. In the opinion of each, the other is untrustworthy, is disliked by the players and, unkindest cut of all, is "not a true Yankee."
How can anyone say Martin is not a true Yankee? He sitteth himself on the right hand of his idol, Casey Stengel. "I came here three years ago to help put the Yankees back on top," Martin said three days before his resignation. "I've done that. It was nothing but fun in '76, and it was nothing but aggravation last year, but we did it. When I leave here, I'll think about all my years with the Yankees and I'll cry."
Nobody was crying for Jackson last week. The Yankees played well and cut four games off Boston's lead. They also nosed past the Orioles and back into third, five games behind the hot second-place Brewers. And Third Baseman Graig Nettles said it sure was peaceful with Jackson gone.
Back home in Oakland, Reggie was enjoying his first summer vacation in years. He went out to dinner, saw a movie (Damien—Omen II), tinkered with his cars and listened to people tell him what he should do next. His attorney, Steve Kay, suggested a brief statement of contrition on ABC. Reggie said no. He did not want to talk to anybody. But still it upset him to read so many negative reports about himself in the papers. The president of the Confectionery Division of Standard Brands, the company that manufactures the gooey REGGIE! candy bar, flew to Oakland and conferred with Jackson. Standard Brands does not want Reggie to make any more enemies than necessary, and the company also wants him to stay in New York. High visibility equals lots of candy bars sold. Sales last week were way up, probably because the furor surrounding Jackson coincided with the kickoff of the advertising and promotional campaign for the bar. No, no, it's not what you think. The sales push had long ago been scheduled for mid-July.
Last Saturday night, after he arrived in Chicago, Jackson watched the Yankee game on his hotel-room television set. He knew what it would be like tomorrow, he said. The reporters, the cameras, the crowds, all wanting to get a piece of him. And then Martin came on the tube, to reflect on the victory, to praise his battling team, to say that New York was still not out of it. Maybe it's because nobody asked, but not once did he mention Jackson's name.
But when Jackson returned to the Yankee clubhouse Sunday and refused to admit to reporters that he intended defiance, there was no way that Reggie's name would not come to Martin's lips. "I'm saying shut up," the manager said at the airport. "We don't need none of your stuff. We're winning without you. We don't need you coming in and making all these comments. If he doesn't shut his mouth, he won't play and I don't care what George says. He can replace me right now if he doesn't like it."
Forty-five minutes later, Martin resumed his outburst, throwing in his double-barreled "liar" comment for good measure. Although he did not mention Steinbrenner by name, the reference was obvious because the owner had pleaded guilty on Aug. 23, 1974 to one count of conspiring to violate the campaign-funding law and to another count of attempting to cover up the donations.