Becoming Mr. October
I do not know Reggie Jackson, so I cannot know what’s in his heart or mind. In rationalizing the publication of his newest memoir --- the fifth title that bears his name as author --- he states, “This book has been written because I wanted to set the record straight regarding what the 1977-1978 seasons were like from my side. The miniseries “The Bronx Is Burning” thoroughly embarrassed me the way the story was told.”
So with his intentions stated, he sets out to address pretty much every bad thing that happened to him or was attributed to him during his five years as a New York Yankee (much less is mentioned of the 16 seasons he spent with the Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles and California Angels), including the infamous Sport Magazine interview in which he allegedly dismissed the beloved Thurman Munson’s leadership abilities. According to legend, when Jackson claimed he was misquoted by the writer, Munson’s response was “For 3,000 f***in’ words?”
The generation of baseball fans who came along after Jackson retired might be perplexed. Here’s a 67-year-old Hall-of-Famer with more than 550 home runs who was among the game’s biggest names. Why is he still so angry?
Racism seems to be a major topic, which can be a sensitive issue for those who did not “walk in his shoes” to address. Jackson made his professional debut some 20 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947. He alleges that the New York Mets passed on him as their number one draft pick in 1966 because he had a Mexican girlfriend in an era when mixed-race couples were unfavorably perceived by some segments of society.
"One of the more interesting revelations (and one seldom discussed) is that Jackson was representative of the first big money free agents."
Jackson continues on this theme as he writes about his confrontation with manager Billy Martin in a game against the Boston Red Sox that was nationally televised: “…I knew enough not to fight Billy Martin. I knew at that time, 1977, here I was the highest-paid player in the game, black, and my thoughts were then --- and still are today --- that people were going to say ‘I told you they’ --- blacks --- ‘can’t handle the money. I told you that they don’t know what they’re doing when they’re on top. Look at how they act.’ Regardless, I was representing minorities at this time and on this stage.”
Jackson seems to forget about some of his African-American contemporaries and predecessors, including (but certainly not limited to) Robinson, who was “on top” with the Brooklyn Dodgers for most of his career yet managed to carry himself with dignity; Willie Mays, who was one of the highest paid players of his era; and the fierce Bob Gibson, a multi-Cy Young-winning pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. Jackson does not come across as an especially sympathetic character.
To a degree, however, Jackson is sadly correct. There will always be a segment of society that is unthinking, racist, misogynist, or indulging in boorish behaviors.
One of the more interesting revelations (and one seldom discussed) is that Jackson was representative of the first big money free agents. Nowadays, the three-million-dollar contract he signed with the Yankees for five years is less than the average annual payout today. Jackson notes how veterans on the downside of their careers resented the younger players for their future earning potential. He also believes that several of his teammates didn’t respect him or have his back, which he attributes to jealousy.
BECOMING MR. OCTOBER is co-written with Kevin Baker, the author of several nonfiction titles and novels that have been well-received but not one of the “go-to” sports scribes, such as a Lonnie Wheeler, Phil Pepe, or Wayne Coffee. I wonder about the pairing of these two. The writing is more conversational than literary and awkward at times with too many exclamations for my taste. If everything is important, then nothing is important.
The memoir has always struck me as a funny genre. You know how you and your friend or wife can have two totally different recollections of the same event, each believing his or her version is the absolute truth? That’s how Jackson comes across. You don’t know if you can wholly trust his recollection. He frequently employs phrases such as “as I remember” or “as I recall,” which gives him a certain out.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on November 22, 2013