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Reggie Jackson

April 1, 2007
 The Mustache Ride, Chapter 1

I’ve written about Reggie Jackson before in my ongoing effort to view the aimless stumble of my life through the prism of the baseball cards I collected from 1975–1980. But if anybody from that time is going to demand more than one look, it’s the hirsute extrovert pictured here. Though I have known for a while that the core player of this wandering narrative, for personal reasons, is Carl Yastrzemski (so far seen only in glimpses), I understand that Reggie Jackson was, objectively speaking (or Reggie speaking), the loud and proud center of the inimitable toxic Technicolor disco inferno that was baseball in the miasma of the Ford and Carter years.

He may even have been the best player. I had it in my mind that Joe Morgan and Fred Lynn outperformed Reggie during that span, but on closer look both of those players, though as fielders far more useful to their teams than Reggie, actually had a couple of subpar, injury-hampered years at the bat while Reggie pretty much kept mashing year in and year out. Probably only Jim Rice was as consistently fearsome a hitter as Reggie during my childhood years, but even I have to admit that my beloved Jim Ed had the benefit of playing in the best hitters park in the league. And on top of all that Reggie was Mr. October, the successor to Bob Gibson as baseball’s king of the big stage.
But when I imply that all Cardboard God roads lead to Reggie I’m not just talking about performance. Though baseball has never been a hermetically sealed world unto itself, it seems to have embodied the times during the 1970s with an abandon never seen before or since, seething and sparkling and belching and flailing with all the careening spasms of the Me Decade. And nobody epitomized this more than Reggie, the candy bar that told you how good it was when you unwrapped it, the walking 60-point tabloid headline, the one-man neverending tickertape parade.
The man just couldn’t not be The Show. Take this card. The empty stands and the presence of a teammate casually loitering nearby identifies this photograph as one not taken during a game. My guess is that the Topps photographer came to the park that day planning to capture Reggie with another of the strangely lifeless “still life with bat” shots that riddle the card collections of that era (for a typical example of this from the same year, see Mario Guerrero’s 1975 card). But Reggie Jackson simply could not be contained. Every part of him, from his bright yellow superhero-muscled forearm to his Steve Austin aviator shades to his wide open ever-motoring mouth, radiates crackling, kinetic life. All he’s doing is lazily swinging a bat, and it’s riveting. Even I have to admit this, and (as perhaps suggested in a previous Cardboard God profile that heaped potentially libelous anti-capitalist invective on Reggie) I spent the last tender years of childhood coiled with hatred for the self-professed straw that stirred my least favorite drink, the Yankees.

While I can’t say that I have a connection to Reggie as deep as the one described by fellow late-’70s child Alex Belth in his moving essay in Bombers Broadside 2007, I do owe him a debt for his big-ass way of being, which made the world a wider, more exciting place to be. It’s no accident that the only thing I remember from the first baseball game I ever went to, in 1975, besides my first glimpse of the grass at Fenway, is that Reggie Jackson was in the house. He had the ability to make anything he was involved in The Main Event.

And Reggie not only defined his colorful era with his explosive presence, he greatly helped usher in that era. Among other of his for better or worse path-clearing exploits, in 1972 he quite literally changed the face of baseball by becoming the first player to wear a mustache in a regular season game since Wally Schang in 1914. A’s owner Charlie Finley knew a promotional tool when he saw one and quickly offered $300 to any of his players who joined Reggie in the ranks of the mustachioed. The already colorful A’s soon became as bristly-faced as a Hell’s Angels convention, a development that has tended to obscure Reggie’s status as the Jackie Robinson of facial hair.

(to be continued…)

9 comments

  1. 1.  I remember coveting this card. Like Alex Belth, Reggie was my favorite player as a kid. I started collecting in ’74, and I always had the hardest time finding Reggie cards. I know I finally got the ’74 and ’76 Reggie cards, but I don’t think I ever got this one. Or maybe I did, because I remember this card distinctly, but it didn’t survive one of the many moves of my youth. I’m pretty sure it’s not among the couple thousand cards I have sitting up in my attic.


  2. 2.  Reggie’s 1973 card pictured so much action on a throw from the outfield that the photo itself is one massive blur. My own version is made even more exciting by a mustache drawn onto the card in red marker.


  3. 3.  I had this card. That year, I laid out all my cards and asked my sister to pick out the guy she thought was the best looking. She picked out this card…..she even overlooked the underwear guy, Jim Palmer. Much later, I read that Reggie was crying at a bar once, when he told another player that he wished he was attractive as Jamie Quirk. Strange.


  4. 4.  Ah, Reggie.

    Remember “ReggieVision”, the Panasonic ad?

    He was that guy, the guy you hated because he was on their team, but also the guy you hated because, secretly, he scared the crap out of you. He could demoralize you, and your team, just by walking on the field.

    Reggie.

    I can’t hate Jeter or ARod like that-Maybe Clemens in a Yankee uniform inspires that kind of hate.

    Nah.

    Reggie was the man.


  5. 5.  2 “My own version is made even more exciting by a mustache drawn onto the card in red marker.”

    Random doodling or a casualty of the ’73 World Series? (mbtn01 is the impresario of the site Mets By the Numbers at http://www.metsbythenumbers.com/)

    3 “Much later, I read that Reggie was crying at a bar once, when he told another player that he wished he was attractive as Jamie Quirk.”

    Good lord. That is both hilarious and strangely troubling. If even Reggie is haunted by self-doubt, how are us mere mortals supposed to function?


  6. 6.  4 “I can’t hate Jeter or ARod like that-Maybe Clemens in a Yankee uniform inspires that kind of hate.”

    In hopes of cutting the treacle of the George Will-esque “The Glowing Verdant Green Fields of Baseball” type writing sure to be abounding lately on the occasion of Opening Day (writing that, don’t get me wrong, I’m capable of spewing out with the best of them), I’m taking spudrph’s lead and posting my top five most hated Yankees through the ages:

    5. Graig Nettles (for deliberatley targeting Bill Lee’s shoulder during the ’76 brawl; also, I’m not crazy about the unorthodox spelling of your name, “Graig”)

    4. Reggie Jackson (see spudrph’s comment above; obviously I have complicated feelings about Reggie, but certainly if you take the high-water mark of my hatred for the guy as the grounds for inclusion on this list, he’s a no-brainer)

    3. Derek Jeter. (First, he is symbolic of the late ’90s Yankees dynasty that accentuated my general feelings of being a late-20s, early-30s directionless loser at the bottom of the New York City heap, and second, his unchallenged adoration in the public eye reminds me of the deification of the Duke basketball program (a deification that seems now to be subsiding a bit) for “representing all that is right and true in the game.” I hate that kind of thing on principle. “I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man.” -Dostoevsky, “Notes from the Underground”)

    2. Lou Gehrig. (God, I hate that guy! Ah, not really, of course. Just trying to see if you’re still paying attention. For the real number 2, please read on.)

    2. Tie: Roger Clemens in pinstripes, Wade Boggs in pinstripes and on a horse. (Seeing Wade in pinstripes was very jarring, but I was able to stomach it right up until the point when he got up on that steed. God, that was awful. I actually studiously avoided the image for years, knowing of it only by second-hand tale, but finally in 2002 I came face to face with it while using a urinal at a bar on the upper west side. Time didn’t dull the shock; in fact I think I still may have some lingering bladder problems from that moment.)

    1. Russell Earl Dent. (Cue Whitney Houston: And I . . . I will always hate you.)


  7. 7.  Pretty sure my neighbor Chris Walsh was the artist. I was against intentionally Wilkerizing my cards.


  8. 8.  Johnny Damon is right up there too. Clemens is a super dickwad. I actually like Bucky Dent. Most hated Sox player: Curt Schilling!


  9. 9.  I was 5 years old when the A’s moved to my city, Oakland. No more would I have to marvel at the exploits of the larger than life stars of the San Francisco Giants: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichel, which I mostly heard through the deep timbre of Lon Simmons voice on the radio in the bedroom my older brother and I shared. My brother knew seemingly everything about baseball and the players, and prophetically told me to listen during big game moments, such as the time Willie Mays came to bat with the bases loaded. He told me “Listen, Mays is going to hit a grand slam!”. “No way!” I thought, so difficult a feat seemed impossible. And then the sharp crack of bat on ball is heard, and the crowd noise rises and erupts, and Simmons exclaims excitedly that Mays has, indeed, just hit a grand slam. I ask my brother how he knew, and he replies “Because Mays is great!”. And he is.

    But now, we’ve got our own heroes, the speedy base stealer with the endearing nickname “Campy”, the awesome hurlers, and biggest and brashest of all, the mighty home run hitter: REGGIE JACKSON. Soon, one needs only say “Reggie”. It’s not too long before we’re at a game, just my brother and I, sitting in the right field bleachers to be near him, and then he comes to bat, and the crowd rises in anticipation. My brother and I stand too, and he tells me to watch, as Reggie is a great home run hitter. He tells me the plan, if Reggie hits one out, is to catch it between us in the blanket we brought with us because of the cool Coliseum night. And then there is a mighty crack of the bat, and things go into slow motion for me as the ball arcs toward, and then over our seats. My brother runs for the top of the bleachers, which is where the ball is headed. I stand there, mouth open, too in awe to move. The ball glances of the top row bench and begins to roll down the stairs toward me. A group of kids dive for it and it miraculously eludes them and continues down the stairs. Another couple of kids go for it, and once again it escapes capture. Now it is only a few feet from me, and as I finally unfreeze and step towards it I’m brushed aside by an older kid as he rushes past. Still, the ball continues to bounce past all potential captors. Finally, someone cradles it in at the bottom of the steps. The crowd is buzzing about the length of the blast, and someone with a transistor radio announces that we just witnessed the longest home run ever hit in the short history of the Coliseum.

    We all take a little pride in the fact that Reggie is not just The Man, he’s Our Man.



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