Archive for the ‘Reggie Jackson (Oak.)’ Category

h1

Reggie Jackson, 1976

February 2, 2009

reggie-jackson-763
(Note: The following was my farewell to the disbanding Baseball Toaster; the ongoing travelogue-in-cardboard “Somewhere I lost Connection” will resume with my next post.)

A god stands in a moment of contemplative reflection. Shadows give way to sun as he readies to move into the center of attention, that bright stage he was born to command. Behind him, the faces in the crowd that will watch his every move have been blurred to something like Monet’s lily pads, those hypnotic omens of the inevitable dusk into which we’ll all dissolve, as if the card was meant to whisper that all names, even those of the greatest among us, will eventually unravel to silence. In fact, the whole card aches with transience: by the time it thrummed in the palms of the boys of America the superduperstar had moved on, traded to Baltimore, the regal joy of the card’s blazing gold uniform a lie. The most magnificent team of the Cardboard God era became an empty golden shell for the remainder of my childhood.

***

Time dismantles. If the Oakland A’s of the early 1970s couldn’t hold together, what chance do the rest of us have? Indeed, the very platform upon which these words stand is eroding. In other words, Baseball Toaster is coming to an end, all its pieces scattering or dissolving.

I enjoyed it while it lasted, and as my farewell I’m sending Reggie to the plate for my last at-bat here. This is partly because even I, who grew to despise Reggie when he became the self-professed, self-aggrandizing straw that stirred the drink that was the hated Yankees, know that no one was ever better suited for the final at-bat. It’s also partly because I know he’s the favorite player of the straw that stirred the drink of Baseball Toaster, creator Ken Arneson. Unlike Reggie, who seemed to prefer the solo spotlight, Ken is a great believer in the benefits of a chorus of voices. It was the communal effort I enjoyed the most here, and by that I mean not only the feeling of being a part of a team of bloggers but of being part of a wider community of thoughtful, baseball-savvy conversationalists. Last April, Ken spoke to the benefits of that kind of pluralistic exchange of ideas when he offered these thoughts in a comment on a Dodger Thoughts post about the growing divide between old-school newspaper writers and bloggers:

Blog entries are links in a chain. The unit of measurement in blogging is not the article, the unit of measurement is the conversation. . . The picture is painted by everyone who participates in the conversation, across multiple comments and blog entries and blogs. Believe me, if you say something wrong on the web, you will be corrected. Yes, it’s a messy process full of noise, but it also is a process that leads, in the end, to a more complete and accurate picture of the issues than the voice of just one person, no matter how talented.

I hope that the communal feel that has surrounded my forays into the past here at Baseball Toaster continues at the new home of Cardboard Gods. I know I’ll keep trying to fight time’s relentless dismantling, but as Ken implies, one voice can only do so much.

***

Time dismantles; voices come together. I knew this by the time I first held this card in my hands, in 1976, when I was eight. The year before, I had attended my first major league baseball game, at Fenway Park in Boston, the Red Sox hosting the A’s. You would think such a seminal moment would remain forever vivid in my mind, but because time dismantles I can only remember two things. The first is that I was amazed by my initial view of the glowing green field when we came up the runway to our seats in right field. The second is Reggie. A certain sense of excitement surrounded him throughout the game, and finally, late, the sky darkening and the huge blinding banks of artificial lights flooding the field in something brighter than day, the crowd’s excitement turned to caustic, resentful awe. I can’t even remember what exactly he did in the game’s waning moments to defeat the beloved local nine but I remember the way the crowd reacted. A throng ten times the size of my Vermont town prayed together in anger and disappointment and secret grudging wonder to one strutting spectacular god.

h1

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…)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 124 other followers