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…)