It didn't take long for someone to bring up his name as soon as Pablo Sandoval slammed his third home run for the San Francisco Giants in the first game of the World Series.
Reggie Jackson. And it didn't take long for it to trigger the biggest regret of my life.
The former New York Yankee also hit three home runs in a World Series. I was supposed to be at Yankee Stadium to see it, but gave up a ticket to Game 6 of the 1977 World Series between the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers because I stupidly believed in my naive youth that there would be a Game 7. (I instead covered a zoning board hearing for The Bergen Record as I tried to break into journalism.) But there wasn't. I missed out on history.
MasterCard called Jackson's three home runs off the first pitch of three different Dodgers pitchers one of the top 20 greatest moments in baseball history. And after Sandoval's third bomb, I learned Sandoval joined the most elite of clubs. There's only been four MLB players to hit three homeruns in a World Series -- Sandoval, Jackson, Albert Pujols and... Babe Ruth.
My disappointment over not seeing Reggie's epic event was not just because I was a lifelong Yankees fan. It was because I spent a weekend at spring training with him and got to see a glimpse of the Reggie Jackson his fans and loathers did not.
I went to Yankees spring training in Florida as a young reporter/photographer hoping to break into sports photography. I had complete access on the field taking pictures during the games. While the Yankee players sat in the dugout, Reggie would keep to himself. As you know, he was a controversial figure who despite his great skills did not always get along with the other players and especially manager Billy Martin.
So Jackson took the time to talk to me. At each game, he'd come over and ask me what I was doing. It was very rare to be a female sports photographer back then. I only knew of one other. We'd make small talk but he opened up. He'd gaze deep into the outfield, squint and tell me it wasn't easy being him. It wasn't easy to be in the glaring spotlight with both so much praise and criticism surrounding him. I wasn't sure what he meant until I went to an exhibition game the next day at a downtown Miami stadium. Reggie came over to talk to me again, continuing our conversation about baseball and the Yankees. But as soon as he walked away, I was bombarded by "fans" racing up to me, glaring through the fence and saying such awful things as "What did that black bastard say?" "Why are you talking to that (n-word)?" There were also horrible references of what a black man was really trying to do by talking to a white blonde-haired woman.
Despite being the first Mr. October and being one of the greatest athletes of his day, I saw ugly people villify Reggie Jackson with racial hatred even as he accomplished amazing athletic feats.
I left the stadium early. So did he. We walked in the tunnel together and he told me it was nice talking to me and asked if I needed a ride.
Now some 30 years later as I watched the ball fly over the fence not once not twice but three times I can only think of Reggie and how different it was to slug three home runs in a game back in '77.
Today no one in the stands is yelling racist comments at Pablo, a Venezuelan, after his great feat. He can savor his three home runs without the very ugly cloud of racism surrounding it. Reggie Jackson cannot say the same thing.
Pablo Sandoval's three home runs brought back that memory of what I missed. But now I feel my disappointment over missing Reggie's homers can be cleansed. Although racism still exists in this country, on that Wednesday night in AT&T Stadium in San Francisco, it did not. Thank you, Reggie, for standing strong to help break that barrier.
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