“Beltran, man, he’s going to steal my name from me,” Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Fame outfielder known as “Mr. October” for his five World Series home runs in 1977, said in a telephone interview. “He’s been a great player in the postseason.”
Thirty five years after helping the New York Yankees to consecutive World Series titles, Jackson still is working on his defense, writing the book “Becoming Mr. October” in response to his portrayal in the 2007 ESPN miniseries “The Bronx Is Burning.” The eight-episode series chronicled the Yankees’ run to the 1977 championship amid turbulence in New York City including the Son of Sam murders and mayoral election.
“I wanted to get my chance to write what really happened,” Jackson said of his reaction to the TV program, which depicted his often-public spats with manager Billy Martin and teammates such as Thurman Munson, the Yankees’ captain. “There was a lot that I learned that I didn’t realize.”
Jackson, who retired in 1987 and is currently a Yankees adviser, said he spoke with family and friends such as former teammate Fran Healy to learn about what the team thought of him as a 31-year-old black athlete who was its highest-paid player.
“I didn’t realize that there was so much conversation about different types of people on the team, that the fact that I was an African American made such a difference, the fact that I was the highest-paid player made such an impact on people’s feelings,” Jackson said. “After I got into it, I was kind of shocked that it just wasn’t a baseball story.”
Jackson was drafted by the Kansas City Athletics in 1966 and reached Major League Baseball in 1967, the year before civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He wrote that racial intolerance influenced his upbringing in suburban Philadelphia, the future choices he made and the way he was treated by Martin, who wouldn’t let Jackson consistently bat cleanup in the lineup and occasionally benched him, often citing Jackson’s poor defense in right field.
While he sometimes spoke up rather than hold his tongue, Jackson wrote that reporters often misquoted him or completely fabricated comments attributed to him.
“I was not the revolutionary these people perceived me to be,” Jackson wrote. “But in retrospect, I was clearly a new breed of black player in New York. Everyone else had acted like they were lucky to be there, but I was seen as someone who expected to be there, too cocky for my own good.”
Asked what he would have done differently, Jackson said he would have made a greater effort to learn more about other people.
“It’s easy to look back when you’re in your 60s and say what you would have done when you were 29 or 30,” he said.
Regardless of the criticism he faced in 1977, Jackson’s World Series heroics left him a much more positive legacy and a long-term role as an ambassador for the team. On Oct. 18, 1977, he homered on three consecutive swings in Game 6 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The last one flew well over the fence in center field as New York took the series with an 8-4 win.
“I remember seeing a picture of me running out that third home run the next day,” Jackson wrote. “One they took of me when I was between second and third and both my feet were off the ground. That was exactly how I felt, just like I was off the ground, the whole way around the bases.”
Beltran, a .337 hitter in 45 postseason games with Houston, the New York Mets and St. Louis, will have a long way to go to match Jackson’s achievement when the World Series begins tomorrow night at Fenway Park in Boston. The Cardinals and Red Sox both won their league championships in six games, with St. Louis beating the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston ousting the Detroit Tigers.
“I think the two best teams are in there and I’m really looking forward to it,” Jackson said. “I don’t have a favorite.”
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