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MIKE DOWNEY

Reggie Jackson Has Hit the Big One: Birthday No. 40

May 19, 1986|MIKE DOWNEY

He has been busy lately breaking records, leaving Mickey Mantle in his wake, and breaking heads, leaving a Milwaukee tavern patron crying in his nine beers. Now, at last, he has broken the youth barrier. Reggie Jackson, still driving 'em crazy after all these years, turned 40 Sunday.

It rained on Reggie's candles in Detroit, where the weather ruined his chances to celebrate in style. Nothing would have been finer than to see R. Martinez Jackson yank one into the Tiger Stadium light tower in right-center field, just the way he did in the 1971 All-Star Game, when he was the pride, joy and employee of that stubborn old mule C. Oscar Finley.

Jackson has smacked a lot of home runs since then, plying his trade for a cantankerous New York shipbuilder and a California singing cowboy. He believes that he has at least one more season's worth of homers left in that hunk of wood of his, and that he has an obligation to stick around and hit them.

"I have miles to go before I sleep," Reggie Jackson said.

One more complete circuit, at least. The Reggie Jackson Farewell Tour, perhaps. "I'm not finished yet. I haven't quite reached the end. I haven't wrung the rag out yet. I haven't made my total statement," he said before his birthday party.

In other words, the straw still has some drink left to stir. He has never won a pennant with the Angels, for one thing, and that must grate on him, since Reggie Jackson went to the World Series almost routinely in his A's and Yankee days. The near-miss of 1982 was supposed to lead to better days ahead, but now Reggie is beginning to run out of days.

There also is the matter of where he will be playing next year. Jackson sometimes sounds convinced that the Angels will give him the Rod Carew Treatment once this season is over, exiling him to baseball's version of Elba. He would like to go around the league, saying his farewells, the way Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski did, before having his number retired.

And that's another thing: Who should retire it? Will Reggie Jackson become the first player in history to have his number retired by three separate franchises? Maybe Baltimore would even like to stake a claim. After all, Jackson got 27 homers and 138 hits for them, which is a lot more than a lot of other Oriole outfielders have done in the 10 years since.

Reggie Jackson has done it all, from three home runs during a World Series game in the Bronx, to the apprehension of a dangerous gunman in Manhattan, to a make-believe automobile accident in Queens with a colorful character who liked to talk about "colored ballplayers," one Archie Bunker.

Done it all and said it all--that's Reggie Jackson. Seldom one to hold his tongue, Jackson recently gave a bit of a lashing to a team Archie Bunker would have loved, the Minnesota Twins, whose roster makes the Boston Celtics look like the Harlem Globetrotters. "Ask them where all the colored boys are," Jackson said, his choice of words quite deliberate, the sarcasm oozing.

If Reggie Jackson isn't busting Mantle's home-run mark, moving into sixth place on the all-time charts, or busting somebody's chops over injustices real or imagined, he is busting something else: His hump. Or another part of his anatomy, synonymous with donkey; take your pick.

For those who haven't noticed, is 40-year-old Reggie Jackson ever hustling. He is making that old-timer who manages Cincinnati look like a goldbrick. On simple grounders, Jackson sprints to first base like Carl Lewis to a tape. Ask the fans along the right-field line in Anaheim--they know.

The other night, against Boston's Roger Clemens, Jackson hit a monster home run to center field that catapulted him past Mantle. That got everyone's attention. But later in the game, when he hit a frozen rope to right-center, Jackson circled first at full speed, sensibly chose not to challenge Dwight Evans' arm, then punched the air, wishing he could have kept running. "All of my instincts told me to go for a sliding double," he said later. Except for the one that told him to play it smart.

The next batter hit a fly into the right-field corner. Evans caught it; Jackson tagged. He stampeded toward second and got there with a hands-first slide, a play so close that Boston Manager John McNamara got kicked out of the game, arguing it.

Reggie Jackson is still giving his all to the game. Asked upon turning 40 what sacrifices he has had to make over the years, he turned introspective, saying: "I've never really been married. Never had any kids. Never really had the time to spend with friends." But he wouldn't trade his life with anybody. When the commotion over the Milwaukee saloon incident caused Angel Manager Gene Mauch to say, "I wouldn't want to be Reggie Jackson for anything," Reggie Jackson replied that he was very happy to be Reggie Jackson.

It did sadden him. "It was a grandstand play," he said of the autograph seeker's actions and subsequent lawsuit. "If I was just a regular guy who worked a 40-hour week, they wouldn't be suing for $150,000 for grabbing a guy by the shirt." Mauch may have been right; being Reggie Jackson can be murder.

But he is the only Reggie Jackson we have, and what a dull baseball world it would be without him. Don't wring the rag yet, Reggie. Don't wring the rag.

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