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Goodby, Reggie, Goodby : Angels Make It Official: Jackson Won't Be Back

November 25, 1986|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

Reggie Jackson, who made his reputation in baseball with an undeniable flair for dramatics, officially ended his Angel career without any.

Bringing nearly four months of speculation to a close, Angel General Manager Mike Port met with Jackson at Anaheim Stadium for about an hour Monday morning and emerged with an announcement that stunned no one.

"We will not be inviting Reggie back for 1987," Port said.

No surprises, no last-second change of heart. This was the way it was expected to go down since at least August, when Jackson spoke out loudly and repeatedly--including one memorable tirade in Yankee Stadium--about how he no longer fit into Angel plans.

Jackson contended Port made his mind up then. For the record, Port said he finalized the decision a couple of weeks ago--"subsequent to Reggie's filing for free agency."

At any rate, the inevitable announcement was delayed until late November. Why did Port drag his feet on the matter?

A matter of courtesy, Port said.

"As great a player as Reggie Jackson has been and what he has meant to this club, I certainly owed it to Reggie to sit down with him man-to-man and face-to-face," Port said. "Trying to get together took some doing, but like last year with Rod Carew, I wanted to deliver that message in person."

Jackson has spent much of the off-season out of town on business but with the assistance of his agents, Gary Walker and Steve Kay, a meeting with Port was finally scheduled. And despite all the inflammatory statements and burned bridges of the past few months, Jackson entered the meeting with a decent amount of wishful thinking.

"I had heard through the grapevine that Mike had called the meeting so that he might invite me back," said Jackson, whose five-year Angel contract expired this season. "I came here kind of in the middle of the road. I wasn't sure, but I'd received strong indications from Gary and Steve that Mike may ask me back."

The offer never came. Jackson left Port's office an ex-Angel.

Down the hall, in the team's publicity office, Port and Jackson met with reporters. It was hardly the grandest of farewells. As Port made the announcement, Jackson, bearded and clad in a sweat suit, leaned against the doorway and slurped on a cup of coffee.

"It's not a letdown," Jackson insisted. "Not right now. When I leave here and spend a day thinking about it, maybe I'll be relieved or maybe I'll think, 'Oh, (bleep).'

"To be very honest, even if Mike had told me, 'We'd like to have you back,' I would have had to say, 'Gee, let me think about it. Does Reggie Jackson fit in here?'

"Mike is looking for a certain attitude and atmosphere here and he needs to make changes."

Part of that atmosphere is a clubhouse featuring more players born after the Truman presidency. At age 40 in 1986, during his 19th major league season, Jackson batted .241 with 18 home runs, 58 runs batted in and 115 strikeouts in 419 at-bats. During the playoffs, he hit .192 with two RBIs and seven strikeouts.

Less-expensive players, too, is a Port objective. For such production in 1986, the Angels paid Jackson $975,000.

Thus, another future Hall of Famer has been cut loose by Port. It happens every off-season. First Carew, owner of 3,000 career hits. Then Jackson, owner of 548 career home runs. One per winter.

Port called Monday's sit-down "the most difficult conversation I've ever had with a player."

Added Port: "We could debate endlessly whether what we conveyed to Reggie today is right or wrong. . . . I never said to Reggie Jackson, 'You cannot play.' As a lawyer might put it, it probably falls into the range where there is 'an element of reasonable doubt.' Reggie can do some things; it's just a question of frequency."

Jackson hopes to play a final season in 1987, although he admits the chances of his catching on with another team are "50-50." Jackson would like to return to Oakland, where he began his career, or New York, where he became Mr. October, but admits an aging free-agent designated hitter cannot afford to be picky.

"I'm going to listen to what anybody who's interested has to say," Jackson said. "Hell, I'm 40. I can't eliminate any teams right now and come off with arrogance. Maybe when I was 30, I could say I'm gonna play where I want and hit 30 or 40 home runs a year.

"I'm not an everyday player anymore. I have to go someplace where the attitude is: I can drive in 70 runs, hit 20 home runs and work with some of the kids.

"I'm no longer the leader of the band. I used to say, 'C'mon, let's go to the World Series.' Maybe that sounds like I'm a crazy egomaniac. But, now, I'm an ingredient. I have to fit in."

Jackson said he and his agents have already talked to "at least two teams" and will listen to others. Port has made Jackson a counter-offer of an unspecified position within the Angel organization--"Media liaison," Port joked--and that's an option Jackson said he would consider. Front-office work has long interested Jackson.

"I'm also pursuing the stock market and looking into some business opportunities," Jackson said. "I'm looking for work. I guess I'm gearing myself to get ready for another world."

Still, when Jackson thinks of 1987, he thinks of baseball. He has begun a winter training program with the intention of playing another season.

"I thought about retiring a couple times during '86," he said. "Hell, I had my hands full hitting .240. But I'm still working out and going to the gym. At this point, I'm acting like I'm gonna play."

Jackson stopped and managed a smile. "And if I don't play," he added, "I'll be ready for the beach in '87."

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