Anaheim, Calif. — The classic case of the overage slugger, who still has the quick bat but has obviously lost some of his speed in the field, is commonplace in major league baseball. But it is a plot that has already resulted in a substantial increase in season ticket sales for the California Angels.
After insisting that he was going to stay out of the free-agent market, Angels owner Gene Autry has given former New York Yankee outfielder Reggie Jackson a guaranteed four-year contract reportedly worth close to $1 million a season. That is, including bonuses based on home attendance.
Jackson will be 36 in May and is coming off a year in which he batted only . 237, although he did hit well against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.
Not mentioned specifically by Autry or Manager Gene Mauch, but believed to be true, are further guarantees that Reggie will be given the opportunity to start maybe 110 games in right field. Only occasionally, apparently, will he be asked to serve as the team's designated hitter.
''I think I'm a better player today than when I signed with the Yankees five years ago,'' Jackson told more than 200 members of the news media at a 17 -microphone Anaheim Stadium press conference that more accurately resembled a coronation. ''I'm in good shape, I'm smarter, and I know how to get ready for a season better.''
''The one thing I might not do as well as before is sustain my hot streaks for as long a period of time,'' Reggie continued. ''I'm probably going to need a day off once in a while. But I'm excited to be working for a man like Mr. Autry, and I can't wait for spring training to start.''
Jackson, who in 15 big league seasons has played with five world champion teams (though he missed one World Series due to injury); six pennant winners; and nine division finalists, has always had a flair for headlines and the unexpected. Controversy follows Reggie the way a cat's tail follows its body.
When Jackson played for the Oakland A's and they were owned by Charlie Finley , he was the first of Finley's stars to criticize his boss for running a cheap organization. And for the past five years Reggie has had a turbulent relationship with Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, to say nothing of his numerous run-ins with Billy Martin when Martin managed the New Yorkers.
But Baltimore manager Earl Weaver, who was there when the Orioles signed Jackson to a one-year contract in 1976, has always been a big Reggie booster.
''When that season was over and it came time to offer Jackson a new contract, nobody with the Orioles wanted to meet his price more than I did,'' Weaver told me two years ago. ''But the people who owned the Baltimore franchise then, with attendance the way it was, didn't think they could justify that kind of money for one player. So Reggie signed with Steinbrenner.
''But he was never any trouble when I had him, and I'd take him again in a second if it were strictly up to me,'' Earl continued. ''You see, Jackson is the kind who might strike out his first time up, but next time he'd take that same pitcher's best pitch and put it 20 rows up in the bleachers.''
For most sports writers who have known Jackson for any length of time, Reggie is continually trying on new personalities. For example, one week he'll spout off that ''religion is doing things for your friends and neighbors'' and then the following week he'll act as though he doesn't want to talk to anybody.
California General Manager Buzzie Bavasi, who laid the groundwork that got Jackson to choose the Angels ahead of offers from Baltimore, New York, and Atlanta, is certain he has landed a winner.
''I don't know how many home runs Reggie will hit for us, but I'm sure it will be significant,'' Bavasi explained. ''You also have to remember that we're in the entertainment business, and Reggie is an entertainer. If we draw well, he has a chance to make a great deal of money, and so do we.''
While 36 might be considered old for some ball players, although you can't prove it by Pete Rose, most good hitters never lose their timing. And Jackson has more than earned the right to be put into that category.
Even though Reggie didn't handle last years's split season as well, perhaps, as he should have, he had a tremendous year with the Yankees in 1980 when he slugged 41 homers, drove in 111 runs, and hit an even .300. His 425 lifetime home runs, many of them tape-measure jobs, put him 18th on baseball's all-time list.
While the arrival of Jackson in Anaheim has made the Angels instant pennant contenders in the hearts of their fans, this is not a team that is rich in pitching, either in the way of starters or relievers.
Despite Jackson's contention that California can win between 88 and 90 games with the staff it already has (by scores like 8-7 and 9-6), at least two more established front-line pitchers are needed to go with Ken Forsch and Mike Witt.
Meanwhile Bavasi, to take advantage of the full public relations explosion that came with signing Jackson, is rumored to be withholding the news of another Angel deal. It is believed that California has already agreed to swap outfielder Dan Ford to the Baltimore Orioles for third baseman Doug DeCinces.