Don't tell baseball's flamboyant elder statesman that he can't go home again. Rules, philosophies, and even novelist Thomas Wolfe's famous line aren't enough to keep Reggie Jackson from the Bay Area. Nineteen years after Jackson last played for the Oakland A's, he's back performing in the city where he has lived for the last two decades, only a few miles from the warehouse where 57 of his classic cars (at last count) are garaged.
Actually Reggie, now a designated hitter, broke into the majors in 1967 with the Kansas City A's, playing in 35 late-season games before owner Charlie Finley moved the franchise to Oakland.
Whether you buy the many moods and multi-personalities of Jackson, his presence sells tickets, his words are quoted faster than Reagan's, and he's never seen a pop-up question he couldn't catch with his mouth. He also has 549 homers and needs just 24 more to overtake Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew in fifth place on baseball's all-time list.
As long as the 40-year-old Jackson thinks he has a chance of passing Killebrew, he'll play, this season and beyond if that's what it takes.
Last year he had 18 home runs with the California Angels, considerably below his career high of 41 that he hit with the 1980 New York Yankees. Of course now he can take aim at an invitingly close right-field fence, a mere 330 feet away in Oakland, versus 370 at Anaheim Stadium.
Several years ago, during a celebrity golf tournament in Palm Springs, Calif., I was having breakfast with Joe DiMaggio when somebody at the table mentioned Reggie to the Yankee Clipper.
``Sure Jackson is good,'' DiMaggio said. ``But he's like too many of today's hitters, who swing from the heels even when the pitcher has them in the hole, and I can't understand it. Actually they overswing.
``Jackson isn't content to cut down on his swing and hit the ball 10 rows up in the stands,'' Joe continued. ``He wants to drive it 30 rows up, and occasionally he will succeed. But the price he's paying in strikeouts isn't worth it.''
Recently Reggie told The Sporting News that he is playing this season because he still thinks that he can do a job, not because he is trying to catch Killebrew. Maybe, but I'd like to have a dollar for every major league player who disagrees with that statement.
Jackson also said that it's important to him that he leave the game with a respectable finish.
``If I had left after last season, I wouldn't have felt complete,'' Reggie explained. ``Rod Carew certainly did enough during his 19 years in the game, but when he was released [in 1986] by the Angels, his statement was left without a summary.''
Jackson considers his signature to be the 18 home runs he has hit in post-season play, and his No. 1 achievement the three home runs, including the game-winner, he hit against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the deciding game of the 1977 World Series. All three homers came on a first pitch. Elsewhere in the major leagues
It will be a while before Tony Pena's impact on the St. Louis Cardinals can be measured. The all-star catcher, acquired in a trade several weeks ago, returned to Pittsburgh over the weekend, but was hit by a pitch that broke his left thumb. He will miss an estimated six to eight weeks of the season. The Pirates, incidentally, drew 52,119 spectators to last Friday's home opener, the largest first-game crowd ever at Three Rivers Stadium.
Make of this what you want, but after winning pennants in 1946, '67, and '75, Boston finished an average 15 games behind the American League leaders the following season. The Red Sox will try to avoid a similar collapse this year.
George Foster, who was cut by the Mets midway through last year's pennant race, said on a New York TV station recently that management knew that pitcher Dwight Gooden was on drugs last season. Asked how he knew, Foster replied: ``Because I told them.'' George also said that two other Mets,whom he refused to identify, used drugs in 1986.
New Baltimore manager Cal Ripken has told his starting pitchers that he doesn't want them pacing themselves in hopes of lasting nine innings. That message was prompted by the fact that the Orioles gave up 103 first-inning runs in 1986. Ripken's theory is: ``If you're going to throw 90 pitches, then those first 90 ought to be your best.''
In the glory days of vaudeville, there were Fink's Mules, Thompson's Dogs, and Anderson's Birds, acts that everybody looked forward to seeing again and again. This year the California Angels are introducing Mauch's Rabbits, four speedsters named Gary Pettis, Dick Schofield, Devon White, and Mark McLemore, who combined for 182 stolen bases last season. White and McLemore are rookies. Pittsburgh third baseman Jim Morrison on the difficulties of manufacturing official game balls now that A. Bartlett Giamatti has replaced Chub Feeney as National League president: ``We'll have to play with softballs for him to get his full signature on the ball.''
Shortstop Alan Trammell and second baseman Lou Whitaker of the Detroit Tigers have become the first double-play combination to work together for 10 consecutive seasons.
From Gene Mauch of the California Angels on managing in the big leagues: ``The first thing you have to realize is that there are 24 people on your ball club who have a preconceived notion of what kind of player they want to be. Now some are right, actually pretty good at evaluating their own skills. It's the others you have to worry about.
``Getting them to change their style is tough. If they have some immediate success with what you've suggested, you're all right. Otherwise, they'll go right back to what they were doing wrong before.''
Detroit manager Sparky Anderson on why he passed up an opportunity to participate in an old-timers game: ``I couldn't play when I played.'' In his one major league season at second base with the Philadelphia Phillies, Anderson batted just .218.
ABC broadcaster Al Michaels on Oakland's limelight-seeking Reggie Jackson: ``Last year when Reggie was with the Angels, he wouldn't get into the batter's box until he knew we were back from a commercial.''