I’ve decided that Reggie Jackson is my spirit animal. Which Reggie Jackson? Well in my world that question isn’t necessary. But, based on what I’ve seen from some internet surfing, there is a current NBA player, for the Pistons, of that same name. I’m sure this guy is great and all but come on, there’s only one Reggie Jackson and that’s Reginald Martinez Jackson, former MLB slugger.
Reggie Jackson is actually best known as “Mr. October.” He acquired this title in one night, after hitting three home runs – on three pitches – in consecutive at-bats during game six of the 1977 World Series, which clinched it for the Yankees. This game was not the beginning or end of the man’s prime-time heroics, though. In 27 total World Series games, between 1971 and 1982, Mr. October hit 10 home runs, knocked in 24, batted .357, and slugged .755 for the Athletics and the Yankees. It’s quite the resume, and is a large reason why he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
But Reggie Jackson is not my spirit animal because of his successes. It’s because of his failures. He is the only batter in baseball history that is celebrated for striking out. Go to eBay and you’ll find a number of autographed photos of Jackson in that signature swing-and-a-miss followthrough, his legs all twisted up and his face grimaced. Reggie is, in fact, the all-time MLB leader in strikeouts, with 2,597. Some traditionalists criticize Reggie for being the “K” king. They argue that he was selfish. That going for ultimate glory – the home run – was everything. Hit for contact and advance the runners? That just didn’t play into Mr. October’s “ego trip.”
In reality this is an oversimplification. As Joe Posnanski explains in a piece on Reggie for The Athletic, the “strikeouts were simply a part of his brilliant calculations.” Some hitters try to rely on instinct, to hit what they see. They look for the fastball and adapt to slower breaking pitches. Maybe they choke up on the bat and have more of a hack swing. You get less power from this approach, but it means the strikeouts go down and the batting average goes up. You keep baserunners moving. But this wasn’t Reggie’s style.
Reggie was a guess hitter; he would look for a particular pitch. “If he got the pitch, he destroyed,” says Posnanski. “If he didn’t get the pitch, he flailed.” You might call it high risk, high reward. Reggie’s process was thought-out, though, as mentioned. These weren’t random attacks. They were planned. He would try to get a step ahead of the pitcher, using previous at-bats as data. He “goaded pitchers into throwing the pitch he wanted,” according to Posnanski, “sometimes pretending to be fooled by that pitch in an earlier situation.” Reggie’s game was hitting homers and he did what he needed to hit them, strikeouts be damned.
But why did he settle on homers? By all accounts Reggie was capable of being an all-around player. He was strong, had great bat speed, and a smooth swing. He could have played the game however he liked. Well, part of it was that Reggie knew home runs had the greatest impact on the fans; yes, they call the triple the “most exciting play in baseball,” but “chicks dig the long ball.” Mr. October did want to win in the grandest way possible, and he wanted to entertain… there is truth to that.
There’s more to Reggie, though. He’s intelligent (his IQ is 160, apparently). He's a man of poetry and art. There’s a particularly good quote that sums up this depth of character, in Roger Kahn’s book October Men: “If my team loses a big one,” Reggie says, “and I strike out with the winning runs on base, are you aware that one billion Chinese don’t care?” This nihilism may sound depressing, but it’s actually freeing; widen the scope and our lives prove to be small and fleeting, so there’s no sense in making a big deal out of everything. If the games we play don’t matter then there’s nothing to be afraid of, so go ahead and swing big. There’s nothing to lose.
Swing big he did. Sometimes it paid off – like in game six of the ‘77 series – and sometimes it didn’t. But in the end, either way, Reggie became the biggest star of his era. People came to see him do anything. To illustrate this, I’ve pulled a reader's comment on Posnanski’s piece:
Reggie was the most exciting ball player I’ve ever watched. There was always a sense of drama when he walked to the plate, and even his missed swings were more exciting than just about anything you can see in today’s game. Detractors can say “overrated” all they want, but Reggie always delivered when it mattered. While the three homers in Game 6 of 1977 (which I was fortunate enough to attend and will never forget) is the most memorable example of him in the clutch, other key but often overlooked instances are his game-tying single in Game 5 of the ‘77 ALCS against KC and his home run in the ‘78 one-game playoff against Boston, which turned out to be the deciding blow. Reggie was simply a player who made the game more fun to watch, and who helped his teams win everywhere he played. – Richard W.
Sometimes the fans say it best. Reggie didn’t always do what he “should have,” nor did he make everyone happy. But, as he said himself, “fans don’t boo nobodies.” Reggie was exciting, and he tended to come through when it mattered most – all because he wasn’t afraid to fail.
We could all do to be a bit more like Reggie Jackson. I, for one, have certainly worried too much about striking out – literally and figuratively – and about what others think of me. From now I'm going to take big swings in life, because, you know what? Failing is just fine. It's normal. And, most likely, nobody is paying attention anyway.