Jackson blasts way into Hall of Fame as lone inductee REGGIE

January 06, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Reggie Jackson always prided himself on bein able to handle the big test -- and they don't come any bigger than the one he passed last night.

Jackson put the finishing touches on a flamboyant 21-year career by cruising into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

The sixth-leading home run hitter of all time (563), Jackson was almost as big a hit in the ballot box as he was in the batter's box. He was named on 396 of 423 ballots, a 93.6 percentage that easily surpassed the 75 percent required from the electorate made up of 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Phil Niekro, a 318-game winner, fell short with 65.7 percent as a first-year candidate. Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez were farther back.

Pete Rose got 14 write-in votes. A Hall of Fame rule prohibits banned players from appearing on the ballot. Last year, in what ** would've been Rose's first year of eligibility, he got 41 write-in votes.

Jackson is the eighth modern-day Oriole to make it to the Hall of Fame. Even though he played only one year in Baltimore -- 1976 -- he left an impression, especially on former manager Earl Weaver.

"I don't know if you can put him in the class with Frank [Robinson]," Weaver said of the other Hall of Fame outfielder he managed. "But Reggie was one of those special players.

"If the score was 9-2 he wasn't as intense as he was when it was 1-1," recalled Weaver. "And I think that showed up in big games. If his team was nine or 10 games ahead late in the year, he was looking ahead to the postseason.

"He was at his best when the game was on the line," said Weaver. "It was the same when he was playing for me as it was when he played against me."

Jackson, who once referred to "the magnitude of me," was usually the first to praise himself, as he did after hitting three home runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. "The word superstar is overused a lot," Jackson said then. "Guys like Ruth, DiMaggio, Mays, Clemente. Now I can say I had one day like those guys."

Yesterday, in his crowning moment, he responded modestly. When Jack Lang, executive secretary of the Baseball Writers' Association, called him in Newport Beach, Calif., to inform him of his election and to tell him to fly to New York for a news conference today, Jackson said: "I don't have a bag packed."

When Lang said, "You knew you were going to get in," Jackson replied, "Well, I was hoping."

Jackson batted .262 during his major-league career. But he drove in 1,702 runs, and he earned the title Mr. October by batting .357, hitting 10 homers and driving in 24 runs in five World Series.

He even struck out with a flourish. He set or tied six career records for strikeouts -- he fanned 2,597 times, the most ever. He also tied the AL record by leading outfielders in errors in five seasons.

Off the field, he sought the spotlight as well. When free agency was in its infancy in the mid-1970s, he was the free agent. He had a candy bar named after him.

Then there were the fights.

There was the summer Saturday at Fenway Park when manager Billy Martin called in Jackson from right field during a game. Martin thought Jackson had dogged it, not hustling after a fly ball, and the two got into a shouting match that nearly escalated into a fistfight.

There was that night in Oakland in 1981 after the Yankees had beaten the Athletics to clinch the AL pennant. Jackson and teammate Graig Nettles began arguing at a restaurant, and then began fighting.

There was that extra-inning game at Yankee Stadium, when Jackson ignored Martin's bunt sign. The next pitch, Reggie again went against Martin's wishes and actually did bunt. After the game, Martin threw a clock against his office wall, and suspended Jackson for five games.

Yet Weaver didn't have problems with Jackson.

"Reggie always gave you 100 percent," said Weaver. "In all the years I saw him play, I don't think I ever saw him not run hard all the way [to first base] on a ground ball.

"I don't know whether he was the straw that stirred the drink -- he got in trouble with that line [he said it after joining the Yankees in 1977] -- but he was a good man on the field, and in the clubhouse. He was a happy-go-lucky sort, but he would go out of his way to encourage the guys who weren't superstars."

Current Orioles manager Johnny Oates played with and against Jackson, though briefly in each instance. He shares one of Weaver's observations.

"The thing I remember most about Reggie is that he was a 'crunch time' player," said Oates. "It seemed like that's when he couldturn it up a notch."

Jackson joined 28 others who were elected into the Hall in their first year. His vote percentage of 93.6 trails the record of 98.8 percent that Tom Seaver got last season.

This is the first year since Willie Stargell in 1988 that only one player was elected. The induction ceremonies will be held on Aug. 1 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

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