Jackson was pressed into action by the 'Father of Famous Reggie'

January 07, 1993|By Frank Dolson | Frank Dolson,Philadelphia Inquirer

NEW YORK -- Reggie Jackson, newly elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, was holding court in the front of the ballroom yesterday when the old man arrived.

"Hey, Dad," Jackson called out, "come up here, dude."

Martinez Jackson, 88, had a cane in his left hand, a briefcase in his right hand and a glow in his eyes. This, after all, was as much his day as his son's.

"I've been preparing for this for quite some time," the elder Jackson said. "I want to be at the induction, too."

God willing, Martinez Jackson will make it to Cooperstown on Aug. 1. He deserves to be there, this one-time Negro League second baseman who had so much to do with the success of his famous son.

It was wonderful to see them together. Baseball needed a moment like this: a proud father and his Hall of Fame son sharing the joy of a truly special occasion. Impulsively, without a trace of self-consciousness, Jackson leaned over and kissed the old man on the cheek.

"To me, that was the most poignant moment of the whole thing," said George Steinbrenner, who flew up from Tampa, Fla., to pay tribute to his former star.

It was poignant because it was real. Nothing staged. Nothing phony. Those were real emotions on display, a genuine bond. Reggie Jackson was lucky to have Martinez Jackson for his father, and the nice part of it is, he knows it and shows it.

"Reggie reflects his dad," Steinbrenner said. "You can't ask for a better teacher than his dad. This guy had all the right lessons . . . . When I had my problems with Reggie, more than once I called his dad. I can't tell you how many times he and I talked, and he smoothed it over.

"He lectured me, too. I mean, he'd tell me, 'You've got to remember this . . . .' "

And yes, George Steinbrenner would listen.

"A tremendous man," the Yankees' majority owner said with feeling.

Also, an understandably proud man. The business card he fished out of his pocket said it all.

"Marty's Tailor," it read, "Father of Famous Reggie Jackson . . . "

If not for Reggie's athletic ability, it might have read, "Father of Apprentice Tailor Reggie Jackson."

Credit Martinez Jackson -- now Marty the Tailor of Spencer Street in Philadelphia, formerly Jack the Tailor of Ranstead Street -- for providing his son with the motivation to excel in sports. His message was clear: Be a star or be a tailor.

"Under no circumstances did I think that he'd ever become a professional [ballplayer]," the old man said. "I never dreamed of that."

At Cheltenham High, in a Philadelphia suburb, Reggie Jackson was an athlete for all seasons. He played football, basketball, baseball. He ran on the track team.

"He'd rather do anything in sports to eliminate working," his dad said.

Even battling a slump, striking out with the bases loaded, beat spending a hot summer's day pressing suits in his dad's tailor shop. To escape the drudgery, Jackson had to make first string. Those were the rules his dad imposed.

"I did anything I could do not to go into the shop and have to work on the pressing machine . . . when it was 100 degrees with all the humidity in Philadelphia," he said. "It was terrible.

"So I played on the teams, and my dad would always check to make sure I was first string . . . He had his own raggedy truck, and after he got done running his cleaning route you'd see him parked way out in left field, leaning on his truck, checking me out."

Martinez Jackson had to do things the hard way, whether it was playing pro baseball for $7 a game ("$14 for doubleheaders") or supporting his family. Reggie's dad even took a shot at the bootleg whiskey business, but struck out. "That was 50, 60 years ago," he said. "I tried, but it went for nothin'."

Do whatever it takes; that was the lesson he passed on to his son. No alibis. Just do it. And, oh yeah, while you're at it, get an education.

"He wasn't bitter about not getting a chance to play" in the big leagues, his son said. "He just told me, 'You've got a chance to make a lot of money, take care of your family. These people are paying you. You've got a job to do . . . . You say you don't want to play for Billy Martin. You're wrong. You're being a baby. George Steinbrenner is paying you a lot of money for you to get on the field and do your job.' That's how he talked to me."

They talked a lot, and Reggie Jackson listened. When spring training began each year, Martinez Jackson left his tailor shop and went south, until his health didn't permit it in '87, his son's final big-league season.

Martinez Jackson was on hand for most of the big occasions, though, including the three-home-run game against the Dodgers in the '77 World Series.

Best of all, he was here yesterday, the "Father of Famous Reggie Jackson," glowing with pride, a one-time $7-a-game player feeling like a million bucks.

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