Reggie: I could've put O's over top

BASEBALL

January 10, 1993|By JIM HENNEMAN

During his 21-year career that culminated with his election to the Hall Of Fame last week, Reggie Jackson changed teams four times, three times as a free agent.

He developed the reputation of a wandering superstar -- have bat, will travel wherever the price is right. He says the image is all wrong. During his news conference in New York last week, Jackson was asked how much he thought he would command on the open market today.

"I don't know," he said, "but I'll tell you this -- if somebody came up and offered me $8 million, I wouldn't take it to play just anywhere. Don't get me wrong, I like money as much as anybody, but it would take more than just the most money to sign me."

Where would he want to sign? "Probably wherever I was playing," said Jackson, who played his last 19 years on teams that were considered contenders.

"I never really wanted to leave any of the places I played. It broke my heart when the A's traded me [to the Orioles in 1976]; I didn't want to leave the Yankees [after the 1981 season]; I didn't want to leave California [1986].

"And," Jackson said after a pause, "I would've stayed in Baltimore, but the Orioles wouldn't meet the price."

One can only wonder how baseball history would've been affected had Jackson stayed in Baltimore. Late in the 1976 season, the Orioles were presented a package that would've cost them $1.5 million for five years. "I asked for $1,250,000 -- and I wanted my mother to get $20,000 and my father $30,000 [each year]," Jackson recalled.

At the time the Orioles were for sale by then-owner Jerry Hoffberger, and Hank Peters, who had originally drafted Jackson for the Kansas City Athletics, was in his first year as the club's general manager. The team's counteroffer was about $500,000 below Jackson's asking price, and the rest is history.

After courting Jackson as only he can, George Steinbrenner (who had bought the Yankees three years earlier for $9 million) signed him to a five-year contract that called for $2.9 million -- almost twice as much as Jackson had asked from the Orioles. The free-agency market has continued to spiral upward ever since.

Suppose Jackson had stayed here? The Orioles had made the deal that brought Scott McGregor, Tippy Martinez, Rick Dempsey and Rudy May (later traded for Don Stanhouse and Gary Roenicke) from the Yankees. And Eddie Murray was serving the last year of his minor-league apprenticeship.

During the five years Jackson was in New York, the Yankees won four division titles, three pennants and two World Series. The Orioles won one pennant, finished in a second-place tie with the Red Sox in 1977 (2 1/2 games out), finished second in 1980 with 100 victories (three games out), and had the second-best record in the AL East in the strike-shortened 1981 season.

"I've thought about what might have happened a lot," said Jackson. "I think I put the Yankees over the hump, and I think I would've put the Orioles over the hump.

"But it wasn't just Reggie Jackson -- if Eddie Murray had gone to the Yankees, they would've won. And if I had stayed in Baltimore, the Orioles would have won. They had good hitters like Murray, Ken Singleton, Lee May, Doug DeCinces Al Bumbry, but we had a little more -- Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph, Chris Chambliss and myself. We just had a little more."

By the time Dave Winfield (10 years, $10 million) arrived in 1981, Steinbrenner was ready for a changing of the guard. And he now admits that letting Jackson go to the Angels as a free agent in 1982 was the worst mistake he's made with the Yankees.

He has good reason to feel that way. After being in postseason play four of the five years Jackson was in pinstripes, the Yankees have not won (and have finished second only twice) in 11 seasons since he left.

Quickie quiz

In the sixth and final game of the 1977 World Series, Jackson walked on four pitches in his first at-bat, then hit home runs on the first pitch his next three at-bats. In his last at-bat in Game 5 he also hit a home run -- giving him four in as many swings.

Who was the catcher (for the Los Angeles Dodgers) when Jackson hit the first of his four straight homers?

Cecil and the Blue Jays

When Cecil Fielder signed his $36 million contract the other day it brought back amusing memories for Toronto general manager Pat Gillick. You might recall that Fielder first played in the major lTC leagues with the Blue Jays (1985-88).

Gillick obtained Fielder for outfielder Leon Roberts after the 1982 season -- but with some reluctance.

"He wasn't the player I wanted," said Gillick. "There was another young player, I can't even remember his name, that we liked more than Cecil.

"I went back and forth with [then Kansas City Royals general manager] John Schuerholz trying to get the other guy. Finally, John said, 'Fielder's the only one I'll give you,' and I said 'OK.' "

Fielder was blocked by Fred McGriff at first base, and the Blue Jays made a deal that sent Fielder to Japan, where he stayed one year before joining the Detroit Tigers as a free agent in 1990.

Not the 10 best years

Over the past 35 years, the Orioles have the best record in the American League (3,035-2,527, .546), but the past 10 seasons have been quite another story.

Despite a World Series championship in 1983 and close finishes in 1989 and 1992, the Orioles are 779-838 (.482) over the past 10 years. Only the Cleveland Indians (711-909, .439), Seattle Mariners (718-901, .443) and Texas Rangers (768-849, .475) have worse records.

The Blue Jays, incidentally, have the best record in baseball over the past 10 years (908-711, .561), winning four division titles.

Quiz answer

Orioles manager Johnny Oates was catching for the Dodgers when Jackson hit the first of his four successive home runs in the 1977 World Series.

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