By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Like most any Yankee fan I’ve always been a big proponent of the Yes Network’s Yankeeography series. Sure, each episode is an over-the-top homage to a player’s individual greatness in pinstripes, but each often shows the human side of those athletes the fans have grown to appreciate more and more over the decades.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the one on Reggie Jackson. It’s one of Yes’ better ones, mostly because the man profiled has never needed any superfluous build-up. Jackson is the equivalent of a Brazilian soccer star in that one name, whenever mentioned, usually suffices. You say “Reggie” in sports circles in New York, you don’t need a surname. It’s that simple.
But Jackson, as we’ve learned through years of advances in storytelling and technology, is very human, even if his exploits on the field often suggested he was at times super human. Despite his fierce intelligence, he’s a flawed guy. His ego is as big as the New York City skyline. His mouth often draws the ire of those closest to him.
Especially those closest to him, at least in baseball circles.
So in the wake of Jackson’s forced sabbatical from the Yankees for letting his infamous mouth get out of control I decided to watch his Yankeeography episode again. And of all the things I saw this time around the one instance that stood out more than the rest wasn’t his three-homer World Series game, his well-documented battle royal with Billy Martin in the dugout in Boston, his spats with George Steinbrenner, his 400th homer, his 500th homer or even his candy bar.
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It was the sight of mighty Reggie Jackson crying like a baby in the outfield of the old stadium the day the baseball world mourned the tragic death of Thurman Munson. That day is once again near. On Aug. 2, 1979, the Yankees lost an important part of their psyche and some could argue they didn’t replace it until 16 years later when one Derek Jeter made his major league debut.
I like to believe Jackson was bawling that day for a more important reason than simply the shock and horror of the Yankee captain’s death. I’d like to believe Reggie was beside himself because he knew he never really was accepted by the one man who was accepted and revered by everyone. He simply didn’t have enough time to make things right following all the times he belittled Munson. While it’s well documented that Jackson did see the error of his ways and tried very hard to earn Munson’s forgiveness, the Yankees’ catcher and team leader wasn’t the type to easily forgive. He was sort of like Brando’s Godfather in that respect. As Tom Hagen once said, his employer “never asks a second favor once he’s been refused the first.”
Well, that was Munson. If you crossed him there was a chance you could make up for it to the point of him being cordial, but getting in his inner circle would never happen, not in his lifetime.
Jackson’s public persona may never have revealed the truth, but he seemed to crave that which Munson made a career out of — mutual respect and admiration from fellow players, coaches and fans, regardless of team affiliation. And to this day Jackson seems to still be trying to make amends for his ego run amok. He speaks of Munson like he was the pope, hoping that maybe one day he’ll be given a reprieve from up on high.
It’s not happening, Reg.
But you’d figure the guy would have learned something by now when it comes to how he deals with others. Just because someone in the media asks you a question, must you answer it in a manner you deem truthful? Not every time is the right time for Reggie the prophet to stand in his pulpit and wax poetic about the state of things.
Now, this isn’t about the merits of Jackson’s opinion about Alex Rodriguez and performance-enhancing drugs. Nor is it about whether Gary Carter, Kirby Puckett, Phil Niekro and Don Sutton, among others, truly have the resumes to be enshrined in Cooperstown. There are many out there who are right there with Reggie’s opinions on all of them.
But, as in life, timing is everything. Currently, Jackson is employed by the Yankees, so the idea of him taking shots, whether they have merit or not, at one of the team’s biggest stars, is just not appropriate. Nor was expressing his opinions on Carter, a player the Mets fan would step in front of a train to defend, regardless if he was alive or dead. The fact that “The Kid” recently lost a long battle with brain cancer did not lend itself to the type of timing Jackson should have been smart enough to embrace before he opened his mouth.
I think most people in Jackson’s foxhole would agree that Reggie should have deferred on Carter, as evidenced by the fact that Jackson reportedly sought out a phone number to apologize to Carter’s family. That said, though, many still seem to have no problem with him attacking A-Rod, a player who through plenty fault of his own has opened himself up to all types of criticism over the years. But still, the fact remains, if you work for someone, you don’t take liberties, regardless of how much the little devil on your shoulder wants his moment in the sun. If you still think I’m wrong, do me a favor and go talk smack publicly about your company’s CEO or key employees. You’ll see how quickly you’ll find yourself in closed-door meeting with HR.
You could also make the case that the Yankees should have known better than to give Jackson a platform, given his penchant for always making things about himself. I have no idea how important Jackson is to the development of the Yankee on-field product, but I do know it’s important for franchises to never forget their past stars, especially in an age where they can be paid a salary that would in some cases rival what they made as players back in the day, considering the vast disparity between then and now and the need for organizations to always be there as their former employees get older. Just ask the NFL.
The bottom line is, having Reggie around should be good for business on both sides.
But I have to wonder if there will ever be a time, especially in sports, when people are truly held accountable for their words and not given carte blanche to run wild just because of who they once were. Just because Jackson is a Hall of Famer and an all-time Yankee great should not give him license to spew his vitriol while cashing a check from the same team he has, in part, besmirched.
So Reggie will likely get the summer off, with pay I might add, to think about just how much he wants to remain a part of the Yankees. My guess is Jackson desperately wants to remain in pinstripes, and maybe more so because his latest run-in with the class police won’t likely lead to another good gig with another major league team right away, if ever.
When loved ones die, the biggest regret those left behind often say is they didn’t have a chance to say goodbye properly. Jackson has already been down this road once. Now while he may never truly care to be a true friend to A-Rod or the Hall of Famers he said are not worthy, he has to want to remain a friend to the Yankees. They do, after all, represent the arena for his true identity.
Think long and hard about this, Reg. For if the Yankees are one thing they are corporate. They don’t take crap.
And the leash they give only goes out so far.
Please read more columns by Jeff Capellini
Do you think the Yankees did the right thing with Reggie? Or do you think Jackson should have the right to say whatever he wants, with this being America and all? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …