Mr. October: The story behind the most famous name in baseball
When any baseball fans hears the name Reggie Jackson, they think of his nickname, “Mr. October,” and for good reason. Jackson played in the postseason 11 times, hitting .278 with an OPS of .880 across 77 playoff games. He was particularly potent in helping the New York Yankees win back-to-back World Series in 1977 and 1978, most notably his three home run game in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. But for most people, Jackson is only Mr. October, when the truth is he’s far more than a player who shined solely in October.
From the beginning, Jackson seemed destined to achieve greatness as an athlete. At his high school in a small township just north of Philadelphia, Jackson was a four-sport athlete, supplementing baseball with football, basketball, and track & field. During a football game his junior year, Jackson fractured five cervical vertebrae, leaving doctors uncertain if he would ever walk again, much less play sports. But after six weeks in the hospital and a month afterward with his neck in a cast, Jackson returned to the field and had a prestigious high school career in multiple sports.
After high school, he chose to attend college over offers from several big league clubs. He went to Arizona State on a football scholarship, passing on offers from powerhouse schools like Alabama and Georgia; schools that would have broken their color barrier in order to get Jackson. But after his freshman year at Arizona State, he dropped football to focus on baseball full time. After his sophomore season on the diamond, the Kansas City Athletics made Jackson the second overall pick in the draft. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I must admit, when Reggie hit his third home run (in the 1977 World Series) and I was sure nobody was looking, I applauded in my glove.”
Jackson went on to play 21 major league seasons, making the All-Star Team 14 times. He’s best remembered for his time with the Yankees, but he just spent five of his 21 seasons in the Bronx, also spending time with the Athletics, Orioles, and Angels, becoming the first player to hit 100 home runs for three different teams. His playoff heroics with the Yankees earned him the nickname Mr. October, but at that point in his career, Jackson had already been part of the Athletics winning three straight world championships from 1972 to 1974.
In addition to winning five World Series rings, Jackson was twice named World Series MVP, once with the Athletics in 1973 and again with the Yankees in 1977. He was also the American League MVP in 1974, a two-time Silver Slugger winner and four times the American League home run leader. Both the Athletics and Yankees have retired his jersey, and in 1993, Jackson became a first-ballot Hall of Famer, gaining nearly 94% of the vote.
“The thing about Reggie is that you know he’s going to produce. And if he doesn’t, he’s going to talk enough to make people think he’s going to produce.”
Of course, during his 21 seasons in the majors, Jackson was no stranger to controversy and was not afraid to stir the pot. During his early days in Oakland, his hustle and commitment were called into question by broadcasters, and even some of his teammates viewed him as a showboat and attention seeker.
When Jackson got to New York in 1977, the controversy went to another level. He immediately clashed with manager Billy Martin, one of the most infamous hotheads in baseball history. Martin went so far to remove Jackson from a game in the middle of an inning because he didn’t like the effort he showed collecting the ball on a base hit, leading to a shouting match in the dugout for everyone in the ballpark to see. But owner George Steinbrenner had Jackson’s back, forcing Martin to put him in the cleanup spot or lose his job, a move that became a catalyst for the Yankees winning the World Series in 1977.
When he wasn’t playing, Jackson was a natural in front of the camera. Even before his career was over he was working as a color commentator on television broadcasts. Later, he stretched his legs as an actor, appearing in episodes of The Love Boat, Diff’rent Strokes, and MacGyver, as well as movies like BASEketball and The Benchwarmers.
Ultimately, Jackson remains synonymous with Mr. October, the man who delivered in the clutch to deliver his team a world championship. But sometimes, it’s good to remember that Jackson was that and so much more.