1976: Reggie Unhappy with Baltimore Protection

Reggie O'sResearch for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest concerns Reggie Jackson, freshly traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1976, who was unappreciative of the fact that his teammates were getting knocked down, seemingly free of repercussion.

There’s little to tout  about a you-hit-my-guy-so-I’ll-hit-your-guy mentality, but the reality—more prevalent in 1976 than in the modern game—is that if pitchers are given the leeway to command the inner part of the plate without constraint, they frequently will. That command coming at the cost of a few hit batters is a built-in cost … until an opponent entices them to knock it off. Which was Jackson’s point. 

From the Associated Press, June 13, 1976:

Kansas City — An angry Reggie Jackson declared Saturday that if Orioles pitchers don’t hit a Kansas City batter this Sunday, “then, by God, I’m walking off this team.”

“But first, I’m going to fight them all myself,” he said, gesturing toward the Royals locker room. “So I get whipped… So what?”

Jackson stalked back and forth in front of a row of silent, dejected Baltimore players who had just lost, 7-6, on national television, for their eighth setback in a row.

Jackson’s anger — evidently shared by many of his teammates as well as manager Earl Weaver — stemmed from Lee May’s being hit in the head by a pitch from Royals reliever Marty Pattin in the ninth inning.

May was hit in the arm but not hurt in the first inning by Steve Busby. He was the first batter up in the ninth following Jackson’s three-run homer and was struck behind the left ear by Pattin.

The veteran slugger was helped off the field and taken to a hospital for x-rays. His condition was not immediately known.

“If we don’t hit somebody tomorrow, I just won’t believe it,” Jackson said. Still pacing and talking in a low growl, he unraveled the tape which bandaged his injured right wrist and spat expletives.

“But, Reggie, you know Earl’s philosophy on these things,” said a teammate.

“The hell with his philosophy. They hit him in the first inning and the manager says, ‘let’s not do anything.’ And look what happened. It’s time to change that philosophy,” Jackson said.

Weaver was told in his office moments later that his philosophy had been placed under fire.

“I’m beginning to wonder myself,” said the Baltimore skipper, adding, “I have no more to say.”

Oakland A's

1974: Reggie vs. Ryan

ReggieResearch for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. Reggie Jackson tells of a showdown he had against Nolan Ryan in 1974, in which he congratulated Ryan—in his inimitable fashion—for a job well done. Ryan, of course—in his own inimitable fashion—appeared to take it in a way other than how it was intended. From Jackson’s account of the ’74 season, “Reggie: A Season with a Superstar”:

September 3: We knocked out Nolan Ryan in the fifth inning of a 7-0 win. …

I got a lot of heat because I patted him on the butt after I made out my second time up, but I didn’t tell anyone why. … The second time up, he called for the catcher, Ellie Rodriguez, and sent him back to the plate to tell me he was going to throw only fastballs right over the plate. He was losing 3-0 at the time, but he said he wanted to get the best fastball and the best power together and see who would win. I didn’t know whether to believe him, but he delivered. He just threw fastballs. Bam, bam. And I hit one, wham. I sent it on a line to left. I thought it was going to drill a hole through the seats and wind up outside the ballpark. But I didn’t get it high enough and it was caught in front of the fence. I was disappointed, but I called it a draw. He had got me out, though I had hammered the hell out of the ball. I knew he knew it. Running back to the dugout, I went by him and gave him a pat on the ass to let him know he had given me a display of guts I admired. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to.

The next time up, he wasn’t going to give me one I would hit out. He threw hard, but he didn’t throw a strike. He threw one right at my eye. You know, he cranks up and seems to get a running start and that ball is nothing but a blur. When he aims one at you, it freezes you with fear, because it could kill you. All I saw was this white blur coming right at me and it throws me for a split second before I got the hell out of there. I went down flat, just in time. I was burned by the heat of the ball as it went by.

I was so shook I thought that if he threw three straight strikes I’d let him have them. We were ahead and I wanted to wind up alive. But, you know, I figured, well, fuck him. I don’t want to back down. I don’t want to start a trend that will have every pitcher in the game going for my head to back me down. So, I grit my teeth and dug in and was ready to swing at anything good. He didn’t throw me anything good. He threw me two maybes that were called balls, which made it four balls, and gave me my walk. I never moved a muscle in that batters box, but I breathed a sigh of relief afterwards.

Oakland A's, Retaliation

Reggie: ‘You Got to Throw at Someone on the Other Team and Hurt Them’

Reggie Jackson, 1969As means of explaining the relative lack of frequency of posts to this site recently , I figure it’s time to announce my latest project: a book about the championship Oakland A’s teams of the early 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in spring, 2015. Suffice it to say that I’ve been fairly well inundated.

I bring it up here because during the course of my research I’ve encountered any number of unwritten rules-related issues from back in the day, covering all manner of topics. Referencing them regularly through the off-season seems like a decent way to pass the time until pitchers and catchers report in February. They might not mean much now, but boy are they fun.

For now, it seems like the best way to approach it is offer up entire excerpts—from game stories, mostly, primarily from the Oakland Tribune’s beat writer par excellence, Ron Bergman. This one is from July 18, 1969.

Even before the game, Reggie Jackson was ticked off.

“I’m telling you,” he said, spitting on his hands, “if they try that stuff on me when Chuck’s pitching, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

It just so happens that Jackson’s roommate, Chuck Dobson, is pitching tonight for the Oakland Athletics in the opener of a three-game series against the California Angels.

For the second game in a row and the seventh time this season, Jackson was hit by a pitch last night during the A’s 8-2 victory in Seattle. This one, thrown by loser Marty Pattin (7-9), struck him on the right forearm.  …

“What they’re trying to do,” said Reggie, “is make a good pitch inside for a strike or miss.”

What the inflamed major league home run leader meant was miss by hitting him.

“That’s one base,” Reggie continued. “That’s better than four. I don’t mind. It’s all part of the game. But all I ask is protect me. A man’s got 35 homers for you, you got to throw at someone on the other team and hurt them.”

Someone reminded Reggie that [A’s pitcher] Lew Krausse threw at Don Mincher Wednesday night after Jackson was hit by Gene Brabender.

“Yeah,” snapped Jackson. “Throw the ball and holler ‘watch out.’ ” When they throw at me they don’t holler watch out. Look, someday I’m going to be hit on the hand and it’s going to break. [Jackson was referring to the hand he threw up when protecting his head.] Then what? I’m going to have to go out there with shin guards on my arms. ”

Catfish Hunter, who won his third in a row with a six-hitter, said he would have retaliated had he thought the Pilot pitchers were throwing close to Jackson deliberately.

“If they start throwing at his head, then I’ve got to brush them back,” said Hunter, referring to Seattle’s Don Mincher, who homered off the A’s for the third straight game.

Of the seven times Jackson had been hit over the team’s first 92 games to that point, most had been on his aforementioned hand. The aforementioned Mincher, who led Seattle with 25 homers in 1969, would be acquired by the A’s for the 1970 season, and again led his team in homers, with 27.

Also worth noting: Reggie’s prescience in envisioning Barry Bonds’ body armor, three decades before it actually came about.