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Mr. October lives up to star billing

Three homers on three pitchers seal Reggie Jackson's spot in record books.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 28, 1999


He had long since been known as Mr. October. Reggie Jackson already had put up some notable post-season numbers as a driving force behind the Oakland Athletics' three consecutive titles.

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But if he ever truly earned that sobriquet, he did it in the pinstripes of the New York Yankees in October 1977.

He hit five home runs in the World Series that year. Nobody had ever hit that many. He hit three in one game. Only Babe Ruth had done it, in 1926 and again two years later.

But no one, not even the Babe, had hit them on three consecutive pitches off three pitchers. Jackson did in the sixth and clinching game, the 8-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Yankee Stadium.

"Babe Ruth was great," said Jackson, who broke or tied eight World Series records. "I'm just lucky."

In the fourth inning, Jackson sent a Burt Hooton inside fastball into the rightfield stands. Inside was Jackson's weak spot. "I knew Hooton would pitch me there," he said, "but I had an inkling I'd hit one."

In the fifth, Jackson lined Elia Sosa's first pitch into the rightfield stands. "As soon as they brought in Sosa," he said, "I got on the phone to Stick (Yankees scout Gene Michael) upstairs and asked him about Sosa because Sosa popped me up with a fastball in spring training. Stick told me he throws hard stuff -- fastball, slider, good curve. I hit another fastball."

In the eighth, before the fans had much time to wonder whether Jackson could hit another home run, he pounded Charlie Hough's first pitch 440 feet into the centerfield bleachers. "Brooks Robinson taught me how to hit a knuckler," Jackson said. "Just time the ball." When someone mentioned that Hough said the knuckler didn't move much, Jackson replied, "It didn't until I got hold of it."

"Reggie rose to the occasion," Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey said. "People say that the best man, the best team, wins. And he went on to do it."

Said Jackson: "Perhaps for one night, I reached back and achieved that level of the overrated superstar."

He had been an acknowledged superstar in Oakland, but when he refused to sign a contract in 1976, Charles O. Finley, the Athletics' cantankerous owner, traded him to Baltimore. He reported to the Orioles but still refused to sign.

So Jackson became the acknowledged star in the first class of free agents, lured to New York by Yankees owner George Steinbrenner with what today seems like pocket change in baseball terms -- a five-year, $2.9-million contract.

He could have gotten more -- much more -- elsewhere, but elsewhere wasn't the Big Apple. "If I played in New York they'd name a candy bar after me," he had once said. They did. For a while, the Reggie Bar was pretty popular.

Conflict among the demanding Steinbrenner, volatile manager Billy Martin and the players was a constant. Some teammates never accepted Jackson. "There were times," he said, "that this season was just too much for me."

But Steinbrenner, ringmaster of the Yankee circus, observed: "If it hadn't been for all the turmoil, we might not have been this good."


-- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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