Read Becoming Mr. October (9780385533126) Online

Authors: Kevin Reggie; Baker Jackson

Becoming Mr. October (9780385533126)

Copyright © 2013 by Reginald Martinez Jackson

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Random House, LLC, New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, Penguin Random House Companies.

and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Random House, LLC.

Jacket design by John Fontana
Front-jacket images: Reggie Jackson © Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated/Getty Images; baseball © Anita Potter/Shutterstock

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file with the Library of Congress.

eISBN: 978-0-385-53312-6


To my daughter, Kimberly, who has never seen me play baseball but has seen me as Dad. Enjoy your journey, love God, family, and friends.

I’d like to dedicate this short story of mine to some who have had similar things happen to them. Jackie Robinson and his family, who have dealt with far more than I. Negro players of the past, the great Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and many more who have endured so much more than those of us who came through the 1960s and 1970s. It was a different time a hundred years ago, fifty years ago, twenty-five years ago. From Jackie to Hammerin’ Hank, Larry Doby, Willie, Mickey and the Duke, Sandy Koufax and his commitment, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Willie McCovey, Bob Gibson, Frank Robinson, and more. Our great game has continued to evolve.

I remember the dinners in Arizona with Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, and Stretch McCovey, educating me on how to stay in the background, what to say, and what not to. I heard and listened to their teachings and those of others as we ate together.

I learned to respect and understand that it takes a “we” attitude to make the changes that can make our world a better place.

As Jackie played and maintained his composure, he fought for his and all our dignity, both blacks and whites. With help of his family and of whites, such as Walter O’Malley, Branch Rickey, some of
his teammates, and other players who stood by him, to help him through our (America’s) issues at that time.

As we move forward in time, some of us forget the difficulty that those before us went through. Please remember and give thanks for them and what they gave to pave a road that didn’t exist just a short time ago. Many do not remember, and they can’t because they weren’t born fifty years ago, thirty years ago. Hopefully, we will have reminders to help us to continue to be
with each other—and we should translate that word with the thought of “
being full of care
” for our fellow man or woman.

This book has been written because I wanted to set the record straight regarding what the 1977–1978 seasons of the Yankees were like from my side. The miniseries
The Bronx Is Burning
thoroughly embarrassed me the way the story was told. So I was lucky enough to have my friend David Black connect me with a great writer, Kevin Baker, and a great publisher, Doubleday, where Bill Thomas, Coralie Hunter, Bette Alexander, Ingrid Sterner, Lawrence Krauser, and others helped me tell my story the way I saw it.

I tried to get almost all who were mentioned in the book to have their say. Some did and others declined, as is their right.

As you read my rendition please remember, as a nation we have been selected as the leader in our world of so much. It’s our responsibility to set standards that are admired around the globe—to “do the right thing,” not always what “I” want. To allow our faith to lead is our duty, wouldn’t you think?


to play professional baseball.

After high school, I had gone down to Arizona State on a football scholarship, playing for Frank Kush, who was a great coach. He knew my high school football coach, John Kracsun, from the Pittsburgh area, and Kracsun told him I would be a good college player.

I was a much better football player than I was a baseball player at the time. I was maybe a better basketball player, too. I could do everything. I was a great shooter, played guard, but also jumped some center, even though we had a guy, Alan Tractenberg, who was six eight while I was five eleven. I was a great jumper, a high flier.

In football, I was a running back on offense and a safety on defense. There were several schools interested in recruiting me—Syracuse, Penn State. Oklahoma—but you had to be in at ten at night, for your own safety. Duke—but I was a little afraid to go to school in the South then; I didn’t know what to expect at the time. I didn’t want to be the first black player to go anywhere. Notre Dame and Michigan were interested in me, but I wanted to play baseball, too, and they were schools in cold-weather climates, where you couldn’t get enough time in to play much baseball.

John Kracsun was a father figure to me, so I listened to him. I saw Coach Kush much the same way. I was eighteen years old, but Frank Kush was going to make me a man. Football started at Camp Tontozona, up in the hills near a little town called Payson. We went there for two weeks in mid-August, and it got up to 105 degrees during the day, five thousand feet above sea level, but cooled at night.

We had two workouts a day. Lots of running, mostly sprints. If you
couldn’t make it, or you were dragging, you had to run “Mount Kush” at the end of the workout, which was this rocky hill, this Prudential rock, where you’d be sliding, slipping, and falling. Lots of one-on-one drills, to see who’s tougher than the next guy.

We had this drill called “bull in the ring.” There would be a big circle of the entire team, anywhere from eighty to ninety guys, out there in full pads and helmets, with numbers on the jerseys. To test our mettle and see who was tough enough to play Frank Kush football, Coach Kush would call out a guy’s number. If you were the “bull” in the circle, another player would run at you full speed. You had to find out where he was coming from—if he was behind you or on one side—and defend yourself in a one-on-one, head-on crash.

I felt like I was in the middle more than anybody, and I wasn’t the best at it. The best at it was a guy named Curley Culp, who was the NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion when he was a freshman in college and who would go on to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a great, great defensive lineman with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Curley and I bunked together at camp. His number got called when I was in the circle, and he took it easy on me. Coach Kush said, “Oh, taking care of your buddy, huh? Okay,
become ‘bull in the ring’!” Curley broke the next guy’s face mask and helmet, and that ended the drill.

In those days, you couldn’t play varsity ball as a freshman. I played on the freshman team, played both ways as a safety and a running back and did well. I remember I gained a lot of yards running behind Curley Culp. But I wanted to play baseball, and my dad wanted me to play, too; he had been a professional player with some of the old Negro Leagues clubs.

I had been a center fielder, a first baseman, and a pitcher in high school. At the plate I hit about .500. I had one of the best arms on the team, so I pitched a lot, but I threw a lot of curveballs and ended up hurting my arm. I did pitch a couple no-hitters. I could pitch a no-hitter, strike out fifteen—and usually walk ten or twelve.

When he came to recruit me, I asked Coach Kush if I could play baseball as well. That would be almost unheard of today, a top recruit playing two sports, but he told me I could play baseball as well as football
if I kept up a B average, and I had a 3.0. Freshman year at Arizona State, spring of 1965, we had spring football practice, but the baseball season was starting at the same time. A couple of guys in my dormitory, Joe Paulson and Jeff Pentland, who became a major-league hitting coach for many years, bet me that I couldn’t make the baseball team.

Much as I wanted to play, I was leery about going out for the team, because the baseball coach was Bobby Winkles. Winkles was a legend, but he was from Arkansas, and Arizona State had never had a black player on its baseball team. They’d had one guy, Sterling Slaughter, who was a mulatto and later pitched for the Cubs, but he really wasn’t recognized as a black player. But Joe and Jeff bet me $5 I couldn’t make the team, and $5 was a lot of money to us then. After football practice one day, I went over to the baseball field and told Coach Winkles, “Boy, I’d like to try out one day.”

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