Dark Takes Over in Oakland
Charlie Finley warned me he didn't want any of my "stupid fines." He said, "I don't want you to have any rules, I don't want any of those golf-ball fines. Just let the boys play baseball." I had always had fines - for missing curfews, for being late to meetings, for taking pills, for needing haircuts. I had a $1,000 fine for long hair, so I never had any trouble with hair. For the small stuff - a guy missing a cutoff, a missed sign - it might be two dozen golf balls. What made that embarrassing and therefore effective was that the balls went to the other players. ...
But Charlie said no fines, no rules, and then one day Reggie Jackson came late for practice. It got to be near eleven, and I began hearing little barbs. "What time does the Ten o'Clock Club start?" "Anybody here seen Reggie?"
When Reggie arrived I didn't say anything, and after the workout he came to my office and apologized. "Skip, I'm sorry. Fine me fifty dollars, let people know I didn't get away with anything."
Well, I couldn' fine him, but Reggie Jackson was one guy I wanted on my side. Like Sal Ban do and Catfish Hunter, he was a leader. I did not need him to be a poor leader. I said, "Reggie, don't worry about it. I know it was unintentional. I know it won't happen again. As far as I'm concerned you're a star everybody looks up to, so it's natural they would say things."
"What? Did they say something?"
I said, "Sure. Wouldn't you if Rudi or Bando had been late? Don't worry about it. But how about coming out tomorrow and taking some extra hitting?" Tomorrow was an off day.
He said, "Okay. Sure." And he did, and the players knew it. By the end of spring training he was crushing the ball.
Then, two days before we broke camp, we were scheduled to bus over to Tucson for our last spring game. I decided it was time to start living on a timetable - you have to when the season starts - so I said, "I want everybody on the bus at nine. Anybody who misses, it's two hundred and fifty dollars."
At nine o'clock, we were all ready to pull out. All except Reggie Jackson. Reggie was nowhere in sight. Breakfast rolled in my stomach. It is an hour and forty-five minutes from Mesa to Tucson and all the way I'm thinking, "What do I do now? I have to fine him if he was goofing off. But how can I without losing him?" Reggie is a proud man, justifiably, with a reputation of doing what he wants, when he wants.
He had already put me out on one limb. On a previous Sunday I had let him off to play golf with then-Vice-President Ford, and five days later Charlie Finley called - information channels were sluggish that week - and said, "Who gave you permission to let Reggie Jackson play golf with the VicePresident? All you did was give Gerald Ford one hundred thousand votes in the Oakland area." A Democrat, Charlie considered it a political matter. He told me not to let anybody else off from practice. For any reason. And after that I had to turn down Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi, which made it worse because they were aware of Reggie's golf date with Ford.
Reggie knew I had defended him with Charlie, and I thought it might help cement a bond between us. He had now returned the favor by missing the bus. I thought, "Boy, am I gonna have to put up with this all year?"
Naturally, the first thing the writers wanted to know when we got to Tucson was, "Where's Reggie?" If there is one thing more obvious than Reggie Jackson present, it is Reggie Jackson absent. One said, "What are you going to do when Reggie gets here?"
"I'm going to listen to him," I said.
Reggie finally showed up, in street clothes, and came over. "Skip, my car broke down. I just got it yesterday for being Most Valuable Player in the World Series, and the fan belt broke three blocks from the motel. I got it fixed and it broke again on the way here."
I said, "Fine, Reggie. I have a Chrysler product myself. I've had troubles, too. Go get dressed."
Dick Green, the second baseman and an old favorite of mine, was standing there, grinning. He said, "If you buy that, you'll buy anything." Other players were watching.
Well, I knew if I fined Reggie it would be calling him a liar, showing him disrespect. I certainly wanted him to be telling the truth. But if he weren't, and I didn't fine him, it could be worse.
I didn't fine him. Ron Bergman of the Oakland Tribune asked me why. I said, "I have a verse for you, Ron. Out of Corinthians. 'Love endureth all things, believeth all things.' I'm going to believe Reggie." (By the time he got to know me better, Ron Bergman would begin almost any subject with "You got a verse for this one, Alvin?")
After the game, Herb Washington and Billy North asked if they could ride back to Mesa with Jackson. I said sure. The next morning Herb came to me at breakfast and said, "Skip, that car of Reggie's is a dog. It broke down on us again on the way back."
I was very glad to hear it.