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Baseball ’78 (‘At Last I Belong,’ Says a Relaxed Reggie)

As many readers know, I had surgery to repair tears in my Achilles about two weeks ago. After the surgery, my parents brought over a trunk full of baseball items I had collected from my childhood. Most of these items are fascinating to look back at decades later. I figured I’d share some of them here…

Today’s item is the Baseball Preview section from the New York Daily News from the start of the 1978 baseball season. Dated Monday, April 3, 1978, this pullout features stories on the Yankees, the Mets, and all of baseball. One particularly interesting article comes on the bottom of Page 2, just after the cover. It’s an article, written by Phil Pepe, where Reggie Jackson states that (after his big 1977 World Series) he feels be finally belongs with the Yankees.

Here are some excerpts from that article:

The topic was home runs. A subject near and dear to Reggie Jackson’s heart and he spoke about it freely and intelligently with a strange mixture of detachment and excitement. He spoke of how home runs are his job, his role with the Yankees, his burden. He doesn’t relish it, nor does he shirk from it; it’s just there.

A year ago he would not have talked like this , he would not have been so casual, so free. A year ago he was tormented by the demons within him, some real, some imagined.

This year is different. This year he feels comfortable, he feels like he belongs.

“It’s a matter of growth and understanding,” Reggie Jackson said. “I know Billy a little better and he knows me. I know Thurman a little better. There are some guys on this club I hardly spoke to at all last year. Graig Nettles. Dick Tidrow. This year I feel more comfortable around them. This is where I want to be. I didn’t feel like that last year.

“I’m a very sensitive person and it’s been years since I felt at home on a team. I do now.”

He was asked what kind of year he expected.

“I feel like I’m going to have a good year,” he said.

Good? Not great? What is good?

“I’ve played 10 years and hit 313 home runs,” he said. And I’ve averaged 93 RBIs a year. So you can expect me in a normal year to hit between 30 and 35 homers, drive in 100 to 100 runs. A good year you add 10 percent to that 35 to 40 homers, 120 RBIs and a .300 average. That would be a good year.”

(My note… In 1978, Reggie Jackson hit .274/27/97. Reggie hit .300 only once in his career, in 1980 – with the Yankees. That year he also hit 41 homers and drove in 111 runs. 1980 was Reggie’s best offensive season as a Yankee. He was just a few years off with this prediction/hope.)

Home runs. Jackson said, are his job. And strikeouts (1,336 in 10 years) are inevitable.

“I am expected to hit home runs,” he said. “That’s my job. Graig Nettles is the only other legitimate home run hitter we have. And Cliff Johnson, when he’s in there. They expect us to hit home runs. Chris Chambliss can hit 25 home runs. Thurman can too. But that would alter their hitting style and they might not be as effective as they are now.”

The matter of strikeouts is something he has learned to live with, Jackson said.

“I don’t like them,” he emphasizes, “but I’ve learned to accept them… I don’t hit into a lot of double plays (only three last year). That’s because I strikeout so much. But when it hurts the team, when there’s a man on third and I strike out, that bothers me a lot because I didn’t do my job.”

What goals, Jackson was asked, has he set for himself in this, his second season as a Yankee?

“Just one,” he answered directly. “To win. And to be a contributory factor toward our winning. I’d like to do something every day to help us win. A home run, a single, a sacrifice fly, a catch, a throw. If we win and I’ve contributed to us winning, then I’ve had a good year.”


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