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TWO FOR THE HALL: REGGIE A summer in the Baltimore sandlots signaled Jackson's arrival to baseball

COOPERSTOWN, NEW YORK — Cooperstown, N.Y. -- He came into prominence with the Oakland Athletics, and he will go into the Hall of Fame representing the New York Yankees. But it was in Baltimore that Reggie Jackson first attracted national attention.

And it wasn't when he left the Orioles to become the marquee player in baseball's first free-agent pool in 1976. Jackson, who hit 47 home runs in his second full season in the big leagues, had established himself as a dominating performer long before that controversial, but productive, season.

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It was more than a decade before that Jackson began to make his mark during an explosive summer on the sandlots of Baltimore. He wasn't yet eliciting the familiar chant, "Reg-gie! Reg-gie!", but those who saw him quickly took notice.

The year was 1965. Jackson was better known as a former high school All-America halfback who went to Arizona State on a football scholarship. Division I freshmen were not permitted to participate in varsity sports, so Jackson's football and baseball talents had not yet been fully exposed.

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When he decided to concentrate on baseball during the summer between his first and second year of college, Arizona State coach Bobby Winkles (who would later manage the California Angels) provided Jackson with a contact. Walter Youse, then a scout for the Orioles who still works for the Milwaukee Brewers, ++ was running a nationally acclaimed amateur team.

Leone's Boys Club was perennially one of the top teams in the country. The fit proved to be a natural for Jackson, a 19-year-old Philadelphia native whose mother lived in Baltimore.

The summer baseball crash course began with a phone call, a workout -- and some apprehension. Youse's team was sponsored by the late Dominic Leone, a South Baltimore restaurateur and city councilman. Although segregation had been outlawed more than a decade before, acceptance was slow on sandlot baseball fields.

Jackson became the first black to play for Leone's -- but not before a workout that was, in some ways, as humorous as it was awesome.

"I don't think Walter knew I was black from talking to me on the phone," Jackson said last week while preparing for his induction into the baseball Hall of Fame here this afternoon.

The workout was held at Swan Park, site of a solitary baseball field just west of Hanover Street -- and Youse remembers it as though it were yesterday.

"He showed great power, speed and arm strength," Youse said. "He could run 100 yards in 9.6 seconds. He was raw, but you could see he had the ability to make it big."

Reggie put on a show that day, leading to a comment that has become almost legendary around Baltimore sandlot circles. Everybody there, including Reggie, heard what was accepted as a joking remark at the time: "Every time he [Jackson] swung the bat, he got whiter and whiter."

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"I was raw"

Jackson also remembers the workout that took place more than 28 years ago.

"I don't know that they wanted me to make the team," he said. "They had me run against their fastest player, and he couldn't beat me.

"I was running 6.2 and 6.3 in the 60 [yard --] -- wearing football shoes. I didn't have any baseball spikes. Then they had me throw from the outfield -- and I had a rocket arm in those days.

"But I really hadn't had any good coaching. I could play, but I was

raw."

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Bernie Smith, who played the outfield, first base and pitched, was a teammate of Jackson's on that 1965 Leone's team.

"He was the same then as he is now -- he had a big ego," Smith said with a laugh. "I can still remember one game when we had a big lead and the guy pitching against us was throwing knuckleballs.

"He struck Reggie out and when he came back to the bench he told Youse: 'Walter, get me out of there. This guy's not good enough for me.'

"But what I remember most about Reggie was his power. The first time I saw him was that day at Swan Park. It didn't take long to see it."

Even then, Jackson was noted for his power.

"Reggie never really was a good hitter -- he'll die not being a good hitter," Youse said. "He had trouble with the same pitch then that he had trouble with in the big leagues -- the fastball up around the letters always gave him trouble. But he had unbelievable power."

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Despite that one blind spot, Youse recalled what he said to Jesse Gore, an assistant coach, in 1965. "He had the greatest tools of any player I had ever seen," said Youse, who counts another Hall of Famer, Al Kaline, among the many players he has sent into professional baseball.

Twists of fate

The summer Jackson played for Leone's was right after baseball's first amateur free-agent draft. Had it been a year earlier, considering Youse's connection with the club, Jackson most likely would have started his career with the Orioles, instead of just passing through for one season.

"I took him out to Memorial Stadium to work out," Youse said, "and he hit balls to the top of the stands in right field. Hank Bauer [then the Orioles' manager and later one of Jackson's managers in Oakland] went wild."

Jackson's performances at Memorial Stadium were so impressive that the Orioles, according to Youse, had schemed a way to sign him.

"I was never told what they were going to do, or whose idea it was, but we had figured out a way we could get him," Youse said. "But it was against the rules.

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"When [former general manager] Lee MacPhail found out about it, he killed the deal. If it wasn't going to be legitimate, he wouldn't have anything to do with it."

A year later, after batting .327 with 15 home runs at Arizona State, Jackson was the second player taken in the draft. By a twist of fate, he just missed starting his career in New York -- with the Mets, who had the first selection in the draft.

Instead of Jackson, the Mets chose catcher Steve Chilcotte, who never played in the major leagues because of a severe wrist injury. When it came time to negotiate with Charles O. Finley and the then-Kansas City A's (the team moved to Oakland in 1968, Jackson's first full year), Reggie asked Youse for advice.

Negotiating before agents

There were no agents then, and Jackson wanted an appraisal of his ability.

"He asked me to sit in on the negotiations, but I told him I couldn't do that or tell him what to ask for because of my association with the Orioles," Youse said. "The only thing I told him was, 'You're better than Rick Monday [the first player taken the year before], so go from there.' "

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Jackson signed for an $85,000 bonus and started on a 563-home run path that would lead him to a place in the Hall of Fame.

It makes Reggie go

Today, Youse says the thing he remembers most about Jackson as a sandlot player is the same thing that prodded him as a big leaguer.

"He had great pride," Youse said.

"From the time he came here that's what made him go -- and that's what still makes him go. Reggie didn't know how to play the game when he came with us -- but he made himself a good player. He came early, and he stayed late.

"He and Kaline had one thing in common -- they were both hungry. But Reggie had much more power, and he also ran better."

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Today Jackson will complete his journey as a player by getting the highest reward baseball has to offer. It is undoubtedly more than he expected when he showed up in Baltimore that day in football shoes.

He had more noteworthy stops along the way, but Reggie Jackson's trip to Cooperstown started 28 years ago on an obscure baseball diamond in South Baltimore.

REGGIE JACKSON'S CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

1966 -- Received $85,000 to sign with the Kansas City Athletics as the second player selected in the free-agent draft.

Sept. 17, 1967 -- Hit first major-league home run, off Jim Weaver of the California Angels.

July 13, 1971 -- Hit towering home run off Dock Ellis that hit a light transformer on the roof of Tiger Stadium in the All-Star Game.

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1973 -- Named American League MVP after leading league in home runs and RBI.

April 2, 1976 -- Traded from the Oakland A's with pitchers Ken Holtzman and Bill Van Bommel to the Orioles for outfielder Don Baylor and pitchers Mike Torrez and Paul Mitchell.

Nov. 29, 1976 -- Signed five-year, $3 million contract with New York Yankees.

March 1977 -- In a Sport magazine article, Jackson said he was the "straw that stirs the drink" on the Yankees, infuriating teammate Thurman Munson.

June 18, 1977 -- Manager Billy Martin removed Jackson from right field in the bottom of the sixth of game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park with the Yankees trailing 7-4. Jackson and Martin argued in the dugout and almost came to blows before being restrained.

Oct. 18, 1977 -- Hit three home runs on consecutive pitches in the Yankees' 8-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth and final game of the World Series. The homers tied Babe Ruth's record of three in one World Series game. Jackson was named MVP as the Yankees won the World Series for the first time since 1962.

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April 13, 1978 -- Candy named after him, the Reggie Bar, is handed out to more than 50,000 fans entering Yankee Stadium in team's home opener. Jackson homered, and the field was showered with Reggie Bars.

July 18, 1978 -- Suspended five days without pay for disregarding a bunt sign in the bottom of the 10th inning against the Kansas City Royals.

Aug. 11, 1980 -- Hit 400th career home run, off Britt Burns of the Chicago White Sox.

Oct. 16, 1981 -- Brawled with teammate Graig Nettles in an Oakland, Calif., restaurant after the Yankees won the American League pennant.

Jan. 22, 1982 -- Signed with the California Angels.

Sept. 17, 1984 -- Hit 500th career home run, off Bud Black of the Royals.

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May 15, 1986 -- Hit his 537th home run, off Roger Clemens of the Red Sox, to move in the sixth spot in the all-time home run list and pass Mickey Mantle.

Today -- Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.


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