Reggie rises to the occasion on big day for 'Mr. October'


COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Reggie Jackson touched all the bases during his induction into baseball's Hall of Fame yesterday.

From owners Charlie Finley to George Steinbrenner, managers John McNamara to Dick Williams, teammates Rollie Fingers and Sal Bando to Mickey Rivers and Thurman Munson and inspirational leaders Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron to Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali, he didn't miss a step.

As was so characteristic of most of his career, Jackson stood alone yesterday as the sole inductee into baseball's shrine. Just as there was never any doubt who was beating the drums when he was playing, Jackson commanded attention, but also attempted to share center stage with those who aided his career.

He started with his father, "who became a great friend," and his mother, "just for being there." He saluted Robinson as the one "who opened the door [for blacks]" and for being "the kind of man he was -- a role model, the right person at the right time."

In an acceptance speech that lasted 27 minutes, Jackson recited a litany ofnames, big and small. It's doubtful he missed anyone who touched his career.

He even included his college football coach, Frank Kush, who later would coach the Baltimore Colts. "He taught me toughness," Jackson said.

"You want to know how tough Frank Kush was? He was tougher than George Steinbrenner and Charlie Finley rolled into one."

The inspiration to be himself, Jackson said, came from Ali. "He gave me the confidence to speak out -- to be proud of who I was."

During his speech, Jackson often referred to those who preceded him into the Hall of Fame. "I think Mickey Mantle was the original 'Mr. October,' " Jackson said. "Thank God, it didn't stick."

There was a poignant tribute to McNamara, who managed Jackson in the minor leagues (Birmingham, Ala.) and major leagues (Oakland). "He wouldn't allow the team to eat in a restaurant where I wasn't welcome," Jackson said. "I will always respect John McNamara for the dignity and sensitivity [he displayed] at a time when very few did."

During his speech, Jackson called himself a fan who was interested in the past, as well as the future of the game. He said that Aaron "personified the idea that greatness is measured over the course of time.

"I know I wasn't the best," said Jackson. "All I have to do is look behind me [at the Hall of Famers on the stage]. But it's nice to know that when they call the roll, sooner or later they've got to call my name."

Many in the crowd had grown impatient with the preliminary ceremonies and several times started chanting "Reg-gie, Reg-gie."

And when he got to the microphone, Jackson made it a point to recognize the fans -- especially those in New York.

"They played a special role in all of this," he said. "When you play in New York, everything is intensified 1,000 times through. I have a special feeling for the fans of New York -- I'll never forget you -- you deserve the best.

"New York was an incredible ride," said Jackson, who went into the Hall of Fame identified with the Yankees, even though he spent only five of 21 seasons there. "Thanks for the pinstripes, George."

Jackson cited his three home runs in the deciding game of the 1977 World Series as the crowning moment of his career.

"And right behind that is coming from 15 games behind to win in 1978," he said.

Showing his newly acquired executive side (he's a vice president with the Yankees), Jackson said he felt it was important for players to remember that they owed something to baseball.

"The game is owed a debt and gratitude," he said.

"We're all just a link in the chain that makes the wheel go around. If the wheel wobbles, it still rolls on without us. I think we need to humanize the game.

"And you have to say thanks to the people who paved the way for you. Thank you, Rachel," Jackson said, speaking to Robinson's widow, seated in the audience.

Jackson solidified his identity with the Yankees by using one of the most famous lines in the organization's history to conclude his speech. "I've come full circle. I'm back with the Yankees," he said to a cheering throng of New Yorkers.

"And, in the words of the great Lou Gehrig, today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.

"I had a dream, and I lived it."

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