Jackson hiring compromises ESPN's play


You've no doubt heard that inside the heart of every actor is a director waiting to spring free. Well, there likely has been no more flamboyant actor on the baseball stage in the past 30 years than Reggie Jackson, and he is itching to direct.

What the Hall of Fame slugger really wants to direct, however, is a team, as either a general manager or even an owner, and just as a director needs a great play to get exposure, Jackson is hoping his new gig as an ESPN analyst will be the thing to get him noticed.

"I think the platform of ESPN is good for me. I need an association with the game, and this lets me be near the game. I need ESPN to express to people that I want to be near the game. It's needed for me for where I want to go in my life," said Jackson, who is the director of new business for a Southern California computer company.

ESPN officials and Jackson had been talking since January about getting together, and Jackson, who won five World Series titles in his playing days with the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees, will do analysis on some Wednesday, Sunday and holiday games as well as playoff telecasts.

"He's one of the most dynamic personalities [in the game], and when you have a chance to get someone like that, you've got to make that move. He brings a playoff presence that we probably didn't have last year," said Tim Scanlan, ESPN's coordinating producer for baseball.

But Jackson, through his association with the Yankees as an adviser to owner George Steinbrenner, also brings to the table a sizable conflict of interest.

Scanlan, in fact, acknowledged during a conference call Tuesday that Jackson's hiring goes against usual ESPN policy, which frowns upon choosing analysts who are on a team payroll. Scanlan said that, though Jackson is listed as a Yankees adviser, he considers him to be "an adviser to all of baseball," a characterization that some might challenge.

To make a bad situation worse, Scanlan said he could envision Jackson calling Yankees games.

Jackson attempted to equate his situation with that of team broadcasters like Vin Scully, Johnny Bench or Jon Miller, who also work for networks, and Scanlan said he believes Jackson is in a similar boat as Joe Morgan, describing both as "trophies" for clubs like the Yankees and for the Cincinnati Reds, for whom Morgan was a Hall of Fame second baseman.

That's a nice try, but neither is really analogous. First, neither Bench, Scully nor Miller has any input on personnel moves, as Jackson presumably does. And as for Morgan, there's a big difference between showing up at old-timers day and advising an owner.

For a network that is almost always on the ball on ethical questions to so completely miss the ball on something like this is disappointing. It's simple: Jackson shouldn't be allowed to work for ESPN until he cuts his ties with the Yankees.

Murderer's row

When was the last time all the living members of the 500-homer club were interviewed for one show?

Try never, until tonight's "Up Close" special (9: 30, ESPN), which brings Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Eddie Mathews and Eddie Murray before the microphones separately and together from a session earlier this year at an Atlantic City hotel.

The special was still being edited this week and was not available for preview, but host Roy Firestone calls it "possibly the greatest thrill I've had in the 4,000 shows I've done."

Firestone said one of the highlights was a panel discussion with Robinson, Jackson, Schmidt, Williams and Banks that became a de facto tribute to Williams.

Milton Kent can be reached via E-mail at MDKENT2ol.com

Pub Date: 7/03/97

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