Growing up as a kid in Southern New Jersey in the late-1970’s and early 1980’s, I was exposed to some of the coolest athletes of all time through the local television stations in Philadelphia and New York. I remember being in the grocery line while food shopping with my mother and, as any child, I was looking at the candy section by the cash register when I spotted the greatest candy bar of all time. Chocolate covered caramel and peanuts in an orange wrapper bearing the name and likeness of five-time World Series Champ and two-time World Series MVP Reggie Jackson. Still to this day, the Reggie Bar is the best candy bar I’ve ever had. Not just because those ingredients are the perfect combination of snackdom, but because Reggie Jackson was the first, and (in my opinion) only, personality in that era that transcended sports. One Sunday afternoon a pre-adolescent me was watching the kid’s television show The Baseball Bunch featuring the San Diego chicken. I didn’t watch this show every week, but I read the TV Guide listing showing the guest host to be none other than Reggie himself. In this episode, Jackson was teaching kids how to hit a baseball. He told them to not be discouraged if they swing and miss. He enforced his statement by explaining that, at that time, he had struck out more times than anyone in history. This stuck with me forever.
But What Makes Reggie Jackson So Iconic?
It’s actually very simple. In the 1977 World Series, Reggie hit four home runs on four consecutive swings. Still, four decades later, no one has matched that feat and it is unlikely anyone ever will. The following year? Reggie and his Yankees made it to the World Series again and lost. Dismally. In this series, Reggie was famously struck out by rookie Bob Welch and fell over to create one of the most indelible moments in baseball postseason history. That at-bat was so monumentous that it was the highlight of Welch’s obituary when he passed away in 2014. To make things perfectly clear, it is that at-bat… yes, Reggie’s most embarrassing failure… that makes me a lifelong fan of this man. Here we are decades later and Reggie ranks 14th on the all-time home run list and he still leads the majors with 2,597 strikeouts. Do you know what this means? The 14th greatest of all time in doing the coolest thing in any sport (hitting the home run) ranks NUMBER ONE in strikeouts. He had more personal failures than anyone in baseball history. Here I am in my late 40’s and still see this man as the only person in the history of sports that swung for the fences every day and still remains one of the greatest of all time. That means, to me, that swinging for the home run is not so bad. In fact, it might just be the secret of life! That is exactly whom I aim to be. You should too. Just swing, baby.