LOVERRO: Reggie Jackson’s latest quote denial is last straw for author

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“I’m the straw that stirs the drink.”

It’s not quite, “A day that will live in infamy,” or “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” but Reggie Jackson’s words printed in the June 1977 issue of Sport magazine remain among the most powerful and defining quotes in all of sports.

It defined who Reggie was. It identified George Steinbrenner’s Yankees ownership and the whole “Bronx Zoo” era.

“[Thurman] Munson thinks he can be the straw that stirs the drink, but he can only stir it bad.”

And now Reggie says he never said it.

According to Associated Press, Jackson, in his new book, “Reggie Jackson: Becoming Mr. October,” scheduled for publication Tuesday by Doubleday, Reggie says, “It never happened.”

That’s so Reggie — making headlines in his new book by denying the very quote that, while angering his teammates, helped create the whole Reggie persona.

Reggie’s denied it in the past, claiming he was misquoted. But now he’s taken his denial to a new level. He’s says the writer tried to make him say it.

“The whole time he was trying to feed me that quote, but I know I never said it,” Jackson said in the book, according to the Associated Press. “There’s no way I’d be that dumb to knock the captain of the team — and, by the way, the guy who told George Steinbrenner to go get me on the free-agent market.”

This was a quote that was made 36 years ago, in a magazine that has long since ceased to exist. And the writer of the story has long since left it behind, going on to far greater things than a Reggie Jackson Sport profile.

But it still keeps pulling Robert Ward back.

Ward, a Baltimore native, moved on from magazine profiles in Sport, New Times and Rolling Stone to become a successful novelist and screenwriter. He wrote for Miami Vice and perhaps the greatest network drama of all time, Hill Street Blues. He also recently published a collection of his magazine stories called “Renegades,” which, of course, includes the Reggie story.

“It’s the same old crap,” Ward said in a telephone interview from his Los Angeles home. “But he gets more outrageous with each time, now saying I fed him the line.

“This was not a guy who would be bullied,” Ward said. “Next thing I wonder if he will say I never really existed. No one put words in Reggie’s mouth. I didn’t have to feed him anything, and I wouldn’t do that anyway. The idea that he was some poor, shy guy who had to be fed lines. Does that sound like Reggie Jackson?”

The interview took place in spring training in Fort Lauderdale, after Reggie signed a high-profile five year, $3 million deal with the Yankees. It was at a popular Lauderdale bar called the Banana Boat, and Reggie wasn’t the only one there. His manager, Billy Martin, was in the bar as well, along with his friends Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford.

Their presence, along with Reggie’s ego and insecurities, may have fed him the line.

Reggie came into the bar wearing one of those “Superstar” T-shirts, from the television show,” Ward said. “Martin and Mantle were sitting at a table. I was waiting at the bar. They started teasing him, ‘Look at the real superstar.’ He stood there and laughed but you could see it was awkward for him.

“Whitey Ford was wearing a pink cashmere sweater,” Ward said. “He came over and said to Reggie, ‘Mr. Superstar, can I trade with you? I would be proud to wear that T-shirt.’ So Reggie laughed and played along with it, took off the shirt and took the sweater, though it didn’t fit him.

“Ford walked away, and Reggie said, ‘This is something I have to play along with,’” Ward said. “But he clearly didn’t like it, and started talking about the resentment they felt toward him. I asked him if he thought race was involved, he said, yes, they don’t like a black man getting attention. Then I asked him if he thought because he was intelligent as well, then he went off.

“‘People don’t understand how smart I am,’ he said to me, and then it didn’t take any more than that. ‘I’m the straw that stirs the drink,’ he said, and then it came streaming out,” Ward said. “The attitude of those guys stirred him up.”

Between Reggie making headlines with his new book and Alex Rodriguez’s lawsuit against Major League Baseball, you would think the Yankees were in the postseason. A-Rod, though, was the needle that poisoned the drink.

Reggie stirred it, and maybe someday he’ll be secure enough to own up to it.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,”noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio andespn980.com

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