Joe DiMaggio was scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game Six of the 1977 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the Yankees dressing room before the game, DiMaggio grabbed a stool and sat next to New York’s star right fielder Reggie Jackson.
A high-priced free agent, Jackson had endured a rough (albeit productive) first season in The Bronx, battling his teammates, the press, his manager Billy Martin, and his boss, George Steinbrenner. DiMaggio and Jackson chatted for a while. DiMaggio had been the Oakland A’s hitting coach back in 1968, when a young Jackson was in his first full season in the big leagues.
Now, DiMaggio was telling Jackson that he thought he was a great ballplayer. It was the confidence boost that Jackson needed and thrived on. At this point in the Series he was hitting .353 with two home runs. The second one had come in his last at-bat in Game Five, at Dodger Stadium, a titanic shot off Don Sutton. Johnny Oates, the Dodger catcher, called it, “the single hardest-hit ball I ever saw.”1
After the talk with DiMaggio, Jackson headed out to the field for batting practice, where he put on a show of awesome power. As Jackson drove ball after ball into the seats, the Yankee Stadium crowd began chanting, “Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie!” (Decades later, Jackson estimated that during batting practice that night he “probably took 50 swings and had to hit 35 balls in the stands, all within about a 50-feet radius in right field.”2 Baseball writer Roger Kahn, who witnessed the carnage, puts the ratio at 40/20.) “Hey,” teammate Willie Randolph shouted, “would you maybe save a little of that for the game?” Reggie nodded and noted, “I’m feeling good. I mean I’m feeling great.”3
The Yankees led the Dodgers three games to two, so they could put the Series on ice with a victory this night. To the mound the Yankees sent Mike Torrez, the winner in Game Three. The Dodgers countered with Burt Hooton, whose fine performance helped Los Angeles take Game Two.
On the cool, clear night, 56,407 fans jammed The House That Ruth Built.
The Dodgers scored two quick runs in the first. In the second, New York’s Chris Chambliss smacked a home run to score Jackson (who had reached on a four-pitch walk) tying up the ball game at 2-2. Reggie Smith homered in the third to put Los Angeles up by a run.
Following a Thurman Munson single in the fourth, Jackson came up for his first official at-bat of the game. On the first offering from Hooton, he blasted a high, arching drive into the lower deck in right, giving the Yankees the lead they would never relinquish. “Hooton tried to come in with a fastball,” Jackson said, “As soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone.”4 Reggie was expecting Hooton’s heater – he had checked with the Yankees’ top scout, Gene Michael, prior to the game. Michael had flatly stated, “Hooton’s gonna pitch you a fastball in.”5
It was Reggie’s second consecutive home run in two official at-bats, going back to the one he’d hit in the previous game at Dodger Stadium. That made two swings, two home runs. But Reggie’s rendezvous with history was only beginning.
His home run had sent Hooton to the showers. Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda brought in Elias Sosa to pitch. Jackson came up again in the fifth. Facing Sosa with Willie Randolph on first, Reggie figured Sosa would also come inside with a fastball. He did. Reggie again swung at the first pitch, hammering a line shot into the first row in the lower deck in right field. “I hit it good but I was hoping that the ball would stay up. I hit it like a 3-iron and hoped it would hang on.”6 In the dugout after the home run, an exuberant Jackson waved to the television cameras, flashed two fingers, and mouthed, “Hi Mom! Two!” with a wide grin. “I was still in batting practice,” Reggie said after the game. “That’s how I felt.”7
Randolph recalled years later, “Once he hit the second home run, I knew he was going to hit another one, because he was in such a good groove.”8 With his two home runs, he had knocked Hooton and Sosa out of the game. The score was now 7-3, and for all intents and purposes the Dodgers were finished.
Jackson led off the bottom of the eighth, facing knuckleballer Charlie Hough. The Yankee Stadium crowd was anticipating another home run, but Hough had other plans. Hough apparently thought he might get him out, but catcher Steve Yeager lamented, “It was a knuckler, a perfect pitch for him to hit.”9 Jackson slammed Hough’s first pitch high and deep and over the center-field wall. Jackson stood at home plate for several seconds, admiring the titanic moonshot. “I hit knuckleball pitchers very well and I couldn’t believe they had brought in Charlie Hough. He threw me a Hit-Me knuckleball and I dropped a bomb….”10
Howard Cosell, part of the ABC-TV broadcasting crew, was in awe: “What??!!” he shouted, as the ball left the yard. Then, as Jackson rounded the bases: “Ooohh, what a blow! What a way to top it off! Forget about who the most valuable player is in the World Series! How this man has responded to pressure! Oh, what a beam on his face! How can you blame him? He’s answered the whole world!” As Jackson’s teammates mobbed him in the dugout, Cosell continued: “What are they all thinking now? After all the furor, after all the hassling, it came down to this!”11
Red Smith, writing in the New York Times, was a little more poetic: “This one didn’t take the shortest distance between two points. Straight out from the plate the ball streaked, not toward the neighborly stands in right but on a soaring arc toward the unoccupied bleachers in dead center, where the seats are blacked out to give batters a background. Up the white speck climbed, dwindling, diminishing, until it settled at last halfway up those empty stands, probably 450 feet away.”12
As Reggie rounded the bases, he “felt like I was running on clouds. Certainly, it was one of my greatest moments.”13 The only comparison, he wrote later, was being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
Jackson headed for the Yankee dugout, where all of his teammates – with whom he had a difficult relationship – reached out to shake his hand and hug him. Jackson looked over at the dugout camera, held up three fingers, and said, “That’s three, Mom!”14
As chants of “Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie” rolled through the stadium, the man himself emerged from the dugout again to doff his helmet and salute the crowd.
“That was a helluva pitch,” Lasorda admitted. “When I seen him hit that pitch that far I seen the greatest performance I ever seen in a World Series.”15 Who could argue with Lasorda? In two World Series games, Jackson had hit four consecutive home runs, on four swings, against four different pitchers. His three shots in Game Six had all come on the first pitch of the at-bat. At the time, only Babe Ruth had ever hit three home runs in a World Series game, having done the deed twice, in 1926 and 1928 (As of this writing, the feat has since been equaled by Albert Pujols in 2011 and Pablo Sandoval in 2012.). Jackson’s five home runs in a single Series are still a record (Chase Utley also hit five in the six-game 2009 World Series).
Torrez caught the final out of the contest, a popup of an attempted bunt by pinch-hitter Lee Lacy. Yankees fans stormed the field, overwhelming police officers. Jackson shoved his glasses in his pocket, took off his helmet and tucked it under his arm like a football, and started weaving through the crowd like the fullback he had been at Arizona State University. Without glasses, he had poor depth perception, and knocked over a fan in his drive to the dugout.16
The final was Yankees 8, Dodgers 4. For the first time since 1962, the New York Yankees were the champions of baseball. And Reggie Jackson had led them there in a World Series display for the ages.17
Red Smith wrote: “In his last times at bat, this Hamlet in double-knits scored seven runs, made six hits and five home runs and batted in six runs for a batting average of .667 compiled by day and by night on two sea-coasts 3,000 miles and three time zones apart. Shakespeare wouldn’t attempt a curtain scene like that if he was plastered.”18
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted baseball-almanac.com and baseball-reference.com.
Photo credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.
1 Roger Kahn, October Men (New York: Harcourt, 2004), 165.
3 Kahn, 167.
4 George A. King III, “The Homers That Made Reggie ‘Mr. October’ – The Jackson 3,” NYPost.com, http://nypost.com/2004/11/19/the-homers-that-made-reggie-mr-october-the-jackson-3/, accessed January 29, 2014.
5 Reggie Jackson with Kevin Baker, Becoming Mr. October (New York: Doubleday, 2013), 178-179.
7 Kahn, 168.
8 ARCHSENTINEL1, “New York Yankee Great Mr. Reggie Jackson Hits 3 (4) Home Runs 1977 World Series 11-22-12,” YouTube video, 3:32. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoQBkBJkiGw. Accessed January 29, 2014. Removed from YouTube.
9 Lowell Reidenbaugh, “Reggie Reigns Supreme, And So Do Yankees,” The Sporting News, November 5, 1977: 7.
12 Quoted in Cecilia Tan, The 50 Greatest Yankee Games (Hoboken, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons, 2005), 143.
13 Becoming Mr. October, 182.
14 Becoming Mr. October, 183.
15 Kahn, 168.
16 Jackson’s frantic run to safety can be seen on a video posted to YouTube by MLB. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnLR9Ln4hqo
17 It should be noted for the record that on Opening Day 1978 at Yankee Stadium (in the sixth game of the young season, New York having started on the road), Jackson hit a home run with two men on in the first inning, against Wilbur Wood of the Chicago White Sox, on a 2-0 pitch. That made for an astonishing four consecutive home runs at Yankee Stadium, on four swings.
18 Tan, 145.