Turn Back The Clock: January 22nd, 1982-Reggie Jackson Leaves Town


The late owner of the New York Yankees, years after the fact, was once quoted as saying “It was the biggest mistake I ever made.” George Steinbrenner was rarely at a loss for words, or criticism when it came to his once beloved slugger, Reggie Jackson. The two will be forever linked, as two-thirds of the George-Billy-Reggie triumvirate that helped fuel “The Bronx Zoo” during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Jackson in Steinbrenner’s eyes, was the toast of the town, and by the time Mr. October’s contract expired at the conclusion of the 1981 season, had become an expendable piece in an ever-changing Yankees’ roster.

Jackson had helped recruit free agent outfielder, and former San Diego Padres’ All-Star Dave Winfield to the Bronx. Steinbrenner had made Winfield the highest paid professional athlete in sports history at the time, and before their relationship ended, Winfield was now the whipping boy of the Boss. Prior to the 1981 season, Jackson was under the impression that along with Winfield, he would remain the centerpiece of the Yankees’ powerful lineup for the remainder of his career. And why not? He was less than two years removed from his only .300 season, along with tying for the American League lead in home runs with 41. Jax figured he was due a hefty pay raise, and would remain in pinstripes.

Then came the strike-shortened season of 1981. Jackson was without a new contract offer, which by most accounts, infuriated him. He took shots at Steinbrenner in the tabloids, while struggling to get going during his walk year. Steinbrenner began to nitpick at Jackson, and invoked a rarely-used clause in big league contracts, demanding that Jackson take a complete physical to prove he was healthy enough to play. Again, Jackson blasted the Boss, and the two men continued to feud during his final season in the Bronx.

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Gone were the celebrations of his three-home run performance which propelled the Yankees to their first World Series title in 15 years. Gone was the gruff catcher who never fully accepted Jackson as a teammate, as Thurman Munson perished in a tragic plane crash three years prior. Gone was the manager who went out of his way to make Jackson feel inept, and unwanted, as Billy Martin was now managing Jackson’s original team-the Oakland A’s.

All that was left for Jackson, was a miserable 1981 season, one that the Yankees nearly made the most of, once again winning the AL pennant and headed to the World Series against a familiar Jackson foe: the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bob Lemon was in the dugout, and according to rumor, had been on orders from Steinbrenner himself, to use Jackson sparingly in that season’s World Series, after Jackson had injured himself during the ALCS.

Jackson returned healthy, but Lemon kept Jackson on the bench–in October, which was Jackson’s stage. He had missed Games One and Two–both Yankees’ wins against the Dodgers, to take a commanding lead. The wheels would quickly come off however, as the Bombers were unable to finish the job. Jackson was back in the lineup after a Game Three loss, smashing his final October bomb for the Yankees in Game Four, but it wasn’t enough, as the Dodgers took four straight games to win the series.

Steinbrenner and the Yankees didn’t even make Reggie Jackson a contract offer at the end of the ’81 campaign. The team had moved on, and wanted to start the post-Reggie Jackson era as early as 1982. The team got their wish, as California Angels’ owner and country music legend, Gene Autry brought Jackson back to his roots in California, signing the slugger to a four-year, $4 million dollar deal.

Things weren’t all sunshine and rainbows for Jackson once the ’82 season started either. He began the season slumping badly. That was until April 27th, 1982 in Yankee Stadium. The raucous Yankee fans began chanting REG-GIE as Jackson came to the plate for the first time as a visiting player. The fans were highly upset that the Boss once again got in the way of putting the best team possible on the field, and letting Jackson leave in such a insufficient way.

Jackson, facing his longtime teammate, Ron Guidry, blasted a pitch deep into the night, and while circling the bases, Jackson looked directly into Steinbrenner’s owner’s box–a final nail in the coffin of the two men’s relationship at the time. Yankee fans celebrated the Jackson home run, by chanting “Steinbrenner Sucks!” over and over again. It was a fitting welcome home for one of the most dynamic, dramatic, and polarizing figures in New York Yankees history.

It was on this day, 33 years ago, that George Steinbrenner allowed Reggie Jackson to walk away and become a member of the California Angels. Today’s Turn Back The Clock.