On March 28, 2023

Having a ball

By Dom Cioffi

In 1977, Hall of Fame baseball player Reggie Jackson was traded to the New York Yankees, signing an unprecedented $3 million deal for five years. The trade was all the buzz in the MLB, but was particularly strong in the Northeast where fans live and die for their respective sports teams and players.

The slugger solidified his reputation as one of the game’s greats by winning the ’77 and ’78 World Series with the Yankees, on the heels of having won three straight World Series with his former team, the Oakland A’s. His late-season antics earned him the nickname “Mr. October,” a moniker that he still carries today.

I was 11 years old in 1977 — a gangly kid who had good hand-eye coordination and fast feet. I loved all sports, but baseball was my favorite. I loved to play the game, watch the game on TV, and collect the cards. (In fact, I still have my assemblage of baseball cards in the attic, having lugged them around throughout my life.)

I played in the local rec leagues, loving the camaraderie and competition. But it was the impromptu neighborhood baseball games after school or during the summer break that really appealed to me. We had a community of athletically-minded young boys ready to compete, so the games were plentiful throughout the year. We played football in the fall and basketball in the summer, but baseball was our year-round activity — even when there was snow on the ground.

For baseball, we’d use either a wiffleball or tennis ball depending on the number of kids available. Wiffleball was the best option for low numbers, whereas tennis ball was more suited when each team had four or more kids (the reason was that a tennis ball traveled much further, so you had to have more than one outfielder to make it viable).

I loved these games and looked forward to any opportunity to play them. Most of the other kids in the neighborhood felt the same, however, a few were indifferent and had to be coerced. I remember two brothers who we’d corral into playing when we were desperate for numbers. Neither was particularly coordinated or interested, but we didn’t care as long as the game got played.

I loved Reggie when he played for the A’s, but when he jumped to the Bronx Bombers in New York, I was not happy. Why? Because I was a Red Sox fan.

Vermonters are generally forced to choose between New York and Boston franchises when deciding who to root for. And once you choose, the alternative team becomes your nemesis. Our neighborhood was split equally between Red Sox and Yankees supporters and many times, this delineation was how we chose teams.

I honestly had nothing against the Yankees, and in fact, admired their winning ways, but one kid in the neighborhood made it impossible for me to root for them.

This kid was a Yankees fanatic. He knew every player in every position. He could recite stats and schedules on a whim. And he was well-versed in the history of the game, which meant that he knew how historic the Yankees record was when it came to World Series Championships.

But what really made it unbearable was that this kid was also the best athlete in the neighborhood. He was better than everyone and he knew it. And instead of being humble about his hierarchical position, he shoved it down our throats. He was loud, ostentatious, and overbearing and I loathed him for it.

It’s because of this kid that I drifted toward the Red Sox and started to build contempt for the Yankees. And since I was rooting for the opposing local team, I was almost always in his crosshairs. I remember him chanting Reggie’s name whenever he’d hit a homerun over the neighbor’s bushes. He’d round the bases yelling “Reg-gie, Reg-gie!” and I’d stare with at him with disdain.

While we lost touch many decades ago, I still think about this kid whenever the Yankees start to make headway during an MLB season. I imagine he’s still an obnoxious fan today — yelling, screaming, and carrying on like an overbearing winner.

This week’s feature is “Reggie,” a documentary about the legendary baseball player that delves into the athlete’s unique stature in the game. The film not only reviews his prowess on the field, but also examines the perverse racism that he had to endure while becoming one of the game’s greatest players.

Historical footage is combined with contemporary interviews to create a robust picture of a complicated but dedicated man.

Check this one out if you love baseball or are intrigued by the decades where the game grew into the modern business that it is today.

A nostalgic “B” for “Reggie,” now available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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