BOSTON – It was strong and windy during batting practice on Monday, and the sky was dark over Old Fenway Park. Reggie Jackson smiled. “October weather,” he said, as no one else on the planet can.
44 Masterpiece: It had been 44 years since the three-homer outing for the Yankees in the cleaning game of the 1977 World Series. That’s when Jackson became Mr. October, the nickname stitched in orange on the side of the navy cap he was wearing before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
Navy color fits, but orange is new. Jackson, 75, joined the Houston Astros in May as a special advisor to team owner Jim Crane, whose Astros beat the Boston Red Sox two games to one in the series, before Tuesday night’s Game 4. in Fenway.
Crane and Jackson have been friends for more than 10 years, bonding over golf and classic cars in Pebble Beach, Calif., where Crane was home. Jackson, who also lives in Southern California, has also worked for Crane there.
“One day he said, ‘Do you want to play golf tomorrow?’ And I said, ‘No, I have a match, the club championship,'” Crane said. “He said he’d come to the caddy for me, and I said, ‘Reggie, you don’t have to do that.’ He said, ‘No, I want to see how you are under pressure.’
Pressure was fuel for Jackson, who hit .357 with 10 homers in five World Series wins for the Oakland Athletics and Yankees. On Tuesday, he said the Astros seemed comfortable in their clubhouse, and that his role was to reassure them.
“Everybody has doubts sometimes,” Jackson said. “No matter how good you are, how well you’re playing, it’s always good to hear something positive from someone who is down the path you want to go. I played with great players and I love it.” Got support, so when a player struggles a little, it’s a big help when he can see with experienced eyes and a guy tells him, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re gonna be all right.’ “
Even before joining the Astros, Jackson had watched his game with great interest. In the press elevator after Game 5 of the 2017 World Series — a tour de force by second baseman Jose Altuve — Crane proudly showed off a text message from Jackson.
“Altuve, the best player in the game,” read the message. “Who says? Says Mr. October.”
Jackson was a Yankees consultant at the time, a role he held since 1993, the year of his induction into the Hall of Fame, where an interlocking NY logo is engraved on his plaque. Jackson was more dominant with the Yankees at some points than others, but he was a regular presence at various points in spring training, after the season, and in between. He stepped back from the team after last season but remains on good terms.
Jackson played for four franchises in the era before playing the Interleague – the Athletics, Orioles, Yankees and Angels – and never faced the Astros, who were in the National League at the time. When asked if it felt strange to be with him in October and not with the Yankees, he paused.
“It feels good,” he said. “It looks good. It’s the right person, the right person for me to be with.”
Jackson, whose charity foundation funds science, technology, engineering and math courses for underprivileged children, has worked with Crane on community initiatives in Houston, including promoting diversity and inclusion. Crane isn’t the blatant agitator George Steinbrenner was – no modern team owner – but Jackson said there were traces of the old boss.
“He is very involved, just as involved as George and makes the decision to run the club, trying to make it better all the time,” Jackson said. “She’s got sympathy and she cares.”
Crane bought the Astros in 2011, when the team had the worst record in the Majors, and hired Jeff Luhno from the Cardinals to run baseball operations. Luhno heralded a full-scale turnaround with a data-driven approach to scouting and player development that helped propel the Astros into longstanding controversy, including its 2017 World Series title.
Crane fired Luhno and manager AJ Hinch after uncovering an illegal electronic sign-theft scandal that tainted the championship. Players were spared punishment in exchange for cooperating with the league’s investigation, but they are routinely bullied on the street. Jackson can relate to that, and said the Astros’ success—it’s their fifth consecutive visit to the ALCS—would make them a target anyway.
“It doesn’t bother them,” he said. “I was a villain my whole career. Wherever I went with the Yankees, I was a villain. When you’re on the winning team, you’re bothering people; they don’t like it.”
Shortstop Carlos Correa fits neatly into the role of the villain for the Astros, in a way familiar to Jackson. Korea is productive, speaks its mind and craves to be in the limelight. He had the same postseason batting average (.278) and home run totals (18) as Jackson through Game 3. (Jackson had a slight edge in on-base plus slugging percentage, from .885 to .883.)
“I talk to him all the time,” Correa said. “I joked with him: ‘I hooked you up in Homers,’ and he was laughing. I was like, ‘Give me some more, you have plenty.’ We always have a good time. I love Reggie, he’s a very nice guy. I learn a lot from him.”
Crane wants to learn more. He counts two other Hall of Famers, former Astros Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, among his mentors, and said he was planning to expand their roles.
“We are going to use them a little bit more on the drafting side before we draft people to get a better look from a player perspective, because we have a lot of people who have never played those decisions,” Crane said. “I played a little bit in college and you have to know that experience, and they know it at a very high level. They can see what’s inside people sometimes or where it’s coming from, where it’s not all analytical Is. “
Jackson was the second overall pick by A in the 1966 draft—after the Mets took on Steve Chilcott, a catcher who never reached the majors—and clearly lived up to the hype. So is Korea, the first overall pick in the first draft of Crane in 2012. Correa will be a free agent after the season and will stand to make a fortune in the open market.
Jackson knows a bit about it too, and Korea knows it well.
“I will talk to him when the time comes,” Correa said. “I’m just focused on winning.”