Yankees can't handle the 'truth'

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Were it not so amusing, so perversely satisfying on so many levels, it might well be its own little historical marvel, namely that after all these years, the New York Yankees still so dearly want Reggie Jackson to shut up.

As the balance of this compelling baseball season begins to roll out before us, we'll soon be advancing upon the 35th anniversary of one of the game's signature moments, the iconic performance of Reginald Martinez Jackson, who homered on three consecutive pitches from three different pitchers to nail down the 1977 World Series for the New York Yankees.

A blistered October from Mister October.

But this week, the Bronx front office reportedly sent word that it has at least temporarily defriended Reggie, and that he should check on his status before considering any visits to the greater Gotham area, even as he retains his position as special adviser.

Never considered a sympathetic figure, the 66-year-old Jackson struggles these days with the difficult question of how best to protect the game he loves from the warp of performance-enhancing chemistry, a struggle with endless flash points across the entire sports landscape.

There were eight pages in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's award-winning sports section Tuesday, five of which included stories in some way related to drug suspicion. Jackson's comments to Sports Illustrated on A-Fraud Rodriguez's steroid use got folded into a multilayered allegation sandwich made up of suspect cyclist Lance Armstrong's mounting problems with the United States Anti-Doping Agency, soccer standout Hope Solo testing positive for the banned substance Canrenone, NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger's failed drug test right before last weekend's Fuelwaster 400, and finally, the news that J. Paul Reddam, owner of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another had been blogging on bloodhorse.com that he had sold the horse to a farm in Japan for $10 million, far more than he was offered domestically.

That last one isn't a drug story per se, but drug rumors had long dogged the career of I'll Have Another's trainer, Doug O'Neill, and it's not much a stretch to infer that perhaps owners of stud farms in the United States had concluded I'll Have Another's victories weren't legitimate, particularly after the horse was pulled from the Belmont, where doping scrutiny was intense.

I should mention that I was shocked that NASCAR would suspend Allmendinger for drugs, mostly because I didn't know NASCAR tested for drugs. Don't you have to be on something to drive like that?

Anyway, here's what Reggie said that so honked off the contemporary Yankees:

"Al [Rodriguez] is a very good friend, but I think there are real questions about his numbers. As much as I like him, what he admitted about his usage does cloud some of his records."

The problem with that is, it's true, and the Yankees have always had a strange relationship with the truth. They either don't like it, don't understand it or don't want to understand it. That's why it's hysterical that they issued this little don't-come-around-here-no-more (for now) over what A-Fraud has already admitted.

All the way back to Jackson's New York heyday, truth was a casualty among the rollicking triumvirate that was Reggie, field manager Billy Martin and principal owner George Steinbrenner. At one point in the sorry saga of Martin's repeated firings, Billy yipped of Jackson and The Boss: "One's a liar, the other's convicted." In a tearful apology before being replaced, Martin apologized for calling Steinbrenner a convict, even though that was the truth and a matter of settled jurisprudence. George had contributed illegally to Richard Nixon's CREEP show (the Committee to Re-Elect the President). On the contrary, Martin said pointedly, he had no remorse about calling Jackson a liar, even though Reggie was a convicted liar mainly in the Court of Billy Martin.

Three-and-a-half decades later, Jackson's rhetoric is relatively mild. It's not like Reggie pointed out that the Yankees clubhouse has been steroid central lo these many years, a place where acknowledged cheats and many of the game's most notorious suspects mingled to mangle the game's history, from Jason Giambi to Roger Clemens to A-Fraud to Gary Sheffield to Chuck Knoblauch to Andy Pettitte to Jason Grimsley and even Jose Canseco himself.

All Jackson did was indicate that he understands some things the Yankees and portions of that national baseball media do not, at least relative to certain "accomplishments."

He considers Henry Aaron and not Barry Bonds baseball's home run king. He considers the career home run totals of A-Fraud, Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, all now higher than Reggie Jackson's 563 by the way, less than legitimate.

"I don't think the fans really count them," Jackson said, "and I agree."

That's the other thing about the truth. It hurts.

The far more intemperate things Jackson said in the Sports Illustrated article came in Reggie's Ready List of Hall-of-Famers Who Shouldn't Be: Gary Carter, Kirby Puckett, Jim Rice, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro and Burt Blyleven.

That's harsh.

But I'll admit it -- if baseball's annual Home Run Derby (and even the All-Star Game) were replaced with a one-hour show called Reggie Throws A Half Dozen Legends Out of Cooperstown, I'd watch it.

That would be better than Swamp People. genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com


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