Jackson changes Yankees’ fortunes by signing free agent contract

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

Before he was the toast of New York City, Reggie Jackson was the heart of Dick Williams’ Oakland Athletics dynasty.

That connection nearly took history in an entirely different direction.

On Nov. 29, 1976, Jackson, the prize catch in the first-ever batch of MLB free agents, signed a five-year, $3.5 million contract with the New York Yankees.

The move made the defending American League champions even more formidable as owner George Steinbrenner executed his plan to bring the Yankees back to the top of the baseball world.

But just days earlier, Jackson and his agent, Gary Walker, traveled to Montreal, where Williams had recently been named the Expos manager.

There, the Expos and Williams made a major push to bring Jackson to Canada.

“Reggie didn’t love Montreal yet,” wrote Williams in his 1990 autobiography No More Mr. Nice Guy. “But he loved me, and that was a start.

“He was 30 years old, a prime player in his prime.”

Jackson debuted with the Athletics in 1967, and by 1971 owner Charlie Finley had assembled a deep and talented roster.

Williams, who like Jackson was headed to the Hall of Fame, became the A’s manager in 1971.

He led the team to three straight American League West titles and World Series championships in 1972 and 1973.

Jackson thrived under Williams’ leadership, winning the 1973 AL Most Valuable Player Award and the World Series MVP the same year.

But following the 1975 season and with free agency on the horizon, Finley traded Jackson to Baltimore.

There, he hit 27 home runs in 1976 before declaring himself a free agent.

At that point, Jackson took his formidable talents to Yankee Stadium – turning down more money from the Expos.

He also spurned offers from the Padres and the Mets.

By the end of his new contract, Jackson had led the Yankees to four postseason berths in five seasons.

The Yankees won World Series titles in 1977 and 1978.

Steinbrenner, who had won out to sign Jackson over Expos owner Charles Bronfman and Padres owner Ray Kroc, seemed to know from the beginning that Jackson would be the difference-maker in New York.

“The greatest thing I had going for me was New York,” Steinbrenner told the New York Daily News. “Bronfman (who ran the Seagram’s beverage company) can have his liquor in Montreal. Kroc (founder of McDonald’s restaurants) can have his hamburgers in San Diego.

“No matter how people try to demean New York, it’s still the Big Apple.”

In five years in New York, Jackson hit .281 with 144 home runs and 461 RBI – earning an All-Star Game roster spot each season. His 1980 campaign may have been the best of his career, as Jackson hit .300 for the first and only time, crushing 41 home runs while driving in 111 runs.

But he’ll be forever remembered for 1977 – when his three home runs in Game 6 of the World Series cemented his reputation as Mr. October – and 1978, when he led the Yankees to back-to-back World Series titles.

Jackson left New York after his contract expired following the 1981 season and played six more seasons with the Angels and Athletics. When he retired following the 1987 season, Jackson had totaled 563 home runs, 1,702 RBI and five World Series titles.

Jackson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1993.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series