I was recently watching the MLB network, Bob Costas was interviewing Reggie Jackson. Costas asked Reggie if he regretted not being friends with Thurman Munson. Knowing Reggie the way I do, I could tell the question bothered him. I was curious about how he would respond. All of a sudden Reggie said, “There was a guy back then that’s still with the Yankees today. His name is Ray Negron and he set up a lunch, put me and Thurman together and we talked it out.”
I felt very proud of the fact that Reggie felt it was that important. Thurman was a very important person in my life as much as Reggie has been. Had Thurman lived, he would have been the godfather to my first son, Jon Erik. No slight on Reggie, it’s just that I knew Thurman longer.
It was a long and difficult summer, between Reggie and Billy going at it in the Fenway Park dugout, and Munson and Lou Piniella talking the Boss into letting Billy Martin keep his job. In the middle of all of this, the Son of Sam was going crazy killing so many young girls and we lost the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. But by September, we were slapping the Red Sox around like we owned them. Reggie and Thurman were getting along glowingly and the team just jelled. It was about being World Champions. It was a little scary when we got to the playoffs because it took all five games and Reggie wasn’t even starting game five but had a big hit as a pinch hitter.
Thank God for Sparky Lyle, because he would have pitched nine innings if Billy asked him to. He pitched 4 1/3. After that you know what happened. We beat the Dodgers in six games and Reggie would hit three home runs in game six.
The first home run was a vicious line drive off Bert Hooten into the right field seats. I would tell bat boy and my best friend, Hector Pagan that no one had better get in front of that ball because it would go through their chest. After Reggie rounded the bases, I told him to take a curtain call but he wouldn’t do it. After he hit the second one, again on the Fast pitch and another vicious line drive, I asked him to take a curtain call and again he declined, saying that the fans had not backed him when things had become rough for him this season. I said to him,” If you hit a third home run, you will take one then right?” He saw how insistent I was and said. ”You’re crazy but I’ll do it.” Well in the bottom of the eighth inning I had to go to the bathroom real badly and Reggie was leading off the inning but I just couldn’t wait. I figured that there was no way that he was going to hit the first pitch out. I thought that the Dodgers pitcher Charlie Hough would at least waste one pitch. I was wrong. As I was putting my zipper down, Reggie was hitting the first pitch out into the centerfield bleachers. By the time I finished peeing Reggie had rounded the bases, shook batboy Joe DiAmbrosio’s hand and stepped into the dugout and into bedlam. If you see the old footage you see me going to his ear, telling him that he promised a curtain call if he hit a third home run. He finally did it and it was great. The fans really went nuts. That was the real birth of the curtain call as we know it today.
After the celebration, Thurman Munson would give Reggie a new name, Mr.October. As Thurman was walking out the door he stopped, look at Reggie and said” You sure put on a great show Mr. October.” Reggie said, “Wow what a great name.” and Thurman said, “You can keep it.” Reggie said, “Thanks.” And they gave each other a big smile, the kind of smile only true friends give each other.
The next day we had a great parade. The Boss was so proud. New York belonged to him that day and he deserved it. Only George Steinbrenner, the PT Barnum of baseball, could have put a team like this together. Seeing Reggie and Billy Martin sitting down together with their arms around each other was one of my favorite Yankee moments. I guess because I knew it wouldn’t last. It was beautiful while it lasted and I actually have a picture of them, in that moment, hanging in my living room.
At the baseball writers dinner years later, Reggie told the capacity crowd he didn’t want to take the curtain call, but I made him do it. That was Mr. October’s way of patting me on the back and I always appreciated him for it. Billy, Thurman and, of course, the Boss always had my back that way too. I guess I was just a lucky kid who was able to get love and give love to four of the greatest guys ever associated with Major League Baseball.