Career highlight at the ballpark…for two

It was 44 years ago this week that Number 44 gave baseball a World Series record that may stand forever, and gave a Montreal baseball writer the most memorable sports moment of both their careers. Reggie Jackson hit three home runs on three pitches to make the New York Yankees baseball’s champions.

My Montreal Star story from Yankee Stadium that night reported it this way:

“In the final analysis, all that matters is Reggie Jackson hit three of the hardest and most vicious home runs anybody is ever likely to see off the same bat, and they won the World Series.”

At that time, only he and Babe Ruth had hit three homers in a World Series game. Less than a year before Jackson joined The Bambino, he was close to joining the Expos. So we had a history, Reggie and me, one that he likely forgot…probably in 44 seconds.

It was November. The Expos were sneaking him into Montreal, accompanied by manager Dick Williams. I’d been told they were on a flight from Los Angeles. A recent airport ruling restricted gate access to passengers, so I became one, buying a ticket to the cheapest destination I could find — Ottawa. That gave me access to the Expos entourage as they entered the terminal.

Sports writer Bob Dunn managed to corner Reggie Jackson at the airport, during a quiet entry to the city in 1976.

Frankly, it wasn’t that memorable a moment for me either — except that no other newshounds were there, which prompted the Expos to call an unscheduled news conference late that night. But Reggie was Reggie at the airport: He had something to say.

His visit was meaningful: “I could be convinced to sign while I’m here but I will not sign until I’ve talked to the other teams.”

He was in Montreal only because of Dick Williams: “He is very responsible for the player I have been.”

And if the Expos weren’t planning to become contenders they wouldn’t have invited him because “that would be like getting radial tires for a Rolls Royce, hoping someone will give you the Rolls Royce.”

Having lost his luggage (it contained traces of marijuana), he was also uncharacteristically apologetic: “I’ve had a long trip. That’s why I’m not the friendliest person in the world.”

Exactly 11 months later, having declined a more lucrative offer from the Expos, Jackson was a Yankee, and naturally much friendlier, standing at his locker after his epic performance.

“Somebody sure shined on me,” he said. “I’m not that good. I hit three home runs. I can’t believe it. For the first time, I don’t mind being mentioned with Aaron, Mays and Ruth. But I’m a contemporary player, so it’s only all right for one night.”

His home runs were on pitches from three pitchers (Burt Hooton, Elias Sosa and Charlie Hough). in the fourth, fifth and eighth innings.

That was the moment he became Mr. October.