COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Among at least a few of the early arriving Hall of Famers, Reggie Jackson is the straw that stirs the laughter. His former Athletics teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, in fact, was chuckling when he said of Jackson's recent eyebrow-raising comments, "When Reggie starts talking, you know everybody listens."
Jackson is not expected to attend the annual dinner and induction ceremonies this weekend, instead having chosen to rejoin the Yankees in Oakland after a brief forced hiatus in the wake of those controversial remarks in Sports Illustrated. The former slugger had questioned the credentials of some players who are in the Hall, and the worthiness of future candidates who have been tainted by steroids.
Ferguson Jenkins, who has known Jackson since the mid-1960s when their respective clubs were among the few that held spring training in Arizona, said, "He doesn't think before he speaks and unfortunately he steps on his tongue, with a big foot. He doesn't choose his words correctly. He doesn't think. I mean, you've got to think before you speak."
Jenkins likes Jackson, recalling him as a player for Arizona State and a young star with the Athletics. "He was a big name back then, and he played big," the former Cubs pitcher said. "When he went to the Yankees, he was even bigger. But he's got to choose his words better."
Fingers had heard about the Jackson interview but had not read it. So he asked which Hall of Famers Jackson had criticized. When someone mentioned Bert Blyleven, the former reliever laughed again and said, "Blyleven? I guarantee Blyleven got him more times than ." And when someone mentioned Gary Carter as another target, Fingers said, "Carter, really? Why would he say those things?
"That doesn't sound like Reggie, badmouthing guys who are already in the Hall. You could say almost the same thing about him: 'God, he struck out more than anybody in the world, why is he in the Hall?' You don't say those things about other guys," Fingers said.
As for Jackson's prediction that the current Hall members would boycott the ceremony if players mentioned in baseball's steroid scandal were enshrined, Fingers said, "That's not a discussion we usually have. When we have our dinner, we usually talk about the guys who are in or the guys who are just coming in.''
Tony Perez, who, like the other two inductees, was doing an autograph session, said, "I don't want to get into that. But this is the Hall of Fame. You're here because you did something great in your career. Everybody who got voted into the Hall of Fame deserves to be there, I guess."