THE REGGIE! PROJECT: 1969
The Reggie! Project is my multi-season project, wherein I’m playing full season (single-team) replays from different stages of Reggie Jackson’s career. I’ve completed Reggie’s 1977 Yankees season and his 1982 California Angels season. In the coming months I’ll be posting results of Reggie’s 1969 season. Though the ’77 and ’82 seasons were recreated using mostly as-played lineups for all teams, the 1969 season will be different. In this season, Reggie will be the starting right fielder for the 1969 New York “Miracle” Mets.
PART 1: THE DRAFT
The New York Mets had a choice to make early in the morning on June 7, 1966. In anticipation of the first overall pick in baseball’s amateur draft, the Mets had reviewed the thousands of eligible ballplayers in America and whittled the candidates down to two.
On the one hand, there was a 17-year-old catcher with a smooth left-handed swing from Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, California. Steve Chilcott had been scouted by the Ol’ Perfesser himself, Casey Stengel, and had won the legend’s endorsement in the Mets front office. Chilcott was young and raw, but his athletic talent was unquestionable. Besides being an all-American ballplayer behind the dish, he had quarterbacked his school to a league championship, too. With an easy demeanor and a strong work ethic to boot, Chilcott was as sure a thing as a 17-year-old catching prospect could be.
His competition for that number 1 overall pick was a centerfielder from Arizona State University, Reginald Martinez Jackson. Reggie, as he was known, was also a two-sport star. An All-American Halfback and Outfielder, he swung his bat with tremendous power, threw with a plus-arm, and walked with the kind of swagger, charisma, and confidence in athletic competition that simply can’t be taught. But while Reggie had everything on the field going for him, the Mets had concerns about off-the-field issues with Reggie.
Reggie had already announced in the press that his signing demands would be, “sky high – up there where the air is rare.” This might conceivably make the Mets balk, but as they had already prepared a $75,000 contract should they choose Chilcott, Reggie’s requested $85,000 bonus wasn’t too far out of the realm of possibility.
No, it wasn’t his contract demands or his talent on the field that the Mets front office couldn’t deal with, it was something far more pedestrian and far more sinister. According to Reggie, Arizona State head coach Bobby Winkles told him that the New York Mets didn’t like that the flamboyant and charismatic young man of Puerto Rican and Afro-American descent was dating a white girl.
To be fair, Winkles later denied making this statement, so it’s his word versus Reggie’s. Reggie’s claim isn’t far-fetched, however, when you consider that NY Mets President at the time was George Weiss, a noted racist who while running the New York Yankees in the 1950’s once proclaimed that “no black man would ever wear the Yankee pinstripes.”
So who would it be, come decision time? Would the Mets take the safe, easy, All-American boy from Southern California? Or would they go against their personal bias and take the budding superstar with out-of-this-world talent from Arizona State?