Three months ago, just after Commissioner Bud Selig was operated on for skin cancer, he had an early, really early, morning visitor. It was not yet 7 o’clock.
“Gosh, Reggie, what are you doing here so early?” Selig said to Reggie Jackson from his bed at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York.
“I was shaken,” Jackson recalled the other day as he recounted the reason for the hospital visit and the conversation that took place. “I was in shock.”
“The A’s are about to be sold to your friend Lew Wolff,” Jackson said. “What is that?”
“What are you doing here so early?” Selig said again.
“What should I do?” Jackson replied. “Leave, go away, come back?”
“Well, there’s a lot going on,” Selig said. “You don’t understand. You need to know the whole story.”
“I didn’t know what to do,” Jackson said, returning to the present. “I walked out. Later, I decided to fly back home.”
The day before he visited Selig in the hospital, Jackson had learned that he and his partners would not be buying the Oakland Athletics. He felt Selig had betrayed him. Selig and his chief aide, Bob DuPuy, disputed that characterization yesterday.
“I’m not sure what he’s trying to accomplish here,” Selig said.
“He’s confusing two conversations,” said DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer.
It’s not surprising in baseball to have a situation that has two sides, two stories, two versions of events. At the center of this two-sided story is Jackson’s desire and efforts to buy a team. DuPuy said baseball would eagerly welcome Jackson, a Hall of Famer, as an owner, but he disputed Jackson’s version of events.
“I was kept away from buying the A’s,” Jackson said. “I was told by Bud and Bob to wait. They asked me not to call the A’s. Bob said, ‘Hold off, we’ll make that call for you.’ ”
Not so, DuPuy said. “I never told him I would call for him,” DuPuy said. “I said if he wanted to call Steve Schott or Ken Hoffman, he was free to do that at any time.” Schott and Hoffman are the owners who are selling the A’s.
Brian Shapiro, a Wall Street friend and business partner of Jackson’s, said he attended many meetings that Jackson had with DuPuy about the A’s. “They were intent on getting in between and making the contact,” Shapiro said of the approach major league officials wanted to take with Oakland. “Saying now that they didn’t is an interesting situation.”
“Reggie’s number was retired in Oakland in June,” Shapiro added. “He could have reached out to Schott, but going by the rules they set, he refrained, to his detriment.”
Lewis Wolff, a Los Angeles real estate entrepreneur, an A’s executive and a college fraternity brother of Selig, held the option and will soon become the team’s owner. The sale price is about $180 million. Jackson said his group was prepared to top any offer by $25 million.
But he made his move too late.
“I was devastated emotionally,” Jackson said. “I didn’t want to do anything.”
Jackson, who sustained minor injuries in a frightening automobile accident last Friday, a day after talking about his attempts to buy the A’s, said he fell victim to the friends-of-Selig syndrome. A popular view in baseball circles is that any friend of Selig’s has the inside track to purchase a team. Exhibit A is the group of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, who bought the Boston Red Sox three years ago.