Senior Writer Ron Fimrite was sitting in a bar in Casa Grande, Ariz. last week, interviewing Reggie Jackson for the story that begins on page 22, when Jackson turned to him and said, "How many times have we done this?" Says Fimrite, "We both had a feeling of déj√† vu. I've interviewed Reggie countless times. I couldn't even add them up."
Fimrite, who in fact has the memory bank of a computer, does remember clearly the first time he met Reggie. It was back in 1968, when Fimrite was a sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and Reggie was a rookie with the Oakland A's. They were in a TV studio filming a pilot for a sports trivia show and were playing on opposite teams. Unbeknownst to Fimrite, Reggie mistook Fimrite for another sportswriter. "He was sitting there glaring at me," says Fimrite, "and finally he shouted, 'I don't know why you keep writing about me when you don't talk to me.' " Fimrite, completely mystified but never at a loss for words, shouted back, "I've never written about you."
Fimrite says now, "From that moment on, I've never stopped writing about him."
It has been a long and happy association. "I like Reggie," says Fimrite. "A lot of people reject him because of his flamboyance and self-advertisement. And that's all there, of course, but he definitely has star quality."
It is perhaps a measure of Fimrite's charm and bonhomie that he also gets on well with Oakland A's Manager Billy Martin. But it is a little-known fact that Martin and Fimrite were at Berkeley (Calif.) High School together. And although they didn't know each other there, Martin being two years ahead, the old school tie is strong. Says Fimrite, "Berkeley High is a source of endless conversation with us. Billy loves to talk about the teachers and the baseball team." He also has an unsettling tendency to break into the old Berkeley High fight song (to the tune of On Wisconsin) when he catches sight of Fimrite. "Sometimes I don't even see him," says Fimrite, "but then I'll hear 'Yellow Jackets, Yellow Jackets, break right through that line!' I'll turn around and there Billy will be, grinning at me."
Yellow Jackets may be a football song, but Fimrite's first love is baseball. We've been sending him to cover spring training for 12 years now, an assignment he never tires of. "It's the best way to watch baseball," he says. "You can hear, see and smell the game. Because the parks are so small, you're closer to the players."
By the time you read this, Fimrite will have left Reggie and the Angels in Casa Grande for what he regards as his "official headquarters" in Scottsdale, where he may or may not be being serenaded by Billy Martin. If you happen to be passing by The Pink Pony bar there, take a look inside: That rather dashing raconteur holding court will be our man Fimrite.
RON FIMRITE: REGGIE-WATCHING TIME AGAIN