Reggie Jackson had always gotten along with Bill North, and publicly praised the young center fielder several times for his fielding prowess. Sometime in mid-April, however, Bill failed to run hard to first on a routine ground-out. When he returned to the bench, Reggie harshly berated him in front of his teammates for not hustling. The seeds of The Fight were sown.
“He had crossed me, in some way, a couple of times,” Bill recalls without going into detail. “I tried to set him up for a month.” He gave Reggie the silent treatment despite Jackson’s torrid start, and refused to talk to him on or off the field. He would not congratulate Reggie after home runs. During this period, North lifted his average above .200, swiped seventeen bases in the month of May alone, and played exceptional defense. By the day of The Fight, he was batting .228 and leading the league in stolen bases. Jackson remained hot, batting .390 with a league-leading 15 home runs, and the A’s were first in the A.L. West.
Finally, prior to a night game on June 5, in the locker room at Tiger Stadium, Bill made a remark that infuriated Reggie and ignited the brawl. The superstar, who was not yet dressed for the game, charged North and the two wrestled on the floor, in full view of teammates and sportswriters. Catcher Ray Fosse, pitcher Vida Blue and others were able to separate the two, only to have the combatants tangle again a few minutes later. “It wasn’t a regular clubhouse fight,” said an A’s teammate anonymously. “There was no backing off. They went at it hot and heavy — twice.” When the dust settled, the consensus was that North had won the fight. Jackson ended up with a bruised shoulder and battered ego. Fosse suffered a separated cervical disk in the melee and was out of action until late in the season. Both North and Jackson played against the Tigers that night. Bill went 2 for 3 with a double, run scored and RBI while Reggie went 0 for 4. For the rest of June, the powerful right fielder batted .197 with just three doubles, no home runs and four RBI.
Bill looks back upon the incident with much more humility than braggadocio. “I had extracted my ounce of retribution,” Bill admits, but believes the path chosen to settle their score was from youthful ignorance. The Fight and its aftermath enabled Bill and Reggie to move forward as teammates with renewed respect for each other. Today, North says, they maintain a genuine friendship. Reggie Jackson wrote this about Bill in his autobiography: “North was a feisty little guy with a hair-trigger temper, and one of the reasons he was such a winner on the field was because he had a lot of piss and vinegar in him.”
originally written by Tim Herlich.