Today in Baseball History: Teammates Reggie Jackson and Bill North duke it out

Getty Images

Yesterday I wrote about a violent riot that broke out in Cleveland for Ten Cent Beer Night. Something ugly must’ve been in the air on that weekend in 1974, because the very next day in Detroit Oakland A’s teammates Reggie Jackson and Billy North got into a fight in the visitor’s clubhouse at Tiger Stadium.

Jackson, the A’s right fielder, was the 1973 AL MVP Award winner and the obvious top dog on the two-time defending World Series champions. North, the speedy center fielder who stole over 50 bases in 1973 and was on his way toward doing that again in 1974, was in his fourth year as a major leaguer. It was his second campaign with the A’s after originally coming up with the Cubs. Jackson and North reportedly got along quite well during their first season together and began their second season together on good terms.

That changed a month into 1974.

North began the season in an awful slump, going 2-for-33 to begin the year. His health may have been a factor, as he had suffered a severe ankle sprain the previous year and had a sore hamstring. Jackson, in contrast, was batting over .400 in the early going and leading the league in home runs. As North was, in all likelihood, feeling negative about the world, Jackson was riding high. Which might’ve explained why, in early April, when North failed to run hard to first on a routine groundout, Jackson berated him in front of his teammates for not hustling.

That ended quietly, but it stuck with North, who freely admitted later that he began that day to find a way to get back at Jackson. “I tried to set him up for a month,” North once said, noting that he gave Jackson the silent treatment, refusing to talk to him on or off the field and would not congratulate Jackson after home runs or good plays. Which was a bit odd for North, who was known to be something of a talker.

Flash forward to June 5 in Detroit, when North decided that the silent treatment wasn’t working any longer.

In the locker room at Tiger Stadium, North made a comment that infuriated Jackson. Despite reading a dozen articles and bios, I cannot for the life of me figure out what it was. But given that it was Reggie, and given that Reggie’s skin was notoriously thin, it probably didn’t take too much. Either way, a brawl began.

Jackson, still in his street clothes, charged North and the two wrestled on the floor, as teammates and sportswriters looked on. Catcher Ray Fosse, pitcher Vida Blue, and others were able to separate the two, but only for a moment before Jackson went after North again. “It wasn’t a regular clubhouse fight,” said an A’s teammate told the press that day. “There was no backing off. They went at it hot and heavy — twice.”

As for the results: round one was generally considered a draw. Round two was generally thought to have gone to North, who got the better blows in. Jackson came away from it all with a bruised shoulder that may have contributed to a long slump he’d endure in June and July. The real loser of the fight, however, was the would-be peacemaker Fosse, who hurt his neck trying to separate Jackson and North. He would play that day, thinking it was minor, but upon further examination it was revealed that he suffered a separated cervical disc that would require surgery. He’d be out until late August.

It’d take almost a month — and a berating by team owner Charlie O. Finley, who traveled to meet the team in Milwaukee later on the road trip — but North and Jackson finally cleared the air with a sit-down. At that point Jackson’s production improved. North would fight though his foot and leg problems to lead the American League in stolen bases. The A’s, of course, would win the AL West for the fourth straight year and would win the AL Pennant and the World Series for the third straight year.

Not that there wasn’t at least a minor hiccup in that World Series win: the day before Game 1, A’s pitchers Rollie Fingers and Blue Moon Odom got into a fight of their own in the Dodger Stadium clubhouse. North, Jackson, and Fosse stayed the hell out of it.