It seems hard to believe but after his 1976 season with the Baltimore Orioles, Reggie Jackson almost inked a lucrative free agent deal with the Montreal Expos.
Jackson recalls his fall 1976 visit to Montreal in his autobiography “Reggie.” The Hall of Fame slugger was particularly wowed by Expos owner Charles Bronfman’s home. “I’d never seen a house like that in my life. It seemed like it was 100,000 square feet,” wrote Jackson. “There was a big movie room, a great entertainment room, a tremendous sliding roof that opened the house up to the outside . . . I also thought Montreal was beautiful.” The Expos offered Jackson a five-year deal, for close to $5 million, a pact that easily trumped the five-year, $2.96 million contract that Mr. October eventually signed with the Yankees. Unfortunately for the Expos, Reggie was a New York kind of guy, savvy enough to recognize the endorsement possibilities the Big Apple offered.
Dick Williams, who had managed Jackson in Oakland, provides more details on the Expos negotiations with Mr. October in his biography “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” Williams says that the actions of Ottawa airport officials are the real reason Jackson didn’t sign north of the border. Williams, heading into his first year as Expos manager, had helped his new team recruit the outspoken home run hitter. Williams even flew to Montreal with Reggie to participate in a weekend of festivities that were designed to land the slugger. Unfortunately, one of Jackson’s suitcases ended up at the Ottawa Airport, where officials demanded that the bag be searched before it was turned over.
“It was locked, so Kevin McHale, the son of Expos president, John McHale left our weekend with Reggie and traveled to Ottawa with a key that our star prospect thought might work,” wrote Williams. “Unfortunately for the Montreal Expos, the key did work. It fit perfectly, allowing the bag to be popped open beneath the customs’ inspectors beady eyes. Outside of Reggie’s presence they were able to examine part of his personal life, to paw through his – Reggie Jackson’s very own – fine sweaters and expensive shoes. God knows they could have touched his underwear. When Reggie found out about this, he was righteously outraged. Welcome to Canada, eh.
“In the end, this little incident cost him no more than a bad mood. It was me and the Montreal Expos who paid the real price. Reggie quickly ended his weekend of parties thrown by the Expos with this pleasant statement: ‘This is a very nice place. We’ll see what happens.’ Translated that meant: ‘No f****n’ way I am playing in a city where people get to stick their fingers in your suitcase.’”