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Bellinger’s Hot Start in 2019 Reminiscent of Reggie Jackson in 1969

Updated on June 3, 2019
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Following a successful career as a journalist, graphic designer, and marketer, Gary Kauffman is now a freelance writer.

Reggie Jackson's 1969 baseball card when he was 22 years old.
Reggie Jackson's 1969 baseball card when he was 22 years old.

Cody Bellinger is off to hot start for the Dodgers in 2019 with an impressive slash line of .376/.462/.733 with 20 homers, 50 runs scored and 52 RBIs in his first 58 games for an OPS of 1.195. It’s the kind of start that caused one writer to compare him to Babe Ruth.

But Bellinger’s fast start is more reminiscent of another 23-year-old rightfielder’s opening 58 games 50 years ago. The year was 1969 and Oakland’s Reggie Jackson was the one putting up Ruth-like numbers.

Jackson was in just his second full season with the A’s in 1969. After struggling in 35 games in 1967, Jackson’s rookie season in 1968 was full of promise – he belted 29 homers and drove in 74 runs, not bad in the Year of the Pitcher. But he came into his full future Hall of Fame potential in 1969. He was actually a bit younger than Bellinger, not turning 23 until May 18 of that season (Bellinger will be 24 on July 13).

Jackson finished the 1969 season at .275/.410/.608 for a 1.108 OPS, with 49 homers, 118 RBIs and a league-leading 123 runs scored. He also had a league-leading 142 strikeouts, which today would be a moderate total for a power hitter. But it was the early part of the season that put Jackson in the limelight.

Comparison of Jackson's and Bellinger's hot starts

 
Hits
2B
3B
HR
Runs
RBIs
Ave.
OBP
Slg.
OPS
BB
SO
Reggie Jackson 1969
54
11
2
26
51
54
.270
.400
.735
1.135
39
55
Cody Bellinger 2019
79
13
1
20
50
52
.376
.462
.733
1.195
35
34

A start for the ages

By the time he’d played 58 games he had crushed 26 homers, scored 51 runs and driven in 54. His homer total was well ahead of veterans Frank Howard, who had 19, and Harmon Killebrew with 16. His RBI total was just two behind Killebrew. It was one of the great power starts in history.

But what made it even more impressive was that he struggled at the very beginning of the season. After his 13th game, he’d managed just two homers with four RBIs and was hitting .146.

An amazing 45-game run

Then, on April 24 in Minnesota he smashed two homers and drove in three runs which seemed to snap him out of his early funk.

Over the course of 45 games, from April 24 to June 18, Jackson became a hitting terror. In that span, he hit .302/.431/.836 with a 1.268 OPS (not that anyone knew what that was at the time). He hit 24 homers, scored 45 runs and drove in 50 during those 45 games.

Jackson's amazing 45-game stretch in 1969

 
Hits
2B
3B
HR
Runs
RBIs
Ave.
OBP
Slg.
OPS
BB
SO
Reggie Jackson
48
9
2
24
45
50
.302
.431
.836
1.268
32
44

A great night in Boston

During that skein, on June 14 in Boston, he had perhaps the best game of his career. The A’s pummeled the Red Sox, 21-7, thanks in large part to Jackson. He went 5-for-6 in the game with two homers, a double and 10 RBIs.

He started the game with a ground-rule double to drive in Bert Campenaris in the first inning. In the third, he belted a home run with Tommie Reynolds aboard. He walked in the fourth, then in the fifth he homered again, and again with Reynolds on base. He struck out in the sixth for his only out of the day. In the seventh, he came up with the bases loaded and hit a line drive to center to score Paul Linblad and Ted Kubiak.

Amazingly, he came to bat in the eighth inning in the exact same situation, bases loaded with the same players. This time he hit what was described as a pop fly to center that apparently dropped in. With two outs, the runners were going and somehow all three – Linblad, Kubiak and Reynolds – managed to score on what was ruled a single. The only innings Jackson failed to make it to the plate were the second and ninth.

Cooling off

After June 18, Jackson began to cool off but he still finished with great numbers. During the course of the season both Howard (48) and Killebrew (49) passed him in homers. He also finished third in RBIs behind Killebrew (140) and Boog Powell (121).

He finished fifth in Most Valuable Player balloting behind Killebrew, Powell, Frank Robinson and Howard. But it was still an amazing start to what would end up being an exciting Hall of Fame career.

How Jackson and Bellinger compare after their first 352 games

 
Hits
2B
3B
HR
Runs
RBIs
Ave.
OBP
Slg.
OPS
BB
SO
Reggie Jackson
314
53
13
79
221
204
.249
.352
.498
.850
179
373
Cody Bellinger
352
67
12
84
221
225
.282
.367
.557
.925
168
331

Bellinger on track to match Jackson

Although Bellinger is off to a hot start, he could cool off the way Jackson did – but that could still leave him with impressive numbers. He also has a long way to go match Jackson’s final totals of 563 homers and 1,702 RBIs (and strikeouts – Jackson still holds the all-time record 2,597).

Bellinger so far has 84 homers and 225 RBIs (and 331 strikeouts) in 352 career games. Jackson, after 352 games, had 79 homers, 204 RBIs (and 373 strikeouts), so Bellinger certainly could match Jackson in the long run. But he’ll also have to have some big All-Star and World Series moments to truly duplicate Jackson’s career.

Reggie Jackson's Hall of Fame career

 
Hits
2B
3B
HR
Runs
RBIs
Ave.
OBP
Slg.
OPS
BB
SO
Reggie Jackson
2584
463
49
563
1551
1702
.262
.356
.490
.846
1375
2597

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