Reggie Jackson’s baseball resume is the stuff of legend: 563 home runs (making him 14th all-time); 14-time All-Star; a Most Valuable Player Award and five World Series-winning teams – three times with the Oakland A’s and two with the New York Yankees. He also became the first player since Babe Ruth to hit three homers in a World Series game.
Jackson’s outsized baseball achievements landed him in the Hall of Fame, but that’s not how he wants to be remembered.
During his playing days, Jackson brimmed with confidence and famously was quoted describing himself as “the straw that stirs the drink” on the Yankees. (Jackson has disputed saying the quote; the reporter who quoted him continues to stand by it.) He was the subject of endless media coverage, most of it focused on his titanic blasts and larger-than-life personality.
Baseball great Reggie Jackson, left, hugs California Angels owner Gene Autry during ceremonies Jan. 26, 1982, announcing that Jackson had signed with the Angels.(AP Photo/Mclendon, File)
Jackson, 76, is the subject of “Reggie,” a Prime Video documentary that premieres March 24. In this file photo, Hall of Famers Henry Aaron, left, with Jackson during the All-Star Homerun Derby at Angel Stadium on Monday, July 12, 2010, in Anaheim. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Keith Birmingham/SPORTS)
Reggie Jackson at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on March 18, 2023, in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images for Prime Video)
Seen here in a file photo, Reggie Jackson, now 76, is the subject of “Reggie,” a Prime Video documentary that premieres March 24, 2023. (Orange County Register file photo)
Reggie Jackson, 76, is the subject of “Reggie,” a Prime Video documentary that premieres March 24. In this photo, Jackson watches the flight of the ball as he slammed a home run during Game One of the World Series in Los Angeles, Ca. on Oct. 10, 1978. (AP Photo/stf)
Former professional baseball right fielder, Reggie Jackson (left) attends Spring Training of the New York Mets vs the Houston Astros at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on March 18, 2023, in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images for Prime Video)
Now Jackson, 76, is the subject of “Reggie,” a Prime Video documentary that premieres March 24. Naturally, the film celebrates his career, including those 1977 World Series home runs against the Dodgers, plus another the following year to finish off Los Angeles as well as a bit on his five seasons and 123 homers with the Angels.
But the element that drove him to overcome his wariness and participate in the film is that it looked beyond the home runs to tackle issues of racism faced by athletes of color during his heyday and by aspiring executives today. The fact that baseball continues to fail miserably when it comes to providing opportunities for diversity when hiring managers and front-office executives frustrates Jackson to no end.
“It impacts the future of the game, too,” he said during an interview this week in a Manhattan hotel. “If you have more diversity, you’ll get ideas from a broader perspective and have a more well-rounded product.”
The film looks back at how racism in baseball, the media and the country back in the 1960s and ‘70s shaped and fueled him. At one point, he notes that Hank Aaron, a Black man, received hate mail and death threats while chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record, but Pete Rose, who is White, was cheered for his pursuit of Ty Cobb’s hit record.
“I was a fierce competitor, but racism did take its toll on me as a player — you get tired and your concentration gets fragmented,” he said during our interview before adding that every Black person in America faced this exhausting conundrum.
A lifetime of racism often left him burning with anger, he said. “I was in my mid-50s before I settled down. I didn’t care to cover it up and I was truthful about it so I wouldn’t have done a documentary back even in my 50s. I was too amped, still.”
Jackson also hopes the film would help restore the sense of his dignity that he felt was stripped away by the White media and fans who interpreted his confidence and swagger as pure arrogance. (That attitude still plagues baseball; for example, Jackson’s ex-teammate Goose Gossage has berated Latino players, calling them showboats for playing with joy and enthusiasm.)
“People said I was an egomaniac and that’s why I hit home runs in the postseason — they’d say, ‘Reggie plays better when he’s on television,’” Jackson said. “Really, I just handled pressure well.”
(Indeed he did. In nine post-seasons with Oakland and the Yankees, “Mr. October” batted .300, well above his .262 regular season average. For stats fans, his OPS – on-base plus slugging percentage – in those playoffs and World Series was a whopping .944 versus his .846 regular season tally.)
In the film, Jackson chats with former teammates like Vida Blue, Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers about their shared experiences.
“It was hugely important for me to include them, but I couldn’t get all the people I wanted into the documentary because I didn’t have control of it,” he said. “That broke my heart.”
Jackson also talked with Aaron shortly before his 2021 death. That conversation helps Jackson highlight baseball’s lack of diversity among its managers and front-office executives. Aaron notes that his role with Atlanta is meaningless, that he has a front office job so the powers that be could point to that as a sign of progress.
“He had a name on the office and nothing else,” Jackson said in our interview. Aaron died a month after their talk and Jackson said mournfully, “He said to me, ‘Reggie I always wondered if the color of our skin was a curse.’ Hank Aaron died sad.”
In one scene, Jackson talks to Yankee owner Hal Steinbrenner about the paucity of minority executives. Steinbrenner’s platitudes clearly frustrate Jackson who left the Yankee family to join Jim Crane and the Houston Astros as a special adviser. Houston already had Dusty Baker, one of the game’s few Black or Latino managers, and since the film was finished the Astros have hired Dana Brown, now the game’s only Black or Latino general manager.
“I won’t take any credit for that,” Jackson said during our interview. (Don’t worry, Jackson has not become overburdened by modesty. The man who once prophesied that “if I played in New York, they’d name a candy bar after me” dropped an aside during our conversation that “I’m one of the best-known car collectors in the country.”)
His point here is that leveling the playing field “is up to ownership and it’s not happening fast enough.” (He also praises Crane’s humility, calling up a text on his phone to show that Crane – who interviewed four Black candidates out of six total – is equally uninterested in being saluted for this decision.)
The film recounts Jackson’s failed attempt to buy, with a group that included Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1990s (he planned to give shares to legendary Black players Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson) and talks about falling into depression after that failed.
In our conversation, he said he also fronted an attempt the following decade to buy the A’s – he pulled up on his phone a letter that showed that his group’s offer would go $25 million beyond any other. His effort did not receive support from then-commissioner Bud Selig. When I asked if he felt there was concern about having an outspoken and honest Black man as an owner, he responded with his own question that referenced some White Hall of Famers: “Do you think if I was Mike Schmidt or George Brett this would have happened?”
Jackson recalled being surprised that Richard Lapchick, who heads The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, called him an activist. “I didn’t know I was one because I think of an activist as someone who’s difficult and outspoken and unruly,” Jackson says. “I’m not that. I’m just for what’s right. Treat me right, bro.”
Still, Jackson sounded a bit like an activist at the end of our conversation when he said he was a little disappointed that the documentary didn’t always emphasize what was most important to him. I asked for one thing that was edited out that he’d like to have in the record books and Jackson pointed to work his Mr. October Foundation does helping prepare minority children for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers.
“I wanted to talk about how my career impacted my future,” he said. “I’d rather be remembered and lauded for helping pave the way for those who followed and for what I do to help lift underserved communities than for my home runs and baseball career.”