Reggie Jackson has found serenity, but he can still cause quite a stir
He doesn't always have to be the star anymore. If he did, he wouldn't spend so much time here, in a nondescript building you could drive past a thousand times and never notice. It is a one-story, brown brick warehouse with three corrugated metal garage doors and another door made of thick steel. There are no windows in front, and not a single sign to identify who or what might be inside. Tucked away on a side street, next to a pool-and-spa store in the tranquil Monterey Bay beach town of Seaside, Calif., it is a plain paper bag of a building. If you didn't know better, it would be the last place you would ever look for Reggie Jackson.
There are any number of retired icons who have chosen, after the tumult of their careers, to retreat to some quiet little corner, but who would have expected Jackson to be one of them? He famously called himself "the straw that stirs the drink" when he was in his prime, hitting homers for the Yankees and generating headlines for the tabloids in the late 1970s and early '80s. But that wasn't really accurate, because when it came to fame, he was the guy who tossed the straw aside and drank in huge gulps. Never have a star and a stage seemed more meant for each other than Jackson and New York City. He thrived on the noise that always seemed to surround him, whether it came in the form of boos or bouquets. "Just as nature fills a vacuum," the author Bob Marshall once wrote of him, "Reggie fills a spotlight."
So when Jackson, 66, tells you to meet him at this building he owns, where he keeps a fleet of vintage automobiles on the ground floor, you half expect the outside of the place to be done up in Yankees pinstripes, or maybe in the bright green and gold of the A's, the team with whom he first became a star, hitting 47 home runs in 1969. It wouldn't shock you to see REG-GIE! in giant letters flashing in neon out front. Instead, people pass by every day and never realize that behind those doors is Mr. October, the first-ballot Hall of Famer, the man whose 563 home runs are the 13th most in major league history, and Jackson is fine with that. "Misconception Number 1," he says. "The public always thought, 'Reggie has a massive ego, he's narcissistic, he's cocky, he needs everyone to look at him all the time,' because that's what the media told them. Wrong. I could handle the attention. I didn't let the attention affect my performance. But I never needed the attention."
When he signed with New York for five years and $2.96 million in November 1976, Jackson bought a brand-new burgundy Rolls-Royce Corniche, which he still owns. That was flashy Reggie. But he also purchased a getaway home near Carmel, Calif., which he also still owns. That was the Reggie who needed refuge. "Even at the height of his career, when he had this glamorous life, he used to say to me that what he really wanted was a house by the beach with a white picket fence," says Elissa Barry-Schieding, his personal assistant since 1978. "He's always had this down-to-earth side of him that people didn't realize was there."
Inside the warehouse there is far more evidence that this is Jackson's place, his sandbox, as he calls it. There are duplicates of two of the five World Series trophies he won, with Oakland in 1972 and the Yankees in '77. A spring training photo blown up to poster size, of Jackson flanked by New York stars Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, is tacked to a wall. There are framed photos and paintings commemorating some of his most memorable achievements, including the mammoth home run in the 1971 All-Star Game that hit the light tower of Tiger Stadium in Detroit, and the three-homer World Series game against the Dodgers six years later. There is enough memorabilia for a Reggie Jackson museum, but most of it is pushed against the walls or stored in a loft above to make room for Jackson's prized car collection.
The 15,000-square-foot building houses about 70 of his vintage autos, most of them from the 1950s and '60s -- gleaming, meticulously restored classics worth six figures; some of them, like his '67 Ferrari NART Spyder, are worth even more. There are Corvettes and Chevys, speedsters and sedans, all from bygone eras but looking fresh and new. One of Jackson's favorites is a garnet '55 Chevrolet Bel Air with a tan leather interior, which is nearly identical to one of the first cars he owned -- bought for $500 when he was a 16-year-old growing up in Wyncote, Pa., six miles north of Philadelphia. "This is what happens when you get old and have a couple of bucks," he says, wiping a smudge off the driver's side door. "You go back and try to be young again."
Though he spends a great deal of time here and down the coast in Newport Beach, where he keeps the rest of his car collection, Jackson hasn't drifted entirely out of the public eye. He holds the unwieldy title of Special Advisor to the Senior Managing Partners of the Yankees, which means he does anything the team asks him to do, from working with players in the minor leagues to glad-handing important business partners to offering support, whether technical or emotional, to players on the big club. "His experience is vast, and he's especially good with the young players in our minor league system, the 17- and 18-year-old kids," says Hal Steinbrenner, New York's managing general partner and co-chairperson. "They respect him and what he accomplished in his career. When Reggie Jackson tells a young kid how he might improve his swing, he tends to listen."
When he's not with the Yankees, Jackson's phone buzzes often with texts from Jeter, Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera and others. But when he's around -- he spends about 70 games a year with the team -- the New York clubhouse is no different from the Seaside warehouse, in that the man who once stood out is now perfectly willing to just blend in. "When I'm there, it's their clubhouse," Jackson says. "It's Hal Steinbrenner's clubhouse, it's [general manager] Brian Cashman's clubhouse, it's the players' clubhouse. It's not mine. I haven't hit a home run in 25 years. It's my job to fit in with them, not the other way around."
Could this calm, humble man be the REG-GIE! we used to know? Is this really the guy who nearly came to blows with Yankees manager Billy Martin in the Fenway Park dugout in 1977, who used to bicker in the newspapers with owner George Steinbrenner as if they were an old married couple? A delivery man arrives at the front door of the warehouse with a truck full of car parts. He glances at Jackson, who is wearing a baseball cap and whose broad-shouldered torso hasn't changed much from his playing days. A glimmer of recognition crosses the delivery man's face. "No," Jackson says, half-smiling. "I'm not him."
Jackson knows what makes for a sexy story and what makes reporters turn their tape recorders off, and so he gives a warning. "This is going to make people roll their eyes," he says, "but I'm going to talk about God."
A combination of things made him want to reconnect with his spiritual side when he reached his late 50s. There was the turbulence of his 21-year career. There was the physical pain in retirement that would result in two back surgeries and a left-shoulder replacement, and which caused him to be short-tempered at times. There was the absence of a significant other in his life. (Divorced since 1973, he has one daughter from another relationship, Kimberly, 21.) There was the devastation of three separate fires. One at his home in Oakland in '91 destroyed many pieces of memorabilia, including his '73 MVP award, and another in a Berkeley warehouse in '88 melted beyond recognition many of his classic cars, worth $3.2 million. Finally, there was a 2005 car accident in Tampa during spring training in which Jackson was rear-ended, causing his car to flip over several times. He walked away with only minor injuries, "but it was God tapping me on the shoulder," he says. "It makes you think about your purpose, about His plan for you."
Jackson had begun to read the Bible and talk about religion with a few friends, but there was a man he wanted to meet and talk to, a football coach who was also an ordained minister about 100 miles up the Pacific coast from Carmel. So in the fall of 2009 he called Mike Singletary. The 49ers' coach wasn't without issues of his own; the Niners were struggling, and he would be fired before the end of the next season. "But I was excited when I got his call," says Singletary, now the linebackers coach and special assistant to the head coach of the Vikings. "I'd been a Reggie Jackson fan for a long time. He said, 'I don't have my life together. I'm no saint, but I'd like to talk about the Lord,' and that is where we began. I told him that you don't have to be a perfect person to come to the Lord."
A few times each month Jackson would make the 200-mile round trip to San Francisco to read scriptures and talk about life and faith, sometimes for an hour, sometimes for the better part of a day. "Reggie had been like a lot of athletes, arrogant, selfish, thinking he was the center of the world," Singletary says. "He was starting to understand that he wasn't the center, that God was, and I think he began to get some clarity. I'm proud of him, not for the ballplayer he was, but for the man that he is becoming."
Their meetings are less frequent now, but Jackson still keeps in contact with Singletary as a kind of spiritual touchstone. "He helped me drop the shell that I had put up," Jackson says. "I say I didn't need the attention, but in a way I struggled with the attention. I got mean -- mean to the people around me, mean to some of the fans who would approach me. I wanted to create some space for myself, so I developed a shell to keep some peace. After being in the fishbowl of New York, that shell got thicker and thicker. I finally got to the place where I didn't want to carry that shell around with me anymore."
Most of Jackson's mornings now begin with five-mile walks on the beach, good for both his body and soul. He has an iPhone alarm set to ring every day at 6:30 a.m., reminding him to read the daily entry on the app JesusSaid. There is one he wants to read to you. "For years you swam around in a sea of meaninglessness searching for love, hoping for hope," he reads. "When the time was right I revealed myself to you. . . . I infused harmony into your mind and peace into your heart."
It's hard to live a completely peaceful life when you're seemingly incapable of being anything less than candid. Jackson probably could have been the Charles Barkley of baseball broadcasting if he had wanted to, because like Sir Charles, he is opinionated and unafraid, and has a knack for turning out quotes that are pithy little gems, some of them as memorable as his homers: "Hitting is better than sex." "If I was playing in New York, they'd name a candy bar after me." "Fans don't boo nobodies." He could poke fun at other players. ("He plays the outfield like he's trying to catch grenades," he once said of Claudell Washington.) And he could do it to himself. ("The only way I'm going to win a Gold Glove is with a can of spray paint.")
Few athletes have ever been as comfortable with sensitive topics. Last year in an interview with the MLB Network, he said that when he played for Martin in the late 1970s, he heard the Yankees' manager make anti-Semitic and racist remarks. He says he revealed that information not to humiliate Martin, who died in a car accident on Christmas Day in '89, but because it was time to set the record straight. "Reggie has always been a truth-teller," says his friend Dave Stewart, the former A's pitcher who is now an agent. "Even if it's uncomfortable, he's not going to sugarcoat it."
It's when Jackson is plunging into touchy issues that some of the Reggie of old emerges; the only difference is that the star no longer has as big a stage. Over a plate of seafood at an oceanside restaurant in Monterey, he casually mentions that he plans to bring up the issue of undeserving members of the Hall of Fame at the next members-only dinner in Cooperstown. He believes that the Baseball Writers Association of America, whose members vote for the Hall, have adopted too low a standard. "I didn't see Kirby Puckett as a Hall of Famer," he says. "I didn't see Gary Carter as a Hall of Famer. I didn't see Don Sutton as a Hall of Famer. I didn't see Phil Niekro as a Hall of Famer. As much as I like Jim Rice, I'm not so sure he's a Hall of Famer." What about Bert Blyleven? "No. No, no, no, no," Jackson says. "Blyleven wasn't even the dominant pitcher of his era -- it was Jack Morris."
But if Jackson brings the topic up for discussion at the Hall of Fame dinner, won't some of these so-called undeserving members be in the room? Jackson is unconcerned. "I'm not trying to offend, I'm trying to speak the truth as I see it," he says. "If I thought something was wrong and didn't speak up, my friends would look at me like, Reggie, what's wrong? Are you O.K.?"
He isn't silent on the subject of steroids in baseball either. Jackson makes no secret of his displeasure that since his retirement in 1987, he has been passed on the home run list by seven players, five of whom, Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa, have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs. "I don't think the fans really count them, and I agree," he says. "I believe that Hank Aaron is the home run king, not Barry Bonds, as great a player as Bonds was." Jackson was a supporter of Bonds (who is a distant cousin) as recently as 2007, when he said, "They tried to get this guy more than anybody ... and they've got nothing on him." But he says now that the volume of evidence against Bonds is so great that he has changed his mind.
And A-Rod? "Al's a very good friend," Jackson says. "But I think there are real questions about his numbers. As much as I like him, what he admitted about his usage does cloud some of his records."
There is little need to ask whether Jackson thinks any of the PED-linked players should be inducted into the Hall. "If any of those guys get in, no Hall of Famer will attend," he says. There is only one player in that category for whom he might make an exception. "The question is going to be a guy like Andy Pettitte, who admitted that he got involved for a while, but who is so universally respected in the game. I think he'll get in, but there will be a lot of [members] who won't go." Would Reggie? Jackson takes a deep breath. "He's an awfully good friend," he says. "I've known Andy since he was 20. I'll leave it there."
Jackson doesn't like what performance-enhancing- drugs have done to the record books, but he maintains that his disapproval is not out of jealousy. He doesn't think about what kind of statistics he might have compiled if he had played in the steroid era. "My career was my career," he says. "I wouldn't have changed much. The only thing I might have done differently was try to cut down on my strikeouts. [He has the most in history, 2,597.] But you know, I was going for it all. I was going for it all -- the big swing, the big bombs, the big wins. I wouldn't have won as much as I did, succeeded as much as I did, if I had worried about failing."
He rarely failed in the biggest games, of course. Jackson hit .357 with a 1.212 OPS in 27 World Series games. "Pressure never bothered me," he says. "I didn't calm myself in those situations, I allowed myself to be calm. There's a difference. I had an agent, Gary Walker, who used to say to me, 'Get out of your own way. Don't get in the way of your ability.' And that's what I did. I got an e-mail from a Universal Studios executive who was at the three-home-run game against the Dodgers. He said he remembers thinking that I had a relaxed sense of calmness at the plate in that game. A relaxed sense of calmness. I like that. That's the place I was trying to find."
Reginald Martinez Jackson has never been any one thing. He's African-American and generous and Latino and intelligent and loyal and Irish and blunt and Native American and funny and self-confident. A human melting pot. "But to most of the world, and certainly in baseball, I've always been known as the colored kid," he says. If he seemed like an angry black player to some fans and media during his career, that's because he had reason to be. He suffered the indignities familiar to black minor league players of his time in small-town America. "There were definitely times when the team would pull into a town, and we would have to check and see if the hotel accepted black players like Reggie or if the restaurant would serve them," says former Oakland teammate Joe Rudi, who played with Jackson in both Modesto, Calif., and Birmingham. "Obviously those are the kind of experiences that you can never really forget."
Jackson has a deep appreciation for the players of color who came before him, especially the African-American stars. When he left the Orioles -- to whom he had been traded in April 1976 -- to join the Yankees, the uniform number 9 that he had worn in Oakland and in Baltimore already belonged to third baseman Graig Nettles, so Jackson wanted to switch to 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson. That number had already been assigned to pitching coach Art Fowler, so Jackson took 44 because it had been Hank Aaron's number.
The colored kid now looks out for kids of color; his Mr. October Foundation for Kids is dedicated to creating opportunities for underprivileged students -- through scholarships and cash grants to a variety of organizations, including school districts, charities and other foundations -- in technology and the sciences. The foundation is just one of his outside interests; the thing that seems to rankle Jackson more than anything is the idea that he is just one thing. "I never wanted to be just Reggie the ballplayer, anymore than I want to be just Reggie the car guy now," he says.
He's also Reggie the businessman, who has relationships with several Fortune 500 companies, including the German software corporation SAP AG, and who can talk about debt-to-equity ratios as expertly as he talks about carburetors and camshafts. "I figure I have about 20 years left," he says, "and there are some things I want to do." One of them is to become a baseball owner, which he has tried to do on several occasions, including in 2004, when his group of investors lost out to Lew Wolff in a bid for the A's, and earlier this year, when the group fronted by Magic Johnson beat out Jackson's group, among others, for the Dodgers. There was a time he would have raged about this, maybe gone to the press with a stinging rant. Now? "Patience," he says. "I guess it wasn't time."
It's not hard to draw a parallel between Jackson and the expensive cars he restores and collects. Like his autos, he is a classic from another era. He's had some bodywork done, but get him revved up and his engine is still powerful. "[The Seaside warehouse] is about taking something vintage and freezing it in time," says Steve DiMercurio, who helps Jackson buy, sell and maintain the cars in his collection. But Jackson is a classic who is never frozen, who's always changing.
He's glad that he matured enough to make sure his turbulent relationship with George Steinbrenner ended affectionately before the Boss died in July 2010. "Reggie is larger than life," says Hal Steinbrenner. "That's why he and my father got along so well. Those last several years my dad began to mellow, and I think Reggie did too. Their relationship became a little less about the emotion of any given moment and more about the long-term friendship."
More than anything, Jackson can see the long term now, both forward and backward. He has always had a fascination with cowboys; he has several small cowboy-themed sculptures in and around his Carmel home, as well as other Western paraphernalia, including a few props from the Wyatt Earp movie
He's headed home now from the warehouse to his five-acre estate that overlooks the Pacific, and his white Cadillac Escalade is waiting in the warehouse parking lot, but he has a better idea. "Let's take something fun," he says, motioning to the garnet '55 Chevy. He revs it up and cruises down the highway, the engine roaring and the ocean breeze blowing. Even when he rolls his window up, it is loud, hard to hold a conversation, but Jackson is loving the ride. Somewhere in all the noise, he has found peace.