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Reggie Jackson’s brutal honesty about playing baseball in Alabama in the 1960s
Reggie Jackson’s brutal honesty about playing baseball in Alabama in the 1960s

Reggie Jackson’s brutal honesty about playing baseball in Alabama in the 1960s

As part of an effort to include the Negro Leagues in MLB history, MLB hosted two games at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, “the oldest professional baseball stadium in the United States and the former home of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues.” During pregame coverage, Fox Sports invited Reggie Jackson, who played on a minor league team at the ballpark, to give his side of the events. (Content note: Jackson says the N-word twice during his remarks.)

About halfway through the clip (at 4:35), Alex Rodriguez asks him a simple question that is meant to evoke some fond memories of baseball and some vague thoughts about the influence of the Negro Leagues:

How emotional is it for you to return to a place where you played with one of the best teams ever?

Jackson, as he has done so many times throughout his career, hit home with the brutal truth about what it was like to play baseball as a black man in the South in the 1960s (transcript):

Coming back here is not easy. The racism when I played here, the difficulties of going through the different places we went to. Luckily I had a manager and players on the team who helped me get through that. But I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. People said to me today, I spoke to them and they said: “Do you think you are a better person? Do you think you won when you played here and won?” I said: “You know, I would never want to do that again.”

“I went to restaurants and they pointed at me and said, ‘The n***** can’t eat here.’ I went to a hotel and they said, ‘The n***** can’t stay here.’ We went to a welcoming dinner at (Oakland Athletics owner) Charlie Finley’s country club and they pointed at me and called me the N-word: ‘He can’t come in here.’ Finley marched the whole team out. Finally, they let me in. He said, ‘We’re going to the diner and eat hamburgers. We’re going where we’re wanted.'”

“Luckily, I had a manager, Johnny McNamara, who, if I couldn’t eat at the restaurant, nobody else would get anything to eat. We got food for the trip. If I couldn’t stay in a hotel, they drove to the next hotel and found a place where I could stay. I slept on the couch at Joe and Sharon Rudi’s three or four nights a week for a month and a half. Eventually they threatened to burn down our apartment complex if I didn’t get out.

The year I came here, Bull Connor was sheriff the year before, and they banned minor league baseball from here because the Klan had murdered four black girls — children ages 11, 12 and 14 — in a church here in 1963 and were never charged. The Klan, Life Magazine, did a story on them as if they were being honored.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. At the same time, I would never have made it if it weren’t for my white friends, if it weren’t for a white manager and Rudi and Fingers and Duncan and Lee Meyers. I was too physically violent. I was willing to fight physically – I would have been killed here because I would have kicked someone’s ass and I would have been seen in an oak tree somewhere.”

By Aurora