Reggie Jackson felt like Yankees’ ‘hood ornament’
Before he died in 2021, Hank Aaron had an office at the Braves stadium in suburban Atlanta.
And he knew exactly why it was there:
“It’s there because if … someone goes out there and says, ‘Who’s all in the office?,’ ” Aaron says in a new documentary.
“’You got Hank Aaron out here? Yeah, there’s Hank Aaron’s office right there.’ ”
Reggie Jackson — who spent nearly 30 years as a special assistant to George Steinbrenner and, after the Boss’s death in 2010, his son, Hal — wanted more than that kind of an office.
He didn’t want to be a figurehead. Wouldn’t be one. Refused.
Jackson wanted a voice.
And his inability to be heard within the Yankees organization, Jackson says, is the main reason why he left the team two years ago and, within months, signed on with the Houston Astros.
“Sometimes I feel like a hood ornament,” Jackson says in the Prime Video documentary “Reggie,” scheduled to launch on Friday.
In the film the Hall of Famer, who spent five memorable and controversial seasons in pinstripes, also talks about his bout with depression, his battles with Billy Martin, the racism he faced growing up in a white neighborhood in Philadelphia and during his rise through the minor leagues in the deep South at the height of the civil rights movement.
He also speaks about the lack of diversity in baseball with Aaron, with Derek Jeter and with Hal Steinbenner — on the field and in the executive suite.
Jackson, 76, said he joined the Yankees front office in 1993, the same year he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, because the Yankees’ owner wanted him.
“If not for the renegade style of George Steinbrenner I don’t think I’m in the game — not for as long as I have been,” Jackson says.
But even while working for the Yankees in those early years, Jackson had a dream of owning a major league team.
He was part of groups that tried unsuccessfully to buy the Oakland A’s and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The latter group also had Bill Gates and Paul Allen as members.
“That group could have bought the National League,” Jackson says ruefully. “As soon as I owned a team I was going to be a voice. I remember listening to the commissioner [Bud Selig] telling me how he was going to help [his group buy the Dodgers]. Bud said ‘Trust me. Trust me.’ ”
Instead the Dodgers were sold to Rupert Murdoch.
“I didn’t fit into the club. How else do I say that?” Jackson says, his voice rising. “I didn’t fit. Can I say it any plainer? Do you want me to say because I was colored I wasn’t a fit? It’s pretty easy to realize that.
“I don’t need to say it and I don’t want to say it because I need your help for the change. I don’t want to startle you too much. Let me get you alone in a room and let me tell you what’s in me.”
He said his failure to purchase a team dropped him into a depression, a mood disorder he didn’t realize he suffered from until he heard a radio commercial describing his symptoms.
“It broke my heart for a long time,” he says. “I still have difficulty with it. I’ll admit that. I always think about what could have been.”
Jackson says he didn’t make his decision to move on from the Yankees lightly.
“That was a big decision,” he says. “I expected to be there for life.”
He was close with George Steinbrenner, close enough he says to watch “Gene Autry cowboy movies” in the Boss’s bedroom with him during his final days.
But years later, Jackson could see his influence waning.
“Probably seven years or so after [the Boss’s death], I really couldn’t get heard,” he says. “Analytics were taking over and I was struggling to leave the content I had with the players coming through, and with the organization. I spoke out too much. I spoke my mind too much. I wasn’t just glad to be there.
“They didn’t want me inside the tent. I’ve got to peer through the glass, stick my nose through the bars, press my face against the window. You say ‘Maybe I should be somewhere else.’ ”
So Jackson up and left for the Astros.
He has been friends with their owner, Jim Crane, for many years, and it is where Jackson believes he’ll be a listened-to advocate for change — in the Houston organization and in the game.
“I’m part of the mix,” he says. “I’m a part of the decisionmaking process. I couldn’t have landed in a better spot,”
As for Martin, who died in 1989, Jackson says he never knew why he and his on-again off-again manager couldn’t get along.
“My most difficult time in sports was playing for Billy Martin,” he says. “I never really understood why we became enemies. … I don’t know if we were ever going to be friends but I would certainly go on the field and give my all for the manager.
“Billy Martin didn’t want me to hit fourth. He didn’t want me, as a black man, to hit cleanup for the New York Yankees. I heard that story and I could hardly believe it. … He didn’t really want me there.”
Jackson acknowledges at the outset that the documentary is his story and that others might have seen things differently.
“I wanted to speak the truth,” he says, “and that sometimes pisses people off.”