MLB at Rickwood Field: Reggie Jackson recalls racist treatment in Alabama in stunning interview

File photo: Jul 23, 2022; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Hall of Fame member Reggie Jackson arrives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame during the parade of legends. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports/File photo
Before he was Mr. October, certain people had a very different name for Reggie Jackson. (Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports/File photo)

MLB brought the long-neglected history of the Negro Leagues to the forefront Thursday with its game at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama. That included appearances from some of baseball's Black legends and a loud reminder of every ugly thing that happened around them.

During an appearance on the Fox Sports pregame show, Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson was asked by Alex Rodriguez about his emotions returning to Birmingham, where he played in the minor leagues. Over the next three minutes, Jackson recalled the indignity and outrage of just trying to exist as a Black baseball player in Alabama in 1967.

Jackson remembered getting barred from restaurants and hotels and being threatened with arson. He specifically thanked a number of white players and coaches for helping him, because he said he believes it would've otherwise gotten so violent that it would've ended in his lynching.

It was a remarkable thing to watch:

Here is Jackson's full answer:

"Coming back here is not easy. The racism when I played here, the difficulty of going through different places where we traveled. Fortunately, I had a manager and I had players on the team that helped me get through it. But I wouldn't wish it on anybody. People said to me today, I spoke, and they said, 'Do you think you're a better person, do you think you won when you played here and conquered?' I said, 'You know, I would never want to do it again.'

"I walked into restaurants, and they would point at me and say, 'The n***** can't eat here.' I would go to a hotel, and they would say, 'The n***** can't stay here.' We went to [Kansas City Athletics owner] Charlie Finley's country club for a welcome home dinner, and they pointed me out with the N-word: 'He can't come in here.' Finley marched the whole team out. Finally, they let me in there. He said, 'We're going to go to the diner and eat hamburgers. We'll go where we're wanted.'"

"Fortunately, I had a manager in Johnny McNamara that, if I couldn't eat in the place, nobody would eat. We'd get food to travel. If I couldn't stay in a hotel, they'd drive to the next hotel and find a place where I could stay. Had it not been for Rollie Fingers, Johnny McNamara, Dave Duncan, Joe and Sharon Rudi, I slept on their couch three, four nights a week for about a month and a half. Finally, they were threatened that they would burn our apartment complex down unless I got out. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

"The year I came here, Bull Connor was the sheriff the year before, and they took minor-league baseball out of here because in 1963, the Klan murdered four Black girls — children 11, 12, 14 years old — at a church here and never got indicted. The Klan — Life Magazine did a story on them like they were being honored.

"I wouldn't wish it on anyone. At the same time, had it not been for my white friends, had it not been for a white manager, and Rudi, Fingers and Duncan, and Lee Meyers, I would never have made it. I was too physically violent. I was ready to physically fight some — I would have got killed here because I would have beat someone's ass, and you would have saw me in an oak tree somewhere."

Jackson played 114 games for the Birmingham A's before he was called up to the Kansas City Athletics. He proceeded to become an icon with the Oakland A's and New York Yankees, earning his "Mr. October" moniker while winning five World Series titles.

He retired as a 14-time All-Star and made the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot. By any measure, he had an amazing carer, but he will clearly never forget what he went through to get there.