“You’d Have Saw Me In An Oak Tree Somewhere”: Reggie Jackson’s Rickwood Field Revelation Made MLB Officials Cringe at Sobering Reality Of Celebration

Major League Baseball made history on June 20, as the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals competed in the league’s first game at Rickwood Field.

Built in 1910, Rickwood Field is the oldest existing professional ballpark and once served as home to the Negro Leagues’ Birmingham Black Barons.

Reggie Jackson Darkens Celebration With Reality Of Racism Faced In Alabama

Prior to the start of Thursday’s contest, Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson recounted the racism he experienced during his time as a minor league player in Birmingham, Alabama, and admitted that it was difficult to return to the historic ballpark.

In 1967, before he advanced to the Majors, Jackson was one of the few Black players on Birmingham A’s Class AA Southern League team.

Asked by Alex Rodriguez what the emotions are like to return to Rickwood Field, the 1973 AL MVP spoke of how challenging it was to travel to where his baseball career began.

“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. … I would have never made it. I was too physically violent; I was ready to physically fight someone. I’d have gotten killed here because I’d have beat someone’s ass, and you’d have saw me in an oak tree somewhere.”

Despite being well-received on the Birmingham A’s, Jackson was often forbidden from restaurants and hotels where his white teammates were welcomed.

Jackson Was Repeatedly Called The N-Word

“I’d walk into restaurants, and they would point at me and say, ‘the n—– can’t eat here.’ I would go to a hotel, and they say the n—– can’t stay here. We went to Charlie Finley’s country club for a welcome home dinner, and they pointed me out with the N-word.”

Jackson’s retelling of his experiences highlighted America’s dark, segregated, and not-so-distant past. Born just two years before the integration of the U.S. military in 1948 and nearly 20 years before President Lyndon B. Johnson legally ended segregation with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Jackson, 78, lived through one of the nation’s cruelest periods.

Despite his talent, the baseball legend was constantly antagonized and rebuked.

Although he was a victim of severe racism, especially in the South, Jackson was grateful to have a manager that was willing to stand up for equality.

Manager Johnny McNamara Was An Ally

During Fox’s broadcast , Jackson spoke about his AA manager, Johnny McNamara, who managed him in Birmingham and came up to manage the major league A’s in 1969, reuniting with Jackson for the end of 1969 and the 1970 season:

“Fortunately, I had a manager in Johnny McNamara that if I couldn’t eat in the place, nobody could eat,” Jackson said. “We’d get food to travel. If I couldn’t stay in the hotel, they’d drive to the next hotel and find a place where I could stay.”

In addition to McNamara, Jackson named Rollie Fingers, Dave Duncan, and Joe Rudi along with his wife, Sharon, as figures that defended him and helped him navigate his challenges.

Jackson spoke of how, for a few weeks, he would spend several nights a week on the Rudis’ couch. He only left once, when there were threats made of burning the Rudis’ apartment complex down if Jackson continued lodging there.

Thankfully, Jackson was able to suppress his anger and avoid any fatal racist encounters.

Following his days in Birmingham, the talented outfielder embarked on a legendary MLB career, filled with clutch moments, classic confrontations and unforgettable home runs – his signature offering.

The hard-hitting lefty was the driving force behind five World Series title teams, including a three-peat with the Oakland Athletics.

Reggie Jackson Is A World Series Icon

During the 1977 World Series, as a member of the Yankees, Jackson earned the nickname “Mr. October” after launching five home runs against the Dodgers.

After dealing with the racism of Birmingham, overcoming manager Billy Martin and the fickle New York Yankees fans was a piece of cake.

Jackson’s crowning achievement came with his three-home-run performance in World Series-clinching Game 6 — each on the first pitch — off three Dodgers pitchers. His heroic performance earned him the 1977 World Series MVP, thus making him the first player to win World Series MVP on multiple teams. Jackson, the 1973 AL MVP with Oakland, was also the first major leaguer to hit 100 home runs for three different franchises as he later went on to play for the California Angels.

Though it may seem easy to look at Jackson’s achievements as a story of triumph, the racism-riddled road toward his goals should not be overlooked. Instead, they should be a reminder to all that America is not without its flaws and still has a long way to go. “People asked me today and 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.’”

And that’s the stone-cold truth.

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