Reggie Jackson during MLB on Fox pregame show from Rickwood Field. Photo credit: Fox

Thursday night’s Major League Baseball game at Rickwood Field honored the Negro Leagues, but it also evoked horrific memories for many Black players, including Reggie Jackson.

The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals played at historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, the oldest professional ballpark in the United States. Major League Baseball called the game A Tribute to the Negro Leagues, and it was, with interwoven storylines, history lessons, interviews, and nearly 60 former Negro League players in attendance.

One of the most important and powerful moments from the night occurred when Reggie Jackson teared up during Fox’s pregame coverage as he recounted the racial slurs and threats he encountered as a minor leaguer playing in segregated Birmingham.

“How emotional is it for you to come back to a place that you played with one of the greatest teams around?” Alex Rodriguez asked Jackson from the MLB on Fox set at Rickwood Field. After being drafted by the Kansas City Athletics, Jackson played with their Double-A affiliate, the Birmingham A’s, in 1967, who played their home games at Rickwood Field.

“Coming back here is not easy,” Jackson admitted. “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.”

Jackson said he was recently asked whether he feels like a better person having played, won, and conquered in a city that was still segregated.

“I said 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’d say, ‘The n—– can’t stay here.’” said Jackson, whose comments were uncensored on Fox. “We went to 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 eat hamburgers. We’ll go where we’re wanted.’

“Fortunately, I had a manager in Johnny McNamara that if I couldn’t eat in a 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, John McNamara, Dave Duncan, Joe and Sharon Rudi — I slept on their couch three, four nights a week for a month-and-a-half. Finally, they were threatened that they’d burn our apartment complex down unless I got out. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

Jackson thanked his friends and teammates, crediting those people for helping him, believing he wouldn’t have survived his time in Birmingham without them.

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

There’s often an inclination to spin racism off as a story of progress. It’s important to remember these horrific details shared by Jackson occurred just 58 years ago. Many of the people who targeted Jackson with vicious racist attacks and death threats in 1967 are probably still alive today.

Kevin Burkhardt closed the segment by thanking Jackson for sharing his experiences with such raw and honest emotion.

“We love you, Reg,” Rodriguez said before hugging Jackson.


About Brandon Contes

Brandon Contes is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously helped carve the sports vertical for Mediaite and spent more than three years with Barrett Sports Media. Send tips/comments/complaints to