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"We have a serious problem that isn't going away"
Reggie Jackson
May 11, 1987
Reggie Jackson came to the Kansas City Athletics from Birmingham 20 years ago. Some 570 home runs later, he is back with the Athletics for what he tells SPORTS ILLUSTRATED will be his final season. Jackson doesn't want to go out with the fanfare accorded such other notable retirees as Johnny Bench or Julius Erving. "All I want," he says, "is a wave in a couple of parks, a picture of Fenway signed by Mrs. Yawkey, tapes of Sherm Feller in Boston and Bob Sheppard in New York announcing my name and some memento of Yankee Stadium. That's all."
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May 11, 1987

"we Have A Serious Problem That Isn't Going Away"

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So the Mets took Steve Chilcott, and I went to the A's. I went to their farm club in Lewiston, Idaho. There I got hit in the head by a pitch and was taken to a local hospital. But they wouldn't admit me because I was black. Our minor league pitching coach, Bill Posedel, called Charlie Finley, and Finley got me out of there. I was in Modesto the next day.

The following year I was in Birmingham, sleeping on the couch in an apartment shared by Joe Rudi and Dave Duncan. That lasted for about three weeks before they were threatened with eviction because a black was staying there. They were both going to move somewhere else, but instead I went to a hotel downtown. There were other problems which John McNamara, the manager at the time, tried to keep from me and the other blacks on the team. Because restaurants didn't want to serve us, we would either eat on the bus or we wouldn't eat at all—until we got to a place that would take us. McNamara wouldn't allow separate dining.

It was while I was in Birmingham that I met Bear Bryant. His son was the general manager of the ball club. Bryant told me I was "the kind of nigger boy" they needed to show the people in his state that we would be good athletes and be good for his school. He said it as a compliment. He said it with his arm around me. Whenever he came to New York, he always made it a point to come see me, and I enjoyed visiting with him. He meant no harm. That's the way it was.

Blacks have long known that they aren't supposed to speak out. But I'm someone with opinions. I don't fall in all the time and say, "Yes, sir." Other blacks and Latins know to keep their mouths shut. Look what happened with Tommy Harper and the Red Sox. It bothered the young blacks in their organization that members of the Red Sox were getting cards to a whites-only club. Harper said so and was fired. He was a militant, or so they thought. I've heard of other blacks who were shunted off because management thought they were "militant." Frank Robinson was perceived to be a tough manager to work with. Well, let me tell you, Dick Williams, the best manager I've ever played for, is no day at the beach, either.

I think that when a black player doesn't play he is considered a malingerer, as if he isn't actually hurt. That has always been an undercurrent, and at times it's even joked about. White guys kiddingly have said, "Come on, man, you're black, you know you can't be hurt." It may be intended as a joke, but the truth surfaces.

Fifteen years ago I heard black players discuss baseball's closed-door policies with bitterness. They accepted the fact that they would not have the same opportunities after they retired as white players. We can't accept it anymore, though. There are a number of blacks qualified to manage, and they're not just former superstars. If Blue Jay coach Cito Gaston, Mets coach Bill Robinson, Padre coach Deacon Jones, or Tommie Reynolds, who is managing in the Oakland system, gets a shot to manage a big league club, it will have a tremendous positive impact. Each one of them has paid his dues. He won't be seen as someone who was appointed because of his name, but as someone who got the job through hard work. Everyone will be more comfortable.

What can be done? To begin with, instead of complaining, blacks should continually mention the people who are qualified for high baseball positions—former players like Don Buford, Elrod Hendricks, Rod Carew, Joe Morgan, Vada Pinson. People should point out that Alfredo Griffin is a brilliant baseball man. If he were white, people would be talking about how bright he is and what great instincts he has. He must stay in the game.

I believe Peter Ueberroth is sincere in his efforts to find qualified minority candidates for management positions. I'm not saying we should force open the door and push blacks through regardless of their qualifications. But I'm talking about definitive—not affirmative—action that will break down the walls and effect real change. I'm not talking about a quota system, but an honest effort to seek out and hire the best blacks available for top jobs in baseball.

I would like to help bring about those changes. I'd like to do this as a part owner with special input in the operation of the club. Oh, I'd like to own a club myself, but I don't have Levi Strauss's or Seagram's money. It's like when I went to see T. Boone Pickens this winter for some financial advice. To join his club you need $50 million or you can't play. I may be a BMOC in baseball, but in that league I have to sit back and be a fan.

So I need a situation in which I'm invited to put up money for five or six years and buy 10 to 15 percent. But the money is probably the easiest thing to work out. People in the front office must be willing to give me a certain amount of power. I think I know a little bit about what goes into a winning ball club, what kind of chemistry it takes. I'm sure that in spring training I'm going to want to be on the field in uniform as an instructor. But I want to be involved with making decisions, and if it doesn't happen, fine, I'll go make my money in real estate and stocks.

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