Could this calm, humble man be the REG-GIE! we used to know? Is this really the guy who nearly came to blows with Yankees manager Billy Martin in the Fenway Park dugout in 1977, who used to bicker in the newspapers with owner George Steinbrenner as if they were an old married couple? A delivery man arrives at the front door of the warehouse with a truck full of car parts. He glances at Jackson, who is wearing a baseball cap and whose broad-shouldered torso hasn't changed much from his playing days. A glimmer of recognition crosses the delivery man's face. "No," Jackson says, half-smiling. "I'm not him."
"You know what the difference is between Reggie Jackson and God? God doesn't think he's Reggie Jackson."
—Catfish Hunter, according to legend, Jackson's former A's and Yankees teammate
Jackson knows what makes for a sexy story and what makes reporters turn their tape recorders off, and so he gives a warning. "This is going to make people roll their eyes," he says, "but I'm going to talk about God."
A combination of things made him want to reconnect with his spiritual side when he reached his late 50s. There was the turbulence of his 21-year career. There was the physical pain in retirement that would result in two back surgeries and a left-shoulder replacement, and which caused him to be short-tempered at times. There was the absence of a significant other in his life. (Divorced since 1973, he has one daughter from another relationship, Kimberly, 21.) There was the devastation of three separate fires. One at his home in Oakland in '91 destroyed many pieces of memorabilia, including his '73 MVP award, and another in a Berkeley warehouse in '88 melted beyond recognition many of his classic cars, worth $3.2 million. Finally, there was a 2005 car accident in Tampa during spring training in which Jackson was rear-ended, causing his car to flip over several times. He walked away with only minor injuries, "but it was God tapping me on the shoulder," he says. "It makes you think about your purpose, about His plan for you."
Jackson had begun to read the Bible and talk about religion with a few friends, but there was a man he wanted to meet and talk to, a football coach who was also an ordained minister about 100 miles up the Pacific coast from Carmel. So in the fall of 2009 he called Mike Singletary. The 49ers' coach wasn't without issues of his own; the Niners were struggling, and he would be fired before the end of the next season. "But I was excited when I got his call," says Singletary, now the linebackers coach and special assistant to the head coach of the Vikings. "I'd been a Reggie Jackson fan for a long time. He said, 'I don't have my life together. I'm no saint, but I'd like to talk about the Lord,' and that is where we began. I told him that you don't have to be a perfect person to come to the Lord."
A few times each month Jackson would make the 200-mile round trip to San Francisco to read scriptures and talk about life and faith, sometimes for an hour, sometimes for the better part of a day. "Reggie had been like a lot of athletes, arrogant, selfish, thinking he was the center of the world," Singletary says. "He was starting to understand that he wasn't the center, that God was, and I think he began to get some clarity. I'm proud of him, not for the ballplayer he was, but for the man that he is becoming."
Their meetings are less frequent now, but Jackson still keeps in contact with Singletary as a kind of spiritual touchstone. "He helped me drop the shell that I had put up," Jackson says. "I say I didn't need the attention, but in a way I struggled with the attention. I got mean—mean to the people around me, mean to some of the fans who would approach me. I wanted to create some space for myself, so I developed a shell to keep some peace. After being in the fishbowl of New York, that shell got thicker and thicker. I finally got to the place where I didn't want to carry that shell around with me anymore."
Most of Jackson's mornings now begin with five-mile walks on the beach, good for both his body and soul. He has an iPhone alarm set to ring every day at 6:30 a.m., reminding him to read the daily entry on the app JesusSaid. There is one he wants to read to you. "For years you swam around in a sea of meaninglessness searching for love, hoping for hope," he reads. "When the time was right I revealed myself to you.... I infused harmony into your mind and peace into your heart."
"I go back to 1965 with Reggie, but I guess I don't go far enough back to remember when he was shy."