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Still Swinging Away
July 09, 2012
Reggie Jackson is 66 now, possessed of the sort of serenity and humility he never seemed to have as a player. But in many ways Mr. October remains the straw that stirs the drink
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July 09, 2012

Still Swinging Away

Reggie Jackson is 66 now, possessed of the sort of serenity and humility he never seemed to have as a player. But in many ways Mr. October remains the straw that stirs the drink

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I didn't come to New York to be a star. I brought my star with me."

—Reggie Jackson, when he joined the Yankees after the 1976 season

He doesn't always have to be the star anymore. If he did, he wouldn't spend so much time here, in a nondescript building you could drive past a thousand times and never notice. It is a one-story, brown brick warehouse with three corrugated metal garage doors and another door made of thick steel. There are no windows in front, and not a single sign to identify who or what might be inside. Tucked away on a side street, next to a pool-and-spa store in the tranquil Monterey Bay beach town of Seaside, Calif., it is a plain paper bag of a building. If you didn't know better, it would be the last place you would ever look for Reggie Jackson.

There are any number of retired icons who have chosen, after the tumult of their careers, to retreat to some quiet little corner, but who would have expected Jackson to be one of them? He famously called himself "the straw that stirs the drink" when he was in his prime, hitting homers for the Yankees and generating headlines for the tabloids in the late 1970s and early '80s. But that wasn't really accurate, because when it came to fame, he was the guy who tossed the straw aside and drank in huge gulps. Never have a star and a stage seemed more meant for each other than Jackson and New York City. He thrived on the noise that always seemed to surround him, whether it came in the form of boos or bouquets. "Just as nature fills a vacuum," the author Bob Marshall once wrote of him, "Reggie fills a spotlight."

So when Jackson, 66, tells you to meet him at this building he owns, where he keeps a fleet of vintage automobiles on the ground floor, you half expect the outside of the place to be done up in Yankees pinstripes, or maybe in the bright green and gold of the A's, the team with whom he first became a star, hitting 47 home runs in 1969. It wouldn't shock you to see REG-GIE! in giant letters flashing in neon out front. Instead, people pass by every day and never realize that behind those doors is Mr. October, the first-ballot Hall of Famer, the man whose 563 home runs are the 13th most in major league history, and Jackson is fine with that. "Misconception Number 1," he says. "The public always thought, 'Reggie has a massive ego, he's narcissistic, he's cocky, he needs everyone to look at him all the time,' because that's what the media told them. Wrong. I could handle the attention. I didn't let the attention affect my performance. But I never needed the attention."

When he signed with New York for five years and $2.96 million in November 1976, Jackson bought a brand-new burgundy Rolls-Royce Corniche, which he still owns. That was flashy Reggie. But he also purchased a getaway home near Carmel, Calif., which he also still owns. That was the Reggie who needed refuge. "Even at the height of his career, when he had this glamorous life, he used to say to me that what he really wanted was a house by the beach with a white picket fence," says Elissa Barry-Schieding, his personal assistant since 1978. "He's always had this down-to-earth side of him that people didn't realize was there."

Inside the warehouse there is far more evidence that this is Jackson's place, his sandbox, as he calls it. There are duplicates of two of the five World Series trophies he won, with Oakland in 1972 and the Yankees in '77. A spring training photo blown up to poster size, of Jackson flanked by New York stars Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, is tacked to a wall. There are framed photos and paintings commemorating some of his most memorable achievements, including the mammoth home run in the 1971 All-Star Game that hit the light tower of Tiger Stadium in Detroit, and the three-homer World Series game against the Dodgers six years later. There is enough memorabilia for a Reggie Jackson museum, but most of it is pushed against the walls or stored in a loft above to make room for Jackson's prized car collection.

The 15,000-square-foot building houses about 70 of his vintage autos, most of them from the 1950s and '60s—gleaming, meticulously restored classics worth six figures; some of them, like his '67 Ferrari NART Spyder, are worth even more. There are Corvettes and Chevys, speedsters and sedans, all from bygone eras but looking fresh and new. One of Jackson's favorites is a garnet '55 Chevrolet Bel Air with a tan leather interior, which is nearly identical to one of the first cars he owned—bought for $500 when he was a 16-year-old growing up in Wyncote, Pa., six miles north of Philadelphia. "This is what happens when you get old and have a couple of bucks," he says, wiping a smudge off the driver's side door. "You go back and try to be young again."

Though he spends a great deal of time here and down the coast in Newport Beach, where he keeps the rest of his car collection, Jackson hasn't drifted entirely out of the public eye. He holds the unwieldy title of Special Advisor to the Senior Managing Partners of the Yankees, which means he does anything the team asks him to do, from working with players in the minor leagues to glad-handing important business partners to offering support, whether technical or emotional, to players on the big club. "His experience is vast, and he's especially good with the young players in our minor league system, the 17- and 18-year-old kids," says Hal Steinbrenner, New York's managing general partner and cochairperson. "They respect him and what he accomplished in his career. When Reggie Jackson tells a young kid how he might improve his swing, he tends to listen."

When he's not with the Yankees, Jackson's phone buzzes often with texts from Jeter, Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera and others. But when he's around—he spends about 70 games a year with the team—the New York clubhouse is no different from the Seaside warehouse, in that the man who once stood out is now perfectly willing to just blend in. "When I'm there, it's their clubhouse," Jackson says. "It's Hal Steinbrenner's clubhouse, it's [general manager] Brian Cashman's clubhouse, it's the players' clubhouse. It's not mine. I haven't hit a home run in 25 years. It's my job to fit in with them, not the other way around."

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