Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson pulls no punches in documentary exploring his life, legacy

When most athletes are asked about their legacy, whether they are famous or infamous for their play on or off the field, their responses are usually one of two answers:

Either they don’t care, or they haven’t thought about it.

The time has come for Reggie Jackson to answer those legacy inquiries, and he does so in blunt, unapologetic terms in a new documentary that examines the career and legacy of the five-time World Series champion and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer. The film premieres on Amazon Prime Video on March 24.

Clocking in at a brisk one hour and 45 minutes, "Reggie" winds through Jackson’s career, from his time in the minor leagues in Birmingham, Alabama to his polarizing career in Oakland and New York City, to becoming an outspoken figure in trying to be an agent of change – not only in the way the game is played but how it looks.

The story of Reginald Martinez Jackson is indeed a complicated one, and he makes it clear why now is the time to tell his story.

"It’s time where I can be open and free and not worry about saying something. You can’t stop me now," Jackson said to USA TODAY Sports.

RULES TO FOLLOW: MLB sends memo to teams detailing adjustments to new rules

SPORTS NEWSLETTER: Sign up to get the latest news and features sent to your inbox

How did Reggie Jackson's documentary come together?

The documentary was years in the making and is helmed by Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Stapleton ("Hello, Privilege. It's Me, Chelsea," "Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel," "Shut Up & Dribble"). Conceived as early as 2019, the cameras didn’t start rolling until June 2020, just months into the coronavirus pandemic.

Jackson wasn’t interested in a by-the-numbers documentary. Through numerous conversations over months with Jackson , Stapleton realized some of the things he was recounting from different times of his life needed to be captured.

When it came time to sit down for on-camera interviews, what Stapleton thought would take two hours turned into three days of filming.

"What I realized is that Reggie's always been this way. Reggie's always been open. Reggie's always told it like it is, and you can feel that he's polarizing," Stapleton told USA TODAY Sports. "But the question for me was, like, is what he's saying really that crazy? Or are you just upset that he's a Black man saying these things?"

As Stapleton and her small crew traveled around the country for interviews with the likes of Hank Aaron, Derek Jeter, Julius Irving and Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, a clearer picture of Jackson began to come into focus.

"It's a case study on what the pressure that this country and the world puts on Black athletes, you know, now women," Stapleton said. "It's important for me to convey that Black people, we are not a monolithic people. We are not all the same. And it takes all kinds and, you know, you need a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but you also have Reggie Jackson."

What is Reggie Jackson's documentary about?

The film traces Jackson’s beginning in rural Pennsylvania where he was raised. His father, Martinez, played with the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues, primarily as a second baseman, and supplemented his income by working in a Philadelphia tailor shop.

Jackson arrived at the Athletics' Double-A minor league team in Birmingham at the apex of the Civil Rights Movement in 1967, and he did everything he could to combat the racist names he was being called.

When he arrived in town, he didn’t have a place to stay, so he slept on a couch with roommates Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi, and Dave Duncan. After receiving threats that the place would be burned down if he continued to stay there, Jackson finally secured a hotel room.

"I was afraid to go there. I didn’t want to go," Jackson said in a sit-down interview with USA TODAY Sports. "We had a colored barracks where the Black and Latino players would stay. We had to have an escort to go into town, just to get something to eat or go buy shaving stuff."

During that 1967 season in Birmingham, Jackson hit 17 home runs with 58 RBI, hitting .293 and scoring 84 runs before being promoted to Kansas City later that summer. (The team moved to Oakland before the 1968 season.)

Jackson says experiences in Birmingham laid a foundation for the way he goes about his business: It’s about respect.

"I’m not on the plantation, bro," Jackson says in the film concerning the way he was treated in the South.

What is Reggie Jackson's legacy?

Jackson doesn’t have a problem speaking about his baseball career and wonders at the beginning of the film how it will be perceived.

"I don’t think it’s checkered," Jackson says in the film when asked about his past. "I have hesitation with the documentary because I don’t have control of it. I have way too much trust in people you don’t know."

Jackson says he thrived on pressure, whether it was delivering in the clutch or setting the standard for his minority contemporaries to cash in on his success.

After spending the first 10 seasons of his career with Oakland, he was traded to Baltimore before signing a $3 million deal with the Yankees. Jackson powered New York to two World Series titles and cemented his legacy as "Mr. October" by hitting three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series against Los Angeles Dodgers.

"I didn't come to New York to be a star," Jackson famously said upon his arrival in New York in 1976. "I brought my star with me."

Now 76, Jackson speaks of his desire to own a baseball team, saying he offered to buy the Oakland Athletics in 2002, even putting up $25 million more than other bidders only to have then-commissioner Bud Selig not act on it.

Reggie Jackson on Reggie Jackson

Jackson also opined on several other subjects:

On setting the career MLB strikeout record of 2,597 punchouts, a mark that still stands: "I got a chance to do that, a chance to strikeout the most. It wasn’t because I was stumbling around. I must have been doing something special to get that many."

On his appearance in movies: "I have had people come up to me and say, 'I loved you in the 'Naked Gun,' 'I loved you in 'Benchwarmers.' I have enjoyed it all."

On being a five-time champion: "I don’t worry about anyone not acknowledging it because it’s there, just like the color of my skin. I got 12 rings. You don’t have to mention it because it don’t matter. Go get the list for most World Series rings. Who dat? I’m up in there."

Reggie Jackson, the outspoken activist

Jackson says he is proud to be associated with the Houston Astros, where he is a special consultant for owner Jim Crane, because of his views on hiring talented minorities in positions of power.

He wants to make changes for minorities in the game, minorities not in the game and should be in the game, and minorities that should be in executive positions.

The Astros employ MLB’s only Black general manager, Dana Brown, but Jackson says there needs to be more of a pipeline to get qualified candidates more opportunities.

"Of course, it upsets me," Jackson said. "It’s horrible."

But Jackson is perhaps most passionate about his charity, the Mr. October Foundation, which focuses on improving STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education and workforce pipeline for underserved youth.

Jackson and Stapleton say they hope the film serves not only as a historical record of one of baseball's most talented and colorful characters, but also as a bridge to bring the baseball community together, amid its struggles with diversity on the field in the front office.

"I do think it's a film that's not just for Black people, but for any marginalized group. So that's women, people of color, the LGBTQ community," Stapleton said. "Wherever you are you feel in today's America as we kind of like bulldozed and we are integrated and we're pushing the envelope, so we're achieving success."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Reggie Jackson documentary explores MLB great's life and legacy