Steinbrenner's death has Jackson reeling
"I'd rather not be here today," Jackson said. "I'd rather have passed [on the invitation]. But I need to be here. I talked to some people that I respect in the leadership of the club. They thought I should be here so I'm here. It will be tough. I'll enjoy it. The feelings will be good."
Jackson was emotional when speaking of the man who brought him to New York in November of 1976. Jackson and Steinbrenner had a complicated relationship over three decades, but the two were very close in recent years.
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Steinbrenner gave Jackson a role in the organization as a special adviser and the two spoke often. They last talked to each other on July 4, Steinbrenner's 80th birthday.
"It was pretty tough when I heard about it early in the morning on Tuesday," Jackson said. "I had just spoken to him on his birthday, a wonderful conversation. I was a frequent caller to him to see how he was doing and stay in touch."
Jackson said Steinbrenner has sounded good in recent months, asking him for his thoughts on the current team and how Jackson thought Steinbrenner's sons, Hank and Hal, were doing running the team.
"I was caught off guard," Jackson said of the Boss' death. "I got quiet, pensive, was lucky to be around close friends."
Jackson was in Anaheim, Calif., for the All-Star Game. He attended the game, but did not participate in a pregame ceremony he was scheduled to be in and cancelled an interview with Fox.
"I just got quiet for a couple of days," Jackson said. "I don't think I could have held it together very well."
Jackson spent five seasons as a Yankee before Steinbrenner let him leave as a free agent to join the California Angels.
Unlike some who have left the Yankees, Jackson said he always felt welcomed by Steinbrenner.
"I would honestly say that since 1976, I never felt outcast or thrown out by George Steinbrenner, by The Boss," Jackson said. "I was gone after a couple of years. I was disappointed and hurt when I left. He said several times, if he said it once he said it a hundred times the biggest mistake I ever made in baseball was letting Reggie Jackson go. So we were never enemies. There was always respect.
"If I had any difficult times with him it was because I was in a learning process of understanding life, and so I look at all of the times I had with him as building a stronger relationship. There are players and owners in history that are tied together in sports. I'm proud to be tied to him. That will never change."
In Jackson's current role, he said he sees signs of Steinbrenner in how people in the organization approach their jobs. He does not believe the team will take a step back in any way now that Steinbrenner is gone.
"When you do think of him and you do think of the Yankees certainly his personality, the demand for excellence, comes through," he said.