Reagins earned Angels GM job through faith, hard work
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It was 1975 when a standout basketball player from Watts entered Tony Reagins' life and his small family home in Indio, Calif. The 18-year-old man, attending a nearby college, befriended the 8-year-old boy, who'd had few African-American role models since his father's death.
"I called him 'Starchild,' " says C.D. Jackson, who at the time was dating Tony's oldest sister, Pam. "He had that bright personality, always inquisitive. ... His personality was golden."
"Does it matter?" Moreno says when asked about race. "It matters if you want it to matter. ... Recognize someone because they came from a single-parent home or they worked hard to get their education. You celebrate [his promotion] as a person, not so much as race."Moreno says he hired Reagins because, as the person who oversaw the minor league system, he had worked with the core of the Angels organization. After all, Reagins has been there for nearly all of Garret Anderson's 18-year tenure with the organization, and Reagins greeted Francisco Rodriguez nine years ago when the pitcher first stepped off the plane from Venezuela. You cannot substitute that type of continuity, Moreno says.
In the nearly five years that Moreno has owned the team, he has observed how Reagins has effortlessly conversed with players and coaches from all backgrounds. While he has treated people with respect, Reagins has also been able to look at his job through a business model and with objectivity.Reagins learned respect from his mother, Polly, who worked three jobs, making about $20,000 a year to support her four children. Jackson, the basketball player, says that she was known as a jolly person who would playfully chase her children, and even Jackson, around the house. He also remembers that Polly, who passed away in 2002, would cook some mean soul food -- collared greens, black-eyed peas, corn bread, cakes and chicken -- for anyone who visited. Polly's three jobs were needed after her husband, Dalter, passed away; at 4 years old, Tony was the youngest child when he lost his father to cancer.
"He inspired me to go to college and get a degree," says Reagins, who went to Cal State Fullerton. "I thought that was important and I saw it in him. He's just a great human being, a great person."
Jackson has two master's degrees and is currently a professor at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif. He has written a few books, including one on John Carlos, the 1968 gold medal Olympian who, along with Tommie Smith, raised his fist with a black glove at the awards ceremony as a silent civil rights protest.
Jackson laughs often when recalling memories of Reagins, and he ends every phone call by saying, "Straight ahead." He considers Reagins a little brother and is amazed, though not surprised, at Reagins' rise. When he first learned Reagins got the Angels GM job, he says it was "incredible, simply incredible." Then, emotion overcame him.
"I was in tears," Jackson says. "I'm very proud of him. He's going to be under a lot of stress and duress, but he's a believer in himself and his creator. He has the knowledge and wisdom to handle it all."Reagins displayed wisdom at an early age while working in baseball. He was still just an intern when he had a racist encounter with a ballpark employee, who Reagins says called him a derogatory name. Instead of reacting with anger, Reagins thought about the source of the slur -- an elderly man raised with certain prejudices -- and he moved on. "You have to be real comfortable with who you are and understand that people are going to be people," Reagins says. "This environment isn't the only time I've experienced racism. I've been black my whole life. You learn how to deal with it; you have to be very comfortable with who you are."
I'll work harder than anybody, black, white, polka dot. At the end of the day you hope you're judged on your performance.
Yet since he's been on the job, questions have been raised about how much autonomy Reagins has, with Moreno saying manager Mike Scioscia would contribute to personnel decisions. Reagins has heard the questions, and possibly what he calls "covert, not overt" racism about whether he's fulfilling a quota."I think it runs across a lot of minds, not only in the game but outside of the game," says Reagins, who pauses and then adds, "My whole thing is, I can show you better than I can tell you. I'll work harder than anybody, black, white, polka dot. "At the end of the day you hope you're judged on your performance." The success or failure of the Angels will hinge on that. For now, Reagins will continue to guide the organization with the dedication and values largely learned in his small home in Indio.
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
The two-part ESPN Original Production of a Dan Klores film will air Sunday, March 16, and Monday, March 17, at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. For more information, visit espn.com/blackmagic.
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