Former New York Yankees player Reggie Jackson responds to questions...

Former New York Yankees player Reggie Jackson responds to questions about Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who died Tuesday, during a news conference. (July 17, 2010) Credit: AP

The straw that once stirred the drink was, himself, moved and shaken.

For most of the week, Reggie Jackson had been at a loss for words. As if that weren't rare enough, yesterday he seemed at a loss for being Reggie.

During a news conference at Yankees Old-Timers' Day, Jackson was as subdued as anyone has ever seen him. He spoke softly, slowly and selflessly when he talked about Reggie Jackson, which has been known to be his favorite subject. He admitted that he would rather not have been at Yankee Stadium, one of his favorite places.

When he was done at the microphone, he confessed to a small group of reporters that he had resisted doing the news conference. "I didn't think I could make it," said the man who appeared even more somber than he had in the days after a near-fatal car crash in spring training several years ago.

If it was all an act, he deserves an Oscar, Emmy and Tony this year. It sure looked more as if George Steinbrenner's death had taken a lot out of him. It stands to reason. Losing Steinbrenner meant losing part of himself because The Boss had helped put Reggie on a first-name basis with the rest of the world.

"Players and owners in history have been tied together," Jackson said. "I'm proud to be tied to him. That will never change."

In the Yankee Stadium corridor and on the field, there were many warm reminiscences of Steinbrenner, who died Tuesday at 80. Goose Gossage smiled when he said, "He got crazier the more we won. Most people get satisfied; he got crazier."

Graig Nettles reprised his famous quip from Old-Timers' Day in 1978, when Steinbrenner stunningly brought back Billy Martin as the future manager days after having forced him to quit: "Some kids like to join the circus, other kids want to play baseball. I'm getting to do both with the Yankees."

Said Nettles, "It just seemed the appropriate thing to say at the time, although he didn't like it."

The "he'' was Steinbrenner. He and Martin and Jackson were at each other's throats and on every tabloid's back page. "Each one of them wanted to be their own boss,'' Nettles said. "It was Billy's team and he wanted to let Reggie know it was Billy's team. The Boss wanted to let both of them know that it was his team. It was pretty funny."

But the Jackson who met the media Saturday was not the one whom Nettles jokingly recalled as the preening teammate who would trip any reporter who passed him by to get him to stop and talk to him. This Jackson credited Steinbrenner's resourcefulness and largesse for collecting other good players so Jackson - "a .260 lifetime hitter, 2,500 strikeouts" he said in self-description - had opportunities to become Mr. October.

Jackson sounded somewhere between incredulous and wistful when he told about having wished Steinbrenner a happy birthday on July 4. The two talked often by phone, with The Boss asking for his former prize free agent's opinion on the Yankees' offense, the pennant race and the efforts of the Steinbrenner sons in running the organization.

"Certainly I knew the health wasn't the same, I knew the strength wasn't there," Jackson said. "But the conversations were so good for so many months that I think I was caught off guard."

Still unsettled by the news from Tuesday, he tried to beg off coming yesterday, but team president Randy Levine insisted. General manager Brian Cashman laughed when he said, "It's in his contract." But he might not have been kidding about Jackson, whose official Yankees title is special adviser.

In any event, Jackson was misty all the way around, including when he spoke of his friendship with public address announcer Bob Sheppard, who died last Sunday at 99.

Sheppard once bet 25 cents that Jackson couldn't give an acceptance speech in less than two minutes. "My speech went a minute, 45 seconds," Jackson said. "He handed me my quarter."

His greatest loyalty, though, was to the man who handed him millions. Steinbrenner helped make "Reggie" a household name, and vice versa. And the two of them helped make the Yankees the straw that stirs New York.

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