Continuing the look at the men who have played for both Missouri franchises, we examine the career of Danny Jackson.
The Kansas City Royals drafted Jackson with the number one pick in the January (secondary) phase of the 1982 amateur draft. Jackson was born in San Antonio but attended secondary school in Aurora Colorado, and was playing for Trinidad Junior College (also in Colorado) when the Royals selected him. He zoomed through the minors and made his major league debut on 9/11/1983 in Minnesota, throwing 3 shutout innings in middle relief and getting the win. He bounced between Kansas City and their AAA affiliate in Omaha in 1984, but became a full-time member of the rotation in 1985.
Jackson was a workhorse for the World Champs. He tied for third (with Mark Gubicza) on the team in wins (14), and was third among the starters in ERA (3.42) and innings pitched (208). Despite that success he wasn’t one of the three starters manager Dick Howser initially selected to pitch in the ALCS. When the Royals went down 3-1 in that series to Toronto, Howser passed up his game two starter Bud Black and gave the ball to Jackson for the final Kansas City home game. Danny was fantastic, scattering 8 hits over 8 shutout innings and beating Jimmy Key 2-0. His start began the Royals improbable comeback to win the AL, as they took games 6 and 7 from Toronto in Toronto.
Jackson’s success in that series was rewarded in the World Series, as he got the Game 1 start. He pitched well, allowing 2 runs in his seven innings, but Cardinal lefty John Tudor was better, and Jackson lost Game 1 3-1. He found himself the starter in another Game 5, with his team down in games 3-1 again. The Royals jumped on Bob Forsch for 4 runs in the first 2 innings, and Jackson cruised to a 6-1 victory. Kansas City came back to win in seven games. Other than Bret Saberhagen, Jackson was the best pitcher the Royals had against St Louis.
His 1985, 1986, and 1987 statistics are fairly similar in terms of innings pitched, home runs allowed, strikeout to walk ratio, and so on. Unfortunately, that consistency did not translate to success in terms of games won. Jackson was one game under .500 in 1986 (11-12), then suffered a 9-18 season the following year. Royal management must have thought Jackson was a flash in the pan, with the flash being his 1985 season, because they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds following the 1987 season.
Jackson responded with his finest season as a pitcher, winning 23 games and finishing second in the NL Cy Young voting to Orel Hershiser. He returned to the post season two years later with those Reds, helping them knock out the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLCS (he won Game 3, and left Game 6 tied 1-1). He did not have much success in the World Series, but the Reds swept Oakland’s Bash Brothers, giving Jackson his second World Series title.
He was a free agent after the 1990 season, and signed on with the Chicago Cubs. He missed all of May and all of July 1991 to injury, and so threw the fewest innings he had since his 1983 call-up (70.2). He was healthier and threw better in 1992, but the Cubs decided he was expendable and traded him to the Pirates in July. He pitched fairly well for the Pirates down the stretch, but was cuffed around in his lone NLCS appearance, not surviving the second inning of a game Pittsburgh eventually lost 13-5. The Pirates left him unprotected in the 1992 expansion draft and Florida grabbed him, however he never played for the Marlins as they traded him to Philadelphia the same day.
Jackson enjoyed his best back-to-back seasons with the Phillies, helping Philadelphia to an improbably NL title in 1993 and finishing 6th in the Cy Young voting in 1994. A free agent after the 1994 season, he signed a 3-year, $10 million deal to join the Cardinals. By this point, Jackson had won a league title in both leagues, and pitched in 3 World Series, over a nine-year span. Unfortunately the magic carpet ride was over.
He was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer before the 1995 season, and had his thyroid removed. The cancer went into remission after the gland removal, allowing Jackson to make a full recovery, but that was not the end of his trouble. Jackson also severely injured his right ankle during spring training in 1995, and although he did recover he was never the same pitcher. Jackson had a rather unique delivery in which he pushed off violently from the rubber and landed full force on his right ankle, sometimes in a heap on the front of the pitcher’s mound. With an unsteady ankle as his landing gear he did not have the same control he once had.
Jackson suffered through a miserable 1995 going 2-12 for a forgettable Cardinals team that finished 19 games under .500. In 1996, Jackson continued to fight the injury bug, throwing only 36.1 innings the whole season. Those Cardinals won the NL Central, sending Danny on his fourth trip to the post-season in 12 years, but he made only one appearance, a three-inning stint in relief of Todd Stottlemyre in Game 5.
After making 4 starts for the Cardinals in 1997, he was traded in June to San Diego for another fading left-hander (Fernando Valenzuela). Jackson finished out the season with the Padres, then retired.
Danny Jackson will be remembered as one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game from 1985-1994. How his career ended won’t change that one bit. Tough, durable, and consistent, he was a significant contributor to three pennant-winning teams over that stretch, starting with the World Champion KC Royals. Of all the games he started over his big-league career (he made 324 starts, not counting the post-season), the biggest by far were the two he made in the 1985 Playoffs. Both Game 5’s, both with his team facing immediate elimination if he did not perform. He allowed one run combined in those two games, and won each one. At the tender age of 23.
Danny Jackson was a quality major league pitcher, but he is a Legend for his performance over 2 weeks in October, 1985.