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UCB: Top Five Iconic Moments

The United Cardinal Bloggers puts together monthly projects and post ideas for the group of us to chime in on.  Next month will start another run of round-table discussions, a personal favorite.  This month they have asked us each to summarize our top five iconic moments in St. Louis Cardinal history.

That’s a lot of history to pour through, even for a historian like myself.  My top five will be moments that I personally remember, whether on television or in attendance, that are ingrained in my mind and truly define my love for that franchise.

Number Five: Where 1998 Started
A lot of writers will plug in the great home run chase into their top fives, but I’m not sure many would utilize Opening Day of the 1998 season.

As a fan, it is one of my favorite games to attend.  The fanfare and celebrations around the city are a holiday like no other.  From the parade of champions to the player introductions, it is a ballgame that rivals any other.  In 1998, long before anyone realized the special season we were about to witness, the player we would all cheer for to chase the unreachable record would start things off in grand style.

During a scoreless game entering the bottom of the fifth inning, Dodger starter Ramon Martinez would find himself in some trouble.  A lead off double to Gary Gaetti followed by a base hit by Tom Lampkin would have runners at the corners with no one out.  Back-to-back strikeouts of Cardinal hurler Todd Stottlemeyer and lead off man Royce Clayton had Martinez back on top.  When the Dodger pitcher failed to retire Delino DeShields, Mark McGwire stepped to the plate with the bases full.  The one ball, no strike pitch to McGwire landed deep in the left field seats, an opening day home run in front of a crowd of just under 48,000.  The city of St. Louis would erupt in the middle of the game and while home runs 61, 62 and 70 would not only be etched in the record books, it was the opening day grand slam that I was in attendance for that started it all.

Number Four: The Passing Of The Guard
A tumultuous few years seen a Cardinals franchise changed forever.  Fan favorite manager Whitey Herzog would leave, former popular player Joe Torre would arrive and take the reigns of a team that had very little support from upper management, and a new era would be ushered in with the arrival of Tony LaRussa.

Tony would stick around for a long time, making decisions that would make the most die hard fan question his methods, only to find that his methods lead to victories, and championships, along the way.  The biggest change, and the one that most fans could not bring themselves to move past, happened after the arrival of LaRussa, however.

Prior to that arrival, in 1992, franchise legend Ozzie Smith had filed for free agency.  By December, the team had reached an agreement on what was being called a “Lifetime Contract”.  That contract guaranteed the short stop three million dollars a year and automatically renewed the following season if he reached a modest amount of plate appearances.  The contract also included a $500,000 signing bonus, payable upon retirement, and a 10-year personal services contract.

in 1996, with the arrival of Tony LaRussa, Walt Jocketty, and a new ownership, the team reached an agreement with former Giants short stop Royce Clayton.  It was the beginning of the end for the man known as “The Wizard”, Ozzie’s playing time was cut drastically and his contract would not roll over.  While Ozzie had reached the age of 41, many fans believed him still capable of handling the position and was forced out of the league by the new regime.  Ozzie would retire after the season and enter the Hall Of Fame later as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, but the decision to remove him from the short stop position in St. Louis was the single most iconic personnel change in my life at the time.

Number Three: Go Crazy Folks
On a personal note, my family moved to Missouri in 1985.  I was a young, eight year old boy that was just truly discovering the beauty of the game.  That summer, I attended a Cardinals game against the Chicago Cubs and had fallen in love with the beauty of listening to the game on the radio.

I was sitting on the living room floor, not to far from our console television, with the sound on mute so that we could hear Jack Buck instead of the national announcers.  I can remember the feeling of anxious anticipation with Ozzie at the plate.  No one, not one baseball fan anywhere, can say honestly that they expected what happened next.

Angela at Diamond Diaries explains that reprinting the words and recounting the scene does not do it justice.  The moment, as provided by Ozzie Smith, was shared by Jack Buck.  It was the combination of the two that created a moment in my mind that will live forever.  Without Jack’s call, it was a great walk off moment.  But with Jack Buck on the mic and Ozzie Smith hitting his first home run of the year from the left side of the plate, the moment became iconic.

Number Two: Grief
It is hard to believe that number two on our countdown will have happened 10 years ago by this summer.

I remember the news on June 18, 2022 announcing the passing of a man that I had grown to idolize.  The reason I wanted to write and do radio and continue being around this game was Jack Buck.  The sight of him, frail and suffering, in front of a crowd days after the September 11th tragedy was hard to watch and harder to process.  Legends like him are not supposed to die.  When he passed away, I wept openly.  A man I had never met face to face, yet I felt I spent a portion of my adult life with, was gone and I reacted as if he was family.  Because he was.  One of my first articles for Baseball Digest contained the simple phrase “I miss Jack Buck…” and I don’t think I have written another line with as much feeling as I did that day.

As iconic of a moment as the passing of Jack Buck was, it was four days later that the moment came to close in Chicago.  Settling in to watch a game with the Cubs, I could not understand what the delay was.  The game was delayed but there was no rain and the announcers were not saying why, other than an emergency.  A tearful Joe Girardi, the Cubs catcher and team captain at the time, approached a microphone near the plate and announced that the game would be postponed due to “a death within the Cardinal family”.  We would later find out that Darryl Kile, the Cardinals ace of their pitching staff, had lost his life in his hotel room the night before.  Ironically, Kile’s last pitching performance was a 7-2 Cardinal victory over the Anaheim Angels on the day Jack Buck passed away.

In four short days, the Cardinals family had been shaken to the core.  The moment, all four days of it, is etched in our minds.

Number One: We Will See You Tomorrow Night
Maybe it ranks this high because it was so recent.  Maybe it is because I am a sucker for announcers.  Maybe it is because of who I watched the game with.  Maybe it is all of those reasons.  However you count it, this past post season was magical.

The night of Game Six was amazing, no doubt.  From the game tying hits, the come from behind moments, and the “they just won’t go away” moments, it was an emotional roller coaster ride that I had never experienced as a fan.  The end of the game, however, is what ensured that I would never forget it.

David Freese would send the crowd home happy with a game winning home run to center field that would fit the mold of the season.  A game-six, walk off home run was enough to make it iconic.  What came across the television cinched it as a moment I will never forget.  When I heard Joe Buck exclaim as the ball landed in the grass beyond the center field wall, “We will see you …. tomorrow night,” I immediately commented that he used his father’s call.  A moment for the ages suddenly spanned a generation of fans.  It brought back memories of Jack.  It created a new found respect for Joe.  It wasn’t forced.  It didn’t feel scripted.  It simply flowed across the screen and then, as friend Bob Netherton points out, he and Tim McCarver did the thing that most broadcasters fail to do.  They shut up.  The let the fans at home be overflowed with the emotion of the moment and share in the joy of the fans at the park.  Cardinal Nation, from coast to coast, was united.  It was an amazing, and iconic, feeling.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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One Rule In Writing

I hated the steroid guys. Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire–a Cardinal; when I heard their names even one year ago, I couldn’t think of anything good about them. After all, they cheated the game, burned down the sacred pillars of the baseball history and record books. They shortcutted it, and deserved none of my respect.

Then I started doing this.

I used to have a much less successful baseball site for a few months last year, but I shut it down after and incidents that came days prior to me writing a piece calling the 2010 Cardinals quitters. It seemed obvious. I mean, how could a team in first all year tank the last month of the season in such ugly fashion?

Not long after, I realized I was Jack Clark. Before he was fired/quit at FSN, the ex-Cardinal ranted, “I’m really tired of watching the effort, that’s for sure… I’m seeing a pathetic effort… They won’t admit it, that they’re quitters…

“We’ve got one team here [the Padres] going for the title and we’ve got our team going for the toilet. They’ve got poopy in their pants. They got skid marks in their britches. It’s just the way it is.”

Adam Wainwright, cheated out of the Cy Young Award that year, responded in kind:

“Those were stupid comments. Hopefully he knows that anyways. You got a guy who likes to hear himself talk, that’s all it is. You notice in every big situation, whether it’s McGwire or with our team, guys like that always have their opinions out in the papers.

“When you say something like that, you have to be ready for the repercussions or the comebacks. Especially when people are in this clubhouse and we hear things like that and then we’ll see this person the next year and they’ll try to be our friends and laugh and smile and talk. It’s the very same thing that started that fight in Cincinnati. Some guy [Brandon Phillips] opens his mouth and talks a bunch of trash in the papers and then tries to come out the next day and be all lovey-dovey with Molina. It’s very similar.”

That was a big reality check, one that established the only “rule” I keep in mind when I write: Don’t write anything you wouldn’t say to the person’s face. It’s done me wonders; and makes me sound more professional than professional writers. In fact, I’ve tried to live by that as best I can with my speech and actions, and I really believe it has, if anything, made me a classier person and kept me from the dumps filled with rage-fueled bloggers.

I don’t know why it just hit me now, but that mentality has to spread to everybody in baseball–including the steroid users. So here’s my apology to all of them, especially McGwire, who did a fantastic job as the hitting coach of the league’s top offense this year. If I met you in real life, I wouldn’t immediately condemn you as a social outcast, so I won’t write about you like that either like I used to.

You did cheat, and your Hall of Fame credentials and records should be nulled in my opinion; but that is no reason to treat you like disgraces or as a bad person to the contrary of those who actually know you.

I have tried to unlatch myself from incorrect popular baseball opinion as best I can, but I regret to say that this area was one I didn’t let go of, until now.

Keep up the good work, Mac.

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Jaime Means Business

Who is Jaime Garcia? Really…who is this guy?

I can tell you who he is…

Remember a couple years back when Joe Posnanski wrote a cover story in Sports Illustrated about Zack Greinke being baseballs best pitcher? Greinke was the front man in the worlds largest sports digest. We all remember the photo.

Weeks after that story broke through the press, Greinke slowly started to decline towards mediocrity. Well, to be a little fair, he declined closer to average human, athletic performance. He was no longer pitching like the super hero we made him out to be. He won the Cy Young at the end of the year just as the fire burnt out. The next season, with so much hype and publicity, he was known as the glorified ace on the worst team in the league- the next Maddux, a mastermind at his own craft.

Greinke finished the season last year with 10-14 record and a stingy ERA just above four. If the trend continues, he could finish his career known as nothing more than a one hit wonder in ancient record books of pine tar, maple bats, and bubble gum.

Back to Jaime Garcia. Who is this guy?

After capturing his fifth straight win against the Cubs on Thursday, Garcia made a mark in Major League Baseball. Not only does his team hold first place in the central, but he has also pitched virtually perfect all season long. It leads me to believe he is on his way to big achievements this year.

Jamie Garcia is on the verge of becoming the next great lead story in my mind. We are talking about placing him in a National League class of Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, and Josh Johnson. On the brink of big time public exposure as an official national introduction soon waits. Those three names are the three best pitchers in baseball and Garcia is close to being right there with them. I believe that he is a star, and he is going to be a star for some time. I cannot say what the definition of “some time” is, however. I said the same for Zack Greinke, and although the media still identifies him as a star, I don’t really see him that way anymore. He seemed to get a little start stuck and pompous after his move to Milwaukee, and starting the season on the disabled list slowed his momentum down incredibly. He’s not even the best pitcher in his division. Jaime is.

There is a difference in Jaime. Maybe it’s the fact that he plays on a winning team. Maybe it’s the overall team success that makes his talents shine a little brighter than that of Greinke. I think when Zack found stardom, there was a great story to tie to it. Not because he played for a playoff contender, but because he overcame the mental restraints that once took him out of the game-A Josh Hamilton type of story. It was good for him. It was good for the press, and any one else who enjoys a decent baseball tale.

But I think Garcia means business…meaning that he is here to shine and stay here for a while. The guy can flat out pitch the baseball and no one can get a decent bat on the ball. I’d like to see Pujols get his opportunity to face him. Even with confusing spring training numbers, he has truly performed when it matters most. It’s seems to me that he is a little more fiery and competitive than most pitchers he faces. He wants it more and in then end, he usually gets what he wanted. It rubs off on the team and you get a good idea that the offense knows they need to produce because the Garcia kid is going to pitch his butt off.

But in comparison to Greinke, the numbers from Zacks 2009 Cy Young season are similar to Garica numbers this year. No one could hit either of them. They pitched a good amount of innings and the ERA was microscopic. I think Garcia can handle the media pressure as he continues to get better. When he pitches the Cardinals do an amazing job of backing him up which in defense of Greinke, a perk he never had.

All in all, Jamie Garcia is on fire. He is 5-0 and pitching with dominance. Who is going to stop him? Who can stop him? He will obviously not go perfect throughout the season, but he is definitely picking up the slack for Chris Carpenter. After a few rough outings the Cardinals ace is showing signs of slowing down. Is this an indication that Garcia is next in line to be the ace? If you ask me I would say so, but next year with Wainwright coming back and Garcia right up there with him the Cardinals staff is golden. Kyle Loshe is throwing gem after gem this season and Kyle McClellan doesn’t look to shabby either. The Cardinals have the tools to pitch great and when they produce offensively; this team is a lot tougher than people give them credit for.

If Garcia continues his ace type effectiveness, watch out, we might have the NL CY Young award back in Saint Louis.

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Al Jackson: The Little Pitcher Who Made a Big Impression

Every time I remember hearing Harry Caray say “Al Jackson”, it was preceded by “Little”. I don’t know that anybody asked Jackson if he liked the nickname, but it was always said with respect and admiration, so I hope Mr. Jackson doesn’t mind if I call him that a few more times.

But “Little” did describe what Jackson looked like on the mound. The record books say that the left-handed pitcher stood 5′ 10″ and weighed in at 160 pounds, but when he pitched for the Cardinals it looked like a good breeze might blow him off the mound. It never happened, and at that point in his career, the only ones who were likely to be blown away were the opposing batters. In particular, the left handed batters. We often hear about current players that demonstrate a bit of old school attitude and we remark that they could have played back in the day. Jackson was the opposite, a player who was a couple of decades ahead of his time. If he were playing today, he would be a left handed relief specialist and would have a long and prosperous career. Arthur Rhodes, anybody ?

A Humble Beginning

Al Jackson was signed out of high school by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955 and immediately put to work as a starter in their minor league system. After a bit of a slow start, he became a head turner with the Lincoln Chiefs (A) of the Western League. An 18-9 record with a microscopic ERA of 2.07 would earn him a couple of looks with the big club in 1959.

Jackson made his major league debut on May 3, 1959 against the St. Louis Cardinals. Even this early in the season, Solly Hemus’s Cardinals were in free fall and still a few players and managerial change away from becoming a contender in the National League. The Pirates were about to make history behind a couple of youngsters named Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Clemente, but in 1959 they would finish the season with a bit better than a .500 record. It was clear that the rebuilding was well under way. A nasty early season double header gave Jackson a chance to show what he could do.

The little left-hander was greeted rather rudely by the Cardinals when he took over for starter Bennie Daniels, who had been lifted for a pinch hitter the previous inning. With the Cardinals leading 2-1 at that point, a pair of Smith’s would beat up on young Jackson. Not Lonnie and Ozzie, in 1959 it was Bobby and Hal. Bobby led off the inning with a double, and would be advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Don Blasingame. Hal Smith would single home Bobby with the third Cardinals run. Even the Solly Hemus Cardinals ran as Hal, who was a catcher, would be caught stealing for for the second out of the inning. Cardinals legend Joe Cunningham would become Jackson’s first major league strikeout victim, ending the inning.

Jackson’s next inning was almost a repeat of his first. Lee Tate would lead off by striking out. Bill White would single, and advance to second base when the Pirates failed to make a play on Lindy McDaniel’s sacrifice bunt – both runners were safe. Unfortunately, the Cardinals didn’t have another Smith they could call on, so Ken Boyer and Gene Green would both make an out to squelch a second rally.

The young lefty would get another chance at the end of the month, this time as a starter. It would not go much better, so he found himself back in the bullpen. He did get another start at the end of June, also against the Cardinals. This time he was staked to a huge lead as Ernie Broglio failed to make it out of the first inning, giving up 5 runs in just 2/3 of an inning. Jackson actually did worse as he only survived 1/3 of an inning, giving up 4 runs of his own. Both of the men that relieved Jackson and Broglio got lit up as well, and the game got out of hand quickly. The Pirates would end up winning this wild one 10-8, but after it was over, Jackson would be heading back to Columbus, where he would just dominate the International League.

Jackson would spend all of 1960 at Columbus and miss out on the Pirates surprising World Series Championship. After a solid, but still learning year in 1960, Jackson turned in another brilliant year with Columbus in 1961, compiling a 12-7 record with a sparkling ERA of 2.89. That would earn the little lefty another chance in the big leagues when the rosters expanded in September. He would get two starts, going 9 innings in each. He would get a no-decision in his first one, but earn his first career win against the Cincinnati Reds with a complete game at the end of the season. It’s the game in between that turned heads as he would pitch 5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in a loss – this would be typical of the way he would be used later in his career.

Expansion and an Opportunity

Jackson had played for some very good Columbus Jets teams in the minor leagues, and was part of a good organization in Pittsburgh. That didn’t prepare him for what would come next, the expansion New York Mets. Jackson would be drafted by the new club and was immediately thrown into the rotation with a bunch of young players and a handful of veterans that were in the declining years of their careers. Jackson would lose 20 games in that inaugural season, but that didn’t even lead the staff. Future Cardinal Roger Craig had that distinction with 24 losses. It’s not that Jackson pitched poorly, or Craig for that matter, the Mets were just that bad. They would lose 120 games in 1962, and wouldn’t lose less than 100 games until 1966. Tough luck losses were going to mount quickly, and Jackson had to learn to deal with that.

Along the way, there were a number of high points.

Jackson would pitch the first shutout for the Mets organization on April 29, 1960 as he defeated the Philadelphia Phillies. But that was nothing like what would happen later in the summer.

On June 22, Jackson would face Turk Farrell and the other expansion franchise, the Houston Colt 45’s. The Colts were not doing as poorly as the Mets and should have won this game easily. Nobody at the Polo Grounds thought much as this game got under way. With one out in the first inning, Joe Amalfitano would single sharply to left, a clean hit. This would become important in just a few moments. Roman Mejias would strike out and then Norm Larker would walk. Again, nobody thought much at this point in the game. Then Jackson would retire the next 22 batters in a row. Hardly anything was leaving the infield – Jackson was on cruise control. The Colts would only get one more base runner in the game, a lead-off walk by Pidge Browne in the top of the ninth inning. If this game had been played in the reverse order, the Polo Grounds crowd would have been going insane. Jackson would finish the game allowing just the one single.

The most insane thing that happened to Jackson, and any pitcher in my lifetime, occurred on August 14. The Mets were an embarrassing 47 1/2 games behind the Giants and Dodgers who were battling it out for the NL Pennant. On this afternoon game against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, Casey Stengel would earn the Dusty Baker Award for abusing his pitching staff as he would let Al Jackson pitch for 4 hours and 35 minutes and a total of 15 innings. Through 14 innings, Jackson had only given up 1 run and 4 hits. The game unraveled quickly in the 15th inning as Tony Gonzalez leads off with a pop-up on the infield that first baseman Marv Throneberry boots all the way to third base. Two singles and an intentional walk would be the difference as Jackson lost the game, 3-1. While there are no accurate pitch counts for this game, it is estimated that Jackson threw over 200 pitches. If there was an encyclopedia entry for “heartbreaking loss”, it would have the box score for this game and Al Jackson’s photo.

Al Jackson’s name will go in the record books two more times while pitching for the Mets. Jackson would record the last win in the Polo Grounds, on September 11, 1963, with a nifty complete game against the San Francisco Giants. He would also get the first win in Shea Stadium, the Mets new home in 1964. A huge crowd on Sunday, April 19, saw Jackson dominate his former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates as he tosses a complete game shutout.

Nearly a Knockout

On October 2, 1964, Al Jackson nearly did what the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees all failed to do – keep the Cardinals from winning the World Series. When the Mets came to St. Louis to close out the regular season, the Cardinals were in a virtual tie with the Phillies and Reds with just 3 games to play. The Cardinals were on fire and had just won their last 8, a 5 game sweep in Pittsburgh, and a back-breaking 3 game sweep of the Phillies. All that stood between them and the World Series was a 51-108 Mets team and a little left-hander with a 10-15 record. To make this game all the more poignant, on the mound for the Cardinals was an 18-11 hard throwing right-hander named Bob Gibson. Game over, raise the NL Pennant, right ? Not so fast.

Oh, Gibson was brilliant, as he had been since catching fire back on August 6. In 8 innings of work, he would allow a lone run in the third inning on a single and stolen base by former Cardinal George Altman and an RBI single by Ed Kranepool. Along the way, Gibson would strike out 7 while walking none. This had been typical of Gibson lately, and we would enjoy a lot more of this over the next decade.

But, and there’s always a but, Al Jackson matched Gibson pitch for pitch. Not only that, he did a little better. The Cardinals got nothing on the little left-hander, and he would win the game 1-0, derailing the Cardinals pennant run for a day. When Ray Sadecki got bombed the next day, it seemed like dream of a Cardinals/Yankees World Series was just that, a dream. It took a miraculous pitching effort on the last day of the regular season by Curt Simmons and Bob Gibson and some timely hitting by Bill White, Ken Boyer, Dick Groat and Dal Maxvill – yes, that’s right – Dal Maxvill, and a home run by Curt Flood to propel the Cardinals into post-season. But the sting of that 1-0 defeat at the hands of Al Jackson would continue to haunt the Cardinals.

Free Al Jackson

Jackson would continue to pitch well for the Mets, but would lose 20 games for the second time in his career in 1965. As before, another hurler would lose even more, time it was Jack Fisher with a mind-boggling 24 losses to lead the staff. Fortunately for Jackson, his career was about to take off, but not with the Mets.

Immediately following the 1965 season, the Cardinals traded future Hall of Famer, Ken Boyer, to the Mets for third baseman, Charley Smith and left-handed starter Al Jackson. General Manager Bob Howsam was following Branch Rickey’s rule:

Always trade a player one year too early rather one year too late

It was hoped that Smith would be able to take over for Boyer at third base, but it was Jackson that the Cardinals wanted in the deal. Smith would have a disappointing season in 1966, but would be part of one of the most famous trades in Cardinals history when he was sent to the New York Yankees for Roger Maris in one of Bob Howsam’s last deals before leaving the club prior to the start of the 1967 season.

Unlike Smith, Jackson did not disappoint. He would start the ’66 season in the bullpen and would only allow a single run in April. Jackson would earn his first victory as a Cardinal in early May, in a nice piece of long relief against his former club, the New York Mets. Oh, there is much more irony left in the Al Jackson story.

That performance would earn him a start on May 13 and he would go the distance in an 8-0 shutout against the Atlanta Braves. Four more quality starts before Jackson’s first rough outing included some dominating wins against Cincinnati and Philadelphia plus a couple of hard luck losses. Even this early in the season, the improved defense behind Jackson in St. Louis was making a huge difference. By the end of July, Jackson had run his record to 11-8 including two huge wins against the defending World Series Champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers. His ERA was also two runs lower than it had ever been in New York.

The season wouldn’t end well for Jackson in the win-loss record, but his pitching had been exceptional. He would finish with an 13-15 record, but it’s the ERA of 2.51 that shows how well he pitched. Of the starters, only Bob Gibson had a better ERA, and just barely at 2.44.

Déjà vu all over again

The Cardinals would start the 1967 with an amazingly strong rotation of Bob Gibson, Ray Washburn, rookie Steve Carlton, the 1966 rookie phenomenon Larry Jaster and Al Jackson. Jackson’s first two starts of the season were somewhat of a tale of two cities with the first being a nice win against the Dodgers, but he got shelled in the second start. That brings us to the early season surprise of 1967, when Al Jackson faced the Houston Astros on April 25. Yes, this is the same Houston team that he nearly no-hit back in 1962. And he nearly did it again, but this time he kept 10,000 Houston fans in total suspense for nearly two hours as he retired one batter after another. Until Bob Aspromonte led off the home half of the eighth inning with a no-doubter single to left field. Little Al Jackson toughened and retired the next six batters, for his second career 1 hitter.

In an interesting turn of events, a rough month of May might have been the best thing for Jackson and the Cardinals. With the lefty failing to get deep into his starts, Red Schoendienst decides to move Jackson to the bullpen to make room for a suddenly dominating Dick Hughes, who nearly threw a perfect game of his own on May 30 in Cincinnati. The move to the bullpen was working out quite well for Jackson and the Cardinals. In shorter relief appearances, opposing teams just were not able to score runs against the little left hander. He got better as the season went on, being particular effective in the final push for the NL Pennant, posting a 2.15 ERA over August and September. The wins started coming in bunches too, and Jackson would finish the season with a 9-4 record, the only winning season in his career. The only time that Jackson struggled was in his spot starts, which became a bit more frequent after losing Ray Washburn and Bob Gibson to injuries. Red Schoendienst had learned in 1967 what would become a common approach today – a hard throwing lefty with a good curve can cause a lot of trouble to the opposing teams late in the game, especially against left handed batters. Al Jackson had just become one of the Cardinals first LOOGYs.

1967 was another first for Al Jackson – the first time he was on a World Championship team – but he would not see any action in the Fall Classic. With a starting rotation of Bob Gibson, Dick Hughes, Nelson Briles and Steve Carlton and a pair of strong lefties in the bullpen (Joe Hoerner and Hal Woodeshick), there just wasn’t any room for Jackson.

A Bad Break

1967 would be the final year for Al Jackson as a Cardinal. When Bob Gibson suffered a broken leg against the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 15, perhaps it was on omen when Al Jackson took over when Gibson was unable to continue in the game. The New York Mets came into town the next day and just before the teams arrived at the stadium, a deal was made sending the Mets pitcher Jack Lamabe to the Cardinals for a player to be named later. Lamabe walked from the visiting locker room over to the home team’s facilities and introduced himself. His first outing was a little rough, but he became a huge part of a strong bullpen that kept the Cardinals in games while Gibson healed. There would be a huge price to pay though, and after the end of the 1967 season, the Mets took back Al Jackson.

Even though he was used sparingly in 1968, he pitched well for the Mets. His 3-7 record was more of a reflection of the Mets throwing Jackson back into the rotation instead of letting him thrive in the bullpen. Like with the Cardinals the previous season, in short and medium relief, Jackson was superb. Even with the huge number of starts, his ERA of 3.69 was very respectable, but would have been a run or more lower if he’d worked out of the pen exclusively.

Jackson would start the 1969 season with the Mets in the bullpen, but would struggle. He would also miss out on the excitement of the Mets amazing World Series Championship when he was sent to Cincinnati in June for cash. He would finish out his career with the Reds, appearing in 33 games that summer, all in relief. One final piece of irony in the story of Little Al Jackson. He would earn a win in his last major league appearance, in long relief against the Houston Astros. In 3 2/3 innings, he would allow just a single hit.

The Story Continues

Even though Jackson’s playing days were over, his baseball career would continue. Not only had Jackson pitched with some of the best in the game (Gibson, Seaver), he was a heck of a pitcher himself, so it was no surprise when he turned up next as the Boston Red Sox pitching coach, a job he would hold from 1977 to 1979. A decade later he would re-appear with the Baltimore Orioles in 1989, serving until 1991. And as if scripted by Abner Doubleday, Jackson’s last coaching job would be with the New York Mets, in 1999 and 2000. He has recently been a special assistant for the Mets and remains active in events such as fantasy baseball camps. He was also present at the Amazing Mets 40th anniversary as well as the closing ceremonies for Shea Stadium.

Mets fans remember Jackson fondly as the ace of a very poor team, that professionally took the baseball every four days and gave it his best. They look past his win-loss record and remember him for the quality pitcher that he was. Even though he was in St. Louis for such a brief time, the Little man from Waco, Texas sure left a huge impression. I hope that if Jackson ever appears at a Cardinals event, he will be remembered just as fondly.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at Throatwarbler’s Blog. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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