Al Jackson, acquired in the trade that sent Ken Boyer to the Mets, had a positive and historical impact on the Cardinals. In his two seasons with them, Jackson, a left-handed pitcher, helped the Cardinals to a World Series title, ranked among the National League’s elite in earned run average, pitched a one-hitter and posted an overall record of 22-19 with a 2.97 ERA.
On the afternoon of Jan. 13, 2012, I interviewed Jackson, 76, at the New York Mets’ spring training facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla. He was gracious with his time and thoughtful with his answers.
That tape-recorded interview is presented here:
Q: In 1964, the Cardinals went into the final three-game series of the season against the Mets, looking to clinch the pennant. In Game 1, the Cardinals started Bob Gibson and you started for the Mets. You beat Gibson and the Cardinals, 1-0, on a five-hitter, delaying the Cardinals’ clinching until the final day of the season. What do you recall about that game? Boxscore
Al Jackson: I was supposed to pitch the night before that in Milwaukee. And Casey (manager Casey Stengel) came to me and said, “They think we’re going to lie down in St. Louis. Why don’t you pitch the Friday night in St. Louis instead of Thursday in Milwaukee.” I said, “No problem.”
Q: Did you leave the Cardinals and their fans a little shaken by your performance?
Al Jackson: We were about 59 games out of first place. But no baseball game is a pushover. When we came into St. Louis, there were banners all over the town saying, “We’re going to the championship.” With us being so far out and such a poor club, they thought it would be a little easier than it was.
Q: In October 1965, the Mets trade you and third baseman Charlie Smith to the Cardinals for Ken Boyer. Many Cardinals fans were upset Boyer was traded. What was your reaction to the deal?
Al Jackson: The Mets were a losing ballclub. The Cardinals were a better ballclub. I loved New York, but I had been with a losing ballclub for four years. So I thought going over there (to St. Louis) would be the greatest thing _ which it was, because it ended up that the next year we won the World Series.
Q: Last month, Ron Santo was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by a veterans committee. Boyer again was a candidate but wasn’t elected. Does Boyer deserve election to the Hall of Fame?
Al Jackson: No doubt about it. He should have been elected the first time around on that (writers) ballot.
Q: In 1966, your first season with the Cardinals, you won 13 and had an ERA of 2.51. Your ERA was sixth-best in the National League. The five ahead of you: Sandy Koufax, Mike Cuellar, Juan Marichal, Jim Bunning and Bob Gibson. Was it your best season in the big leagues?
Al Jackson: Yes. I was really consistent all year, even though I didn’t start the first month.
Q: Was your ability to throw the sinker a difference-maker that year?
Al Jackson: That was my main pitch. I wasn’t a strikeout pitcher. I was a groundball pitcher. It took me a long time to get there, for the simple reason that I didn’t know how. I was told when I got to the Mets (in 1962), “You have to get the ball down.” But they didn’t tell me how. Through trial and error, I found out.
Q: In May 1966, the Cardinals traded Ray Sadecki to the Giants, opening a spot in the rotation for you. In your first start for the Cardinals, May 13 at St. Louis, you pitched a six-hit shutout, beating the Braves, 8-0. You also had a two-run double and a sacrifice fly for a career-high 3 RBI. Which was more satisfying: pitching the shutout or getting the 3 RBI? Boxscore
Al Jackson: Red (manager Red Schoendienst) talked all the time about how I stayed in shape. So even though I didn’t have a chance to start a game during the first month of the season, I was ready.
I was taught all the time that I wasn’t just a pitcher. I was a ballplayer. If you’re a ballplayer, you’re going to do more than just one thing. I was a pretty decent hitter. I could run. And I took pride in it.
Gibson and I had a bet. Before the season, we bet which one of us would have the most home runs, best batting average and most stolen bases. In June, he led in home runs. I led in batting average. We were in Atlanta, and I got on base. Gibson and I were tied in stolen bases. And he’s hollering from the dugout, “He’ll steal. He’ll steal.” The first baseman (Joe Torre) was standing behind me, not holding me on. Gibson yells louder, “He’ll steal.” I stole the base and Gibson went off, “I told you he would steal.” Boxscore
Q: Tell us more about Gibson …
Al Jackson: Great competitor. In all the years we played against one another, he didn’t fraternize. Neither did I. When I was with the Mets, before games he would run down the right-field line and I would run down the left-field line and our paths would cross in the outfield, but we never did speak to one another. We didn’t speak to each other until I came to the Cardinals. That was the mindset guys had then.
Q: Steve Carlton was on that ’66 Cardinals club, too. What was he like as a 22-year-old rookie?
Al Jackson: He had great stuff and he caught on fast, because he was kind of rushed to the big leagues.
Q: You began the 1967 season in the Cardinals’ rotation and in April pitched a one-hit shutout, beating the Astros, 4-0, in Houston. Bob Aspromonte broke up the no-hitter with a leadoff single in the eighth. Do you recall what happened? Boxscore
Al Jackson: Yes, I do _ big-time. It wasn’t so much the no-hitter. I just wanted to maintain the stuff that I had that night, the control that I had. I wasn’t throwing as good as I was earlier in the game but I also knew that when I got a little tired, I was a better pitcher because I could keep the ball down. Against Aspromonte, I got the groundball I wanted. The pitch may have been down the middle because it was hit in the hole between short and third. If I had thrown it a little further away, the ball may have gone to the shortstop. I wasn’t worried about losing the game. I just wanted to stay on top of mine.
I also had pitched a one-hitter with the Mets against Houston. Joe Amalfitano got the hit. Boxscore Later, I was asked to speak at a dinner in New York. I began by saying I disliked Italians. The room was full of Italians and they looked at me like I was crazy. Then I had to explain: the two guys who broke up my no-hitters are named Amalfitano and Aspromonte. It got a laugh.
Q: After two months of the ’67 season, the Cardinals moved you from the rotation to the bullpen. Why?
Al Jackson: I got into a bad funk. I wasn’t getting people out as a starter. Everyone else was pitching well. I had pitched a little out of the bullpen the year before. And they needed another left-hander in the bullpen. I didn’t know how it was going to work out, but it did.
Q: You were 9-4 that year for the National League champions …
Al Jackson: I thought I really helped that club. That was an enjoyment for me.
Q: Why didn’t you get an opportunity to pitch in the World Series against the Red Sox?
Al Jackson: I never did ask Red (Schoendienst) about it. I found out earlier that in the middle of the season I already was traded back to the Mets when the Cardinals got Jack Lamabe for a player to be named later. The Mets told the Cardinals they could keep me until the end of the season. That was the deal that they had.
Q: And, sure enough, when the World Series ended, you were sent to the Mets. What was your reaction?
Al Jackson: I always thought when a man has a job at home it’s the best job he could have. I lived in New York. I hated to leave the Cardinals, but I was going home.
Q: I’m going to mention four names and ask you to give your immediate reaction to each. Lou Brock …
Al Jackson: Lou turned out to be one heck of a player. I saw him earlier, with the Cubs, and he wasn’t that good. I know the talent was there, but it wasn’t until he got to the Cardinals that things started to happen for him. And then he mastered the thing.
Q: Orlando Cepeda …
Al Jackson: What a clutch player. When he got base hits, when he drove in runs, they were big. He was really the catalyst of our ballclub.
Q: Roger Maris …
Al Jackson: Roger was a pro. When he came to the Cardinals, he just made that lineup so good. He just fit right in. I think we were really missing that left-handed bat.
Q: Curt Flood …
Al Jackson: Great defensive player. He was a great hitter, too. Here was a man who got 200 hits every year. But asking about Flood reminds me of when I was still pitching for the Mets and we were playing the Cardinals in the Polo Grounds. I had a one-run lead in the ninth inning. There were two outs (and a runner on first base) and here comes Stan Musial to pinch-hit.
I always said, “My momma didn’t raise no fool.” Flood was due up after Musial. And as good a hitter as Flood was, I thought about how years back, (pitcher) Harvey Haddix had told me how dangerous this man Musial was in the clutch. And so I said to myself, “I got a one-run lead in the ninth inning. This man is not going to beat me.” I threw four pitches outside and he went on to first base. I got the next man, Flood, to ground out. Game over. Boxscore
Q: Musial was 4-for-5 in his career against you. He batted .800 against you. You were smart to put him on with the walk …
Al Jackson: I’m glad I had a place to put him. I was asked after the game, “Why would you walk him? He’s a left-handed hitter.” I said, “Why? That’s Musial.” Just look at his record. He’s known for beating teams. And here I am in that small ballpark _ just 250 feet down both lines. I know he can hit for power down both lines. And I never thought about striking him out. That wasn’t on my mind at all.
Previously: An interview with Bill White