March 9 – Happy Birthday Jackie Jensen
Jackie Jensen was one of the most celebrated Yankee signings in the history of the franchise. He had been a football and baseball star at the University of California, becoming the Golden Bears’ first thousand yard rusher in 1948, just one year after leading the school’s baseball team to the first ever College Baseball World Series title. Placed on academic probation, Jensen quit school in his senior year to play baseball with the American Association’s Oakland Oaks. After just one season, the contracts of Jensen and his Oakland teammate, Billy Martin were sold to the Yankees and New York’s front office began predicting that Jensen would replace Joe DiMaggio as the team’s starting center fielder when The Yankee Clipper was ready to retire. The new golden boy was put on New York’s big league roster and when he was called on to pinch run during the 1950 Fall Classic against the Phillie Whiz Kids, he became the first athlete in history to appear in both the Rose Bowl and the World Series.
In 1951, DiMaggio’s final year in pinstripes, Jensen got into 56 games for New York and batted a respectable .298. But DiMaggio’s farewell season was also the rookie campaign of Mickey Mantle and suddenly Jensen was no longer the answer to the question; Who would become the next great Yankee center fielder?
Instead, he was traded to the lowly Senators for outfielder Irv Noren at the beginning of the 1952 season. You’d think at the time, the Yankees would have considered keeping both Mantle and Jensen and they probably did. They already had two solid veterans, Gene Woodling and Hank Bauer surrounding Mantle in the outfield. In addition, Jensen was a right handed hitter and Yankee Stadium was not a friendly place for players who swung from that side of the plate. The team also had a young Bob Cerv on the bench so Yankee GM George Weiss probably figured the veteran left-hand-hitting Noren would give Stengel more options than keeping the relatively untested Jensen. But it sure would have been fun to have the Jackie Jensen who became one of the American League’s best run producers and outfielders for Boston in the late fifties, playing alongside Mantle during their peak years. Jensen culminated his career with the 1958 AL MVP award. He would probably be in Cooperstown today if his crippling fear of flying did not induce him to retire after the 1959 season. He tried coming back in 1961, aided by a hypnotist to overcome his phobia but he was not the same player. His last big league game was in 1961 in Yankee Stadium on the day Roger Maris hit his 61st home run. Jensen passed away in 1982, when he was only 55 years of age.
This former Yankee who also celebrates his birthday on March 9th, hit one of the most famous home runs in franchise history. So does this shortstop who captured six AL stolen base titles during his career. This sidearming southpaw was also born on March 9th.