In 1958 Americans looked to the stars, for Sputnik had just gone into orbit, but a down-to-earth luminary was rapidly coming into view: Jackie Jensen would receive the recognition many said was long overdue. The public's attention began to turn to Jack as he turned his attention to others. Having done more than his fair share already in contributing to the Jimmy Fund through his golf tournament, Jack found another opportunity to raise money without much difficulty. The Record-American-Advertiser announced it would donate $50 to the Jimmy Fund for each of the first ten home runs hit by individual players, $75 for homers eleven to twenty, and $100 for all such hits over the twentieth. The season started out with a bang for Jack; he hit a two-run homer, followed by three more in the next four days.
Still, Jack wanted the best of both worlds-a happy family life combined with a successful baseball career. For one day he was able to come close to realizing just that as five-year-old Jon followed him onto the field at Fenway Park, dressed in a miniature Jensen uniform. The Father's Day contest was played between the double-header Red Sox games against the Kansas City Athletics. One newspaper article was subtitled, "Photographer Nearly Beaned by Young Jensen in Warm-up," and when Jon first came up to swing at the tennis ball, he took a left-handed stance until he was picked up and moved to the other side of the plate by Sammy White. The fathers cheerfully lost to the sons 0-5.
On June 23, 1958, nearly five years to the day that Jack had appeared on the cover of Collier's, he achieved the ultimate in magazine fame-the cover of Sports Illustrated. Next to the picture of Jack clutching a bat at both ends across his thighs was the title "Jackie Jensen, Wheel Horse of the Red Sox," and the inside cover's caption read, "One of the most underrated players in the major leagues is steady, dependable Jackie Jensen of the Red Sox, an athlete who has a longing for home instead of headlines."
The feature article, entitled "All-Star Who Can Do without Glory" by Roy Terrell, was subtitled, "Jackie Jensen, unsung hero of the Red Sox, doesn't mind if others get headlines. He's had them-and would rather go home." The Jackie of bonus days was compared with the current one, a "friendly, pleasant, gentlemanly sort of guy, a devoted family man and a real hard-working, steady ballplayer who does just about as good a job as anyone could ask, whether it be to run or field or hit or throw."
Attributing his success simply to experience, Jackie seemed to turn the conversation to his domestic life: "In baseball you get to the point where you don't think you have a family. It just looks like I'm not built for this life like some ballplayers. You are always away from home and you're lonesome, and as soon as I can, I intend to get out."
When asked how he felt about Stengel, Jack, who had been quite offended by the manager when traded, put things into perspective and said he understood why Casey had to trade him-he just wasn't doing the job for the Yankees. In fact, he said, "Casey is a wonderful, sweet old guy. I think he is the smartest manager in baseball. I know he taught me more in two years than anybody before or since."
Jackie admitted he was worried about how to field a ball hit in front of him (Jack was one of the best in going back for a fly ball), and went on to lavish praise on Ted Williams. Jack himself was praised for his honesty by Joe McKenney, the Red Sox publicity manager, who related how after Jack had dropped a ball and was questioned by reporters, he answered simply that he had misjudged it, although all kinds of excuses could have been made. The last section of the article, consisting largely of quotations, was written by Guy Shipler, a stringer for Sports Illustrated who had moved to Nevada two years earlier after working in New York for Newsweek, Time, and Business Week. An independent man, Guy had sought to escape the rat race by moving West, and he thoroughly enjoyed freelance work. However, while interviewing Jackie, he felt uncomfortable. Harry Spencer (an entrepreneur who worked for Charley Mapes, a hotel owner), a friend of Jack's, had arranged for the interview with the Jensens over dinner at a restaurant; and Guy, knowing how affable Jack was, expected everything would go smoothly: "He was about to leave for spring training, and he was very upset. In fact, the interview was not too good; it was very unlike Jackie in terms of his outgoing attitude and warmth, you know. He was glad that they were doing the story, but he sure as hell didn't want some reporter there bothering him. He and Zoe Ann were holding hands, and he was going to have to leave her."
Without alluding to the fact that once again Jack had mixed feelings about leaving Zoe behind, the article concluded by mentioning that the star player would frequently drive his Thunderbird to the Bow and Bell, which was averaging three hundred lunches a day (compared to forty some five years before); and it concluded with lamentations by Zoe Ann about her separations from Jackie, although, she admitted, "We're building security and I'm grateful for that." Unfortunately, that security was never to be realized.
A few days later the Boston Evening American reported Jack had "earned" $1,175 for the Jimmy Fund with nineteen home runs, followed by Gernert ($650 for twelve), and Williams ($400 for eight). At that time Jack was tied with Bob Cerv for the most home runs in the American League, and the race between them would continue throughout the season. Sportscasters and players alike were focusing on Jackie as never before: Roy Sievers, 1957 American League leader in home runs and RBIs, who at the beginning of July was third behind Jack and Bob Cerv, said, "I can imagine how Jackie feels. Jackie's strong and he's got the power." People were also starting to take notice of Jack's other statistics. Despite his frequent slumps, it was noted that "during the years he has worn a Red Sox uniform he has driven in more runs than any [other] American League player over the same stretch."
From The Golden Boy: A Biography of Jackie Jensen by George I. Martin.
Copyright © 2000 by George I. Martin. Reprinted with permission.