By Independence Day the loyalty of Boston fans for Jack was finally evident. For the first season ever in Boston, he was not booed when he hit into double plays; in fact, one paper reported "Even Gamblers Like Jensen." It explained that even those who lost bets on Jensen wouldn't think of criticizing him if he slipped up, for it had become apparent that Jackie was always trying his best. Jack enjoyed cheers when he went out onto the field or came up to bat, and he admitted he was receiving the most fan mail ever. By the time he was elected by fellow players to participate in the All-Star game, Jackie led the league in homers and RBIs and was batting .315; furthermore, he had hit safely in the last fifteen games.
Since the end of June, when Jack and Ted both hit three homers to come from behind and defeat the White Sox, Jack earned a place alongside his idol and would go on to surpass him in popularity. For instance, a July 11 article reported that Jack received a standing ovation as he took the field after hitting his twenty-fifth home run-a grand slam. Incredibly, Jack's response to his marvelous hit was quite modest: "That home run I hit tonight was a matter of hitting the ball as hard as I could and, of course, I got some help from the wind." He further explained his success: "I'm not the master batsman who can say that I did this or that to get rid of a hitch. I just know that I'm meeting that ball now and everything is swell as long as it continues."
The next day, one paper headlined, "Jensen Replaces Ted as Mr. Big," as it reported his batting average at .319 and that he was leading the league in home runs and RBIs. Still, the legendary Williams was the big drawing card, and nobody was more disappointed than he when he failed to live up to the fans' expectations. In one game the discouraged star flipped his bat, almost hitting the first-base coach walking toward the Red Sox dugout, but Jackie was there to lift the team's spirits when he hit a two-run homer. White Sox catcher Earl Battey said, "Jim Wilson pitched a good ball game, but what're you gonna do against a guy goin' like Jensen?"
Jack's humble response was, "I'm not up with Wilson, even with the home run. He's been awful tough on me, good stuff, and a smart, smart pitcher." He continued that the home run "didn't feel real good. I wasn't sure it was a homer when I hit it-you can tell with most of them-my bat vibrated and I thought I'd broken it. But, a home run is a home run." In spite of his modesty, even Jack was finally recognizing his superiority as a player; he was quoted as saying: "It has always been my ambition to be named the top right fielder in our league. Somehow, I hardly thought I'd ever make it."
As Jackie's fame soared, so did attention to his family. Zoe joined the wives of Joe McKinney (public relations director), Ted Lepcio, and Dick Gervert for a fashion show at the Hotel Somerset. Whereas the other women wore dresses, Zoe, still shapely, modeled a swimsuit. She also appeared at poolside in a feature article centered on her daughter; it was entitled "Jan Jensen Doesn't Play House-She Climbs Trees" (The Boston Sunday Globe, July 13, 1958). Seven-year-old Jan, who had been swimming since she was eight months old, was described as a natural athlete, and Jon was pictured as a copycat. Zoe was quick to point out that she and Jack didn't push the children to engage in sports, for Zoe vividly recalled the pressures on her during her youth. She did say, "Our family revolves around sports; it's my love and Jackie's business." They had also enjoyed horseback riding but had to give it up when they moved East. Referring to the recent Father-Son game, Zoe said she never took the children to a ball park. Jon was showing the same early development as his father did when very young. In fact, it was reported that Jon had to be fished out of the pool three times.
By the end of August even General Manager Cronin said, "Jackie has become the strong man of the troupe." At that point Jack had his eye on Al Rosen's record of 145 RBIs as Jack led the league with 110, with thirty-five homers and a .312 batting average, making him third and fifth best in the league, respectively. Near season's end, Jack received two surprises: a kiss from Miss Hawaii, who was in Atlanta City for the Miss America pageant, and an appearance in the September issue of Sport magazine, where Al Hirshberg asked the question: "What Do They Want from Jackie Jensen?" Hirshberg said that Jackie had taken the blame for the Red Sox slump at the beginning of the season. He recalled the strikes Jackie had against him: his glamor-boy image, his double-play syndrome, his slumps, and his candid remark about baseball being a business.
Coming to his defense, Hirshberg enumerated Jack's home run and RBI statistics, his honesty, and his playing while hurt. The problem lay in that people took his successes for granted. Manager Mike Higgins asked: "Why do they boo that guy? He's got power, and he hits with men on bases. He can powder the hell out of the ball. When he gets hold of one, he'll hit it as far as anybody else. Aside from his power, he can do more things well than anyone else on our club."
Thirty years later, ex-teammate Milt Bowling, a Red Sox scout, compared Jackie to the prospects he currently saw, and he said something similar: "[today] he'd be a million-dollar player. I scout-and he does the five things you look for, average or above average; you can't find those today: good-average arm or perhaps above-average arm, above-average speed, average hitter with above-average power, and he was above-average outfielder; and he could steal a base, too."
Jack himself recognized the difficulty of hitting fourth or fifth in the lineup, and he made simple statements of fact normally overlooked by many: that even a .300 hitter misses seven times out of ten, and that if people cheer him when he succeeds, they have a right to boo him when he fails. He spoke deprecatingly of his own performances, saying: "I'm not a good enough hitter to be batting fourth or fifth," and that he hated hitting into double plays more than anyone, but truthfully Williams and other batters who preceded him were slow runners. While he was voicing his opinions, Jack suggested that records should be established for a man who moved others along the bases, even if he didn't get them home, for such a person would be just as responsible for an RBI as a hitter who followed him. Jack concluded the article by saying he liked Boston in spite of the booing ("one boo can carry a long way"), and that although he believed luck had a lot to do with his early success, he had learned that a professional ball player needs more than that to succeed. Jack replied negatively to Hirshberg's last question, which would turn out to be ironic considering what was about to occur: "Do you resent not being appreciated?"
From The Golden Boy: A Biography of Jackie Jensen by George I. Martin.
Copyright © 2000 by George I. Martin. Reprinted with permission.