A Biography of Jackie Jensen
by George I. Martin
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As some headlines were announcing a truce in Laos, the fact that Cuba had joined the Red bloc, and that America's first man-in-space shot (with Alan B. Shepard Jr.) would be delayed two days, came the May 2, 1961, edition of the Oakland Tribune, which ran as its feature article Jack's words as recounted by Ed Schoenfeld: "Jensen Tells His Own Story," subtitled "Won't Accept Money When I Can't Deliver, He Says." Jack's unselfishness and honesty were readily apparent: "I am retiring from baseball because I feel I cannot play the caliber of baseball that would satisfy me in order for me to be of value to a ball club. I get satisfaction and my happiness out of baseball knowing the job I do is an asset and not a liability."
Jackie said that physically he had slowed down and that his reflexes were poorer, although he did have the confidence he had once lacked. Another quote provided insight into his personal life:
"My reasons for leaving the game in 1959 were listed as a desire to spend more time with my wonderful family. But I state now as an absolute fact that in no instance does my family play a part in my decision at this time. I am now firmly convinced I played baseball purely for the love of the game and not for monetary values. Otherwise I would still be in the game. I have always taken a personal pride in my playing and have admitted that once I realized I was no longer essential to a ball club, then I should find something else in which to devote my energies. I feel at this time my future lies in something other than playing baseball, and whatever it may be I shall direct my abilities as wholeheartedly as I did in the past."
Jackie had nothing but praise for the Red Sox team, its manager Mike Higgins, and owner Tom Yawkey; and he had no regrets, only thankfulness that he had been able to realize a childhood dream of playing with Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. As to why Jackie quit so suddenly, he made the following statement: "I was forced to take the action I did when I learned a reporter had been eavesdropping through closed doors and took it on his own that a story is worth more than a friendship." Jackie was forgiving enough not to mention the reporter's name.
Did Jack make the right decision to rejoin the team in 1961? Many years later in an interview for this book, former teammate Ike Delock made the following comments: "Everybody was hoping it would work because he was such a nice person and a good team player. But we all in the back of our minds didn't think it was going to work. In spring training he wasn't as fast; he'd lost that little half step, couldn't throw as well, couldn't hit nearly as well. All you have to do is lose that little edge and somebody walks right by you"
The media followed Jackie back home. In a reprint of a Tribune article, Ed Schoenfeld, who rode West with Jack on the train, was pictured at his typewriter alongside Jackie. Above that photograph was one of Jackie comforting "sobbing wife, Zoe Ann, upon arrival at Reno Depot." Jackie had left Boston three days before, taking the train instead of flying. He had hoped that no reporters would make a scene when he arrived, but photographers mobbed him and Zoe Ann, and in a rare display of temper he snapped, "Can't you see my wife doesn't want her picture taken?" Zoe Ann and Jackie escaped when a couple of men purposely drove their car between the couple and the reporters, allowing them to drive on to the Mapes Hotel, where their children were waiting.
In short, Jackie was disappointed in his 1961 performance. "I also made a mistake coming back in 1961," he said, "The year away didn't throw me off. I had a great spring training. It's just that the same problems resurfaced. I thought they were solved, but they weren't."
Jackie was not about to mention that he had been experiencing some problems with Zoe Ann. In the months that Zoe Ann did stay with Jackie in the Boston area, she enjoyed the socializing that naturally occurred among the players and their wives. As former Red Sox player Dick Gernert later explained, the Red Sox were a very close-knit team: The wives got together when the team was on the road, during All-Star breaks, and for special events such as a baby shower for Jimmy Piersall's wife. When the Red Sox were in Boston, however, it was not unusual for several players to get together for parties, and of course alcohol flowed freely. Zoe Ann regaled the revelers with descriptions of Lake Tahoe and would be most loquacious. Jack socialized, also, but he was content to have only a drink or two. He'd become alarmed when he saw Zoe drinking more than he, and more often than not he'd angrily force her to leave early with him, despite the protestations of other players. In a letter to the author (7-23-87) Zoe Ann said, "I didn't need much sleep and Jack always seemed to need extra. I enjoyed going and doing. He once said to me, 'You act like each time you go out it is your last.' Guess I was trying to make up for lost time."
From The Golden Boy: A Biography of Jackie Jensen by George I. Martin.
Copyright © 2000 by George I. Martin. Reprinted with permission.