Today we have an exclusive guest post by Seamheads founder, ’58 Red Sox absentee manager, and good buddy Mike Lynch. Snappy says “Enjoy it, pals!” and he’ll see you again on Monday…
By Mike Lynch
Young, athletic, handsome, successful. Jackie Jensen had the world by its tail, except for one personal quirk that ended his major league baseball career while he was still in his prime—he was afraid to fly. The California native starred in both baseball and football at the University of California, leading the Golden Bears to the Rose Bowl in 1949 after rushing for more than 1,000 yards his junior year, then leading the baseball team to a national title as a standout pitcher and outfielder.
After cups of coffee with the New York Yankees from 1950-1952, the heir apparent to Joe DiMaggio was traded to the Washington Senators on May 3, 1952. Yanks skipper Casey Stengel felt that DiMaggio’s heir apparent was actually Mickey Mantle, and he was right. And Jensen didn’t ingratiate himself to “The Old Perfessor” when he boldly announced that he could take Mantle’s job if given the chance.
“Don’t none of you fellars be signin’ long term leases,” Stengel announced to his younger players that spring. “You’re liable to be traded and then you’ll be stuck with the lease.” Jensen saw the writing on the wall. “He means me,” he later told his wife. Jensen enjoyed two solid seasons with the Senators before being dealt to the Red Sox following the 1953 season. It was with Boston that he became a star, averaging 26 homers and 111 RBIs per annum from 1954-1959, and earning two All-Star berths, an MVP Award in 1958 and a Gold Glove in 1959.
He led the AL in RBIs three times in those six years, and no player drove in more runs during that period than Jensen. In 1959, the “Blond Bombshell” paced the loop in ribbies for the second straight year with 112, won his only Gold Glove and finished 10th in MVP voting, but abruptly quit the game for various reasons. According to reports, Jensen wanted to spend more time with his family and run his various businesses, including a prosperous restaurant he owned in Oakland.
“Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a big league ballplayer,” Jensen told Al Hirshberg of The Saturday Evening Post. “I have the soul of a floorwalker.” Because of his fear of flying, Jensen spent long hours traveling by train, which was putting a strain on his marriage. But after sitting out the 1960 season, he returned to baseball in 1961. He struggled through a subpar year, then called it quits one final time. “I’ve had it,” he told reporters. “I know when my reflexes are gone and I’m not going to be any 25th man on the ball club.”
At the age of 34, his career was over. Jensen died of a heart attack on July 14, 1982 at the age of 55. According to the Los Angeles Times, Jensen’s life after athletics was largely one of “business failure and personal disappointment,” marred by “several business busts.” At the time of his death, the sports icon once known as the “One-Man Cyclone” was growing Christmas Trees.