Monday, May 30, 2011

Random Past Phillie: Mike Jackson

Name: Michael Ray Jackson
Position: Pitcher
Born: December 22, 1964 in Houston, Texas
Acquired, Part I: Selected in the 2nd Round of the January, 1984 Draft
Acquired, Part II: Signed as a free agent on December 7, 1999
Phillies Debut: August 11, 1986
Final Phillies Game: October 2, 1987
Uniform Numbers: 33, 42
Career Elsewhere: Mariners (1988-91, 1996), Giants (1992-94), Reds (1995), Indians (1997-99), Astros (2001), Twins (2002), White Sox (2004)

About Mike Jackson: In sports, it is not uncommon for a player to go on to greater success with a team other than the one who originally drafted or signed him. It can be a case of a young prospect being traded in order to acquire an established player in an attempt to put a contending club over the top. It could also be a case of a player simply finding his niche later on in his career or getting an opportunity that wasn't previously available. Every now and then, a team has a chance to reacquire such a player, in hopes that they'll show the form they never got to show the first time around.

Heading into the 2000 season, the Philadelphia Phillies made some waves when they brought back a pair of pitchers who had originally broken in with the club before experiencing a good deal of success elsewhere. As it turned out, neither pitcher ended up being much of a factor as the Phils suffered through their worst season in nearly three decades. One of those hurlers was Mike Jackson, who was signed to shore up the back of the team's bullpen but never set foot on the mound in a regular season game thanks to shoulder issues that had scared away at least one other team in the preceding offseason. That's not to say Jackson never had his moments as a Phillie, as he very nearly made history on a Sunday afternoon at the Vet during his first stint with the club.

Mike Jackson's pro baseball career began in 1984, when the Phillies selected him in the second round of the now-defunct January Draft. Assigned to mid-level "A" Spartanburg, Jackson made a good first impression as he went 7-2 with a 2.68 ERA in 14 starts. He would be used as both a starter and reliever for class "A" Peninsula the following year, going 7-9 with a 4.60 ERA in 31 games, 18 of which were starts. Feeling his sharp slider was better suited in a relief role, the Phillies moved Jackson to the bullpen full-time for 1986. He responded by going 5-4 with a 2.18 ERA at two minor league levels, good enough for a promotion to the parent club. Jackson made his MLB debut on August 11, 1986, working a perfect ninth inning in an 8-4 loss to the New York Mets at Veterans Stadium. In 1987, he would appear in 55 games for the Phillies, including what would be the only seven starts of his 17-year career. One start in particular was more memorable than the others.

On June 7, 1987, Jackson took the mound for the Phillies at the Vet against the Montreal Expos. Milt Thompson singled and scored a run to give the Phils a quick 1-0 lead in the first before homering to make it 2-0 in the third and singling home Steve Jeltz in the seventh for a 3-0 advantage. That was all the help Jackson would need as he mowed down the Expos without a hit through the first eight innings. He would be denied the first no-hitter in Veterans Stadium history when Tim Raines doubled leading off the ninth and eventually came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Hubie Brooks. After ex-Phillie Tom Foley singled, Jackson was replaced by Steve Bedrosian, who got Vance Law on a game-ending fly to right. It was the first win of Jackson's career, and that electrifying performance had to make the Phillies believe they had a good one on their hands.

Unfortunately, Jackson's next two starts did not go so well, as he gave up four runs while failing to last five innings in both. He would never start another game for the Phillies or any other big league club. In all, Jackson appeared in 55 games (seven starts) in '87, going 3-10 with one save and a 4.20 ERA. After the season, Jackson, right fielder Glenn Wilson, and first baseman/outfielder Dave Brundage were traded to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Phil Bradley, a left fielder who the Phils believed was on the verge of superstardom, and relief pitcher Tim Fortugno. A mediocre 1988 season on the field and poor attitude in the clubhouse had Bradley shipped to the Baltimore Orioles after one year in Philadelphia, while Fortugno never appeared in a game for the Phillies. Wilson would be dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates in July of '88, and Brundage never made it to the Major Leagues. Jackson, meanwhile, found his groove in the Seattle bullpen and would go on to be one of the game's top relievers over the course of the next decade.

Jackson would appear in 65 games for the Mariners in 1988, going 6-5 with four saves and a 2.63 ERA. Following a 1991 season in which he went 7-7 with 14 saves and 3.25 ERA in 72 appearances, Jackson was traded to the San Francisco Giants along with pitchers Dave Burba and Bill Swift in exchange for outfielder Kevin Mitchell and pitcher Mike Remlinger. As a Giant, Jackson picked up right where he left off in Seattle, appearing in a league-leading 81 games in 1993. San Francisco won 103 games that year, but was edged out for the National League West title by the Atlanta Braves on the final day of the season, the last one in which the two-division format was used. An elbow injury limited Jackson to 36 appearances in 1994, but he did go 3-2 with a 1.49 ERA in the strike-shortened campagin, which was his last with the Giants.

When the infamous strike that wiped out the 1994 postseason was finally resolved in April of 1995, it left Major League Baseball and its teams in a pickle. Scores of free agents remained unsigned, while the clubs would have to scramble through a brief Spring Training before playing an abbreviated 144-game season. Mike Jackson was among those players without a home as camp got underway, but he'd find work with the Cincinnati Reds. The injury bug would strike Jackson again, as shoulder woes limited him to 40 games in '95. He was effective when healthy, however, posting a 6-1 record with two saves and a 2.39 ERA for the NL Central Champion Reds. Jackson appeared in all three NLDS games against the Los Angeles Dodgers, tossing three and 2/3 shutout innings and adding a bases-clearing triple at the plate as Cincinnati swept the series. The NLCS was a different story, though, as Jackson was 0-1 with a 23.14 ERA in three appearances as the Reds were swept in four games by the eventual World Champion Atlanta Braves.

The 1995 season would be the only one Jackson spent in Cincinnati, as he would return to the Mariners as a free agent for the 1996 campaign. After going 1-1 with a 3.63 ERA in 73 appearances in '96, Jackson moved on to his fourth team in as many years, signing with the Cleveland Indians. After going 2-5 with 15 saves and a 3.24 ERA in 71 games for the American League Champion Indians in 1997, Jackson would take over as Cleveland's full-time closer in 1998, saving 40 games while going 1-1 with a 1.55 ERA in 69 appearances. He'd slip to 3-4 with a 4.06 ERA in 72 games in 1999, but still recorded 39 saves as the Tribe won its fifth consecutive AL Central title. Jackson would again hit the free agent market following the '99 season, and it appeared as though his next destination would be St. Louis. In fact, the Cardinals had gone so far as to schedule a news conference announcing Jackson had signed with the club. At the last minute, however, everything was called off and the Cards took their offer off the table amid concerns over Jackson's health. The Phillies were next in line and after performing a series of MRIs, brought Jackson back to the organization on December 7, 1999.

Entering the 2000 season, the Phillies were looking to turn the corner as a franchise. They hadn't had a winning season since taking home the National League pennant in 1993, but a solid young core looked like it was ready to blossom. Added to the mix were some veterans who were returning for a second stint in Philadelphia. All-Star starting pitcher Andy Ashby, who had broken in with the Phils in 1991, was obtained from the San Diego Padres. Second baseman Mickey Morandini returned to the club in a deal with the Expos just before the start of the regular season. Jackson was to be the club's closer, with Jeff Brantley and Wayne Gomes expected to take on setup roles. It proved disastrous, as Ashby went 4-7 with 5.68 ERA before being traded to the Braves in July, Morandini hit .252 while declining steadily defensively and was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in August, and Jackson never got to make an impact one way or another.

After not appearing in either of the season's first two games, Jackson felt pain in his right shoulder while warming up during the third game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was placed on the disabled list the following day, shut down after experiencing more pain during a bullpen session a week and a half later, which led to Jackson undergoing season-ending surgery in late May. Jackson's second stint with the Phillies was over before it began, as the club let him walk as a free agent following the 2000 campaign. He spent the 2001 season with his hometown Houston Astros before moving on to the Minnesota Twins in 2002, reaching the postseason in both seasons as those teams won their respective divisions. Out of baseball in 2003 after being released by the Diamondbacks at the end of Spring Training, Jackson concluded his MLB career in 2004 with a single-season stint as member of the Chicago White Sox.

Personal Recollection: The time in which Mike Jackson began toiling with the Phillies basically coincides with when I first started to follow the team. A name like Mike Jackson immediately stuck out, because, well, unless you've been living under a rock the past three or four decades, you know he shared a name with a famous entertainer. I was always a fan of the King of Pop's music, so he had that going for him.

Even though my family had Sunday season tickets from 1979-2001, I did not attend Jackson's near no-hitter. See, my sister had a dance recital that day. She attended dance school for 11 years and it seemed like her recital fell on a Sunday in which the Phillies happened to be at home every year. Given her druthers, I'm sure my sister would've blown off the recital to go to the game, but of course that never ended up happening. Anyway, we didn't find out about Jackson's gem until we got home that evening and saw it on the news. Keep in mind, this was 1987, so there was no internet as we know it, no text messages, iPhones, etc. I was a couple months shy of my seventh birthday at the time, and though I was starting to become aware of baseball's nuances, the enormity of a no-hitter didn't really resonate with me. Had I been a little older, I probably would've felt a little miffed over missing out on seeing some near-history. Of course, Jackson coming up three outs short was probably a relief to my sister, who may have felt a little guilty over the whole thing. Fortunately, I did get to witness Kevin Millwood's no-hitter in person 16 years later.

When Jackson was traded to the Mariners, it seemed as though most of the local reaction was focused on losing Glenn Wilson, who had been a very popular player for the Phillies. There was a lot of hype for Phil Bradley, who had some very good years in Seattle, but it just didn't happen for him in Philly. Wilson never really did much after leaving the Phils, but Jackson ended up being the one who got away. Then after a dozen solid years elsewhere, he came back. There was a lot of cynicism over Jackson's return after the results of his physical scared the Cardinals away. Of course, it turned out to be warranted as Jackson never pitched in a game and the Phillies were once again reduced to a laughingstock. Those were not fun times, but sticking it out back then makes one appreciate the current era even more.

That's my story on Mike Jackson. Feel free to share your own recollections.

1 comment:

  1. Career stats for Mike Jackson: