Historical Player Profiles: Jackie Jensen

I caught some heat for choosing Jackie Jensen over Al Kaline on our most recent 1950's AL All-Decade team and I don't typically defend a selection but in this case, I had to convince myself because I know that Kaline is the better player.  The question is not who is the better player, it's who was the better AL representative in the outfield in the 1950's and I think that Jensen deserves the nod. Again, I'm not saying that he was better than Kaline because he wasn't but Jensen's line in the 50's looked like this:

1301 G, 746 R, 1332 H, 238 2B, 186 HR, 863 RBI, 134 SB, .281/.371/.467

He won an MVP in 1958, was a three-time all star during the decade, showed up on 6 MVP ballots, and won a gold glove in 1959.  In comparison to Kaline's numbers in the 1950's, Jensen played in 400 more games, had nearly 300 more hits, 60 more HR, 80 more doubles, 80 more stolen bases and 300 more RBI.  Their 162 game averages are close - Kaline's batting average was 30 points higher and his OPS/OPS+ were better but in terms of actual numbers, Jensen bested Kaline in every major catagory, with the exception of hits.  Kaline did have three gold gloves to Jensen's one but Jensen's MVP weighed heavily and like Mc stated, I think that we'll find a place for Kaline on the 1960's team. 

Oddly enough, this whole exercise got me really interested in Jackie Jensen and it turns out, Jensen has quite a story.  Jensen, a San Francisco native who was raised by his mother, was the first athlete in history to play in the Rose Bowl, the College World Series and the Major League World Series.  After serving in the Navy during World War II, Jensen went on to become a standout two-sport athlete at Cal, playing running back and outfielder/pitcher.

His accomplishments on the football field while at Cal are probably more impressive than his accomplishments on the baseball diamond.  In 1948, he finished fourth in the Heisman award and led Cal to its first PCC title in more than 10 years.  In the championship game against Cal, he turned in a remarkable game running for 170 yards, kicking a 67 yard punt and picking up 32 yards on a run late in the game in a 4th and 31 situation.  He led Cal to three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances and was inducted into the NCAA Football Hall of Fame.

As a baseball player, he was a pitcher/outfielder that led the Golden Bears to a win in the inaugural College World Series against a Yale team that rostered a famous player by the name of George Bush.  Notably, he out-deuled Bobby Layne of Texas in the regional final of that NCAA World Series Tournament. 

Unfortunately, Jensen had a horrific fear of flying that would ultimately lead to his early retirement.  Prior to the1960 season, just two years after winning the MVP award and at the age of 33, Jensen announced his retirement, citing a fear of flying and the desire to be with his family.  This was at the onset of westward expansion by major league baseball and the unavoidable increase in air travel.  Jensen would make a return to baseball the following year, turning to hypnotherapy to combat his phobia but after a subpar season in which he hit .262, Jensen retired for good in 1961.  Besides the NCAA Football Hall of Fame, Jensen is also in the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame and the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

A lengthy career would have likely still left Jensen shy of Cooperstown induction but make no mistake, he was a tremendous ballplayer.  I never saw him play but I liken him more to Dave Winfield and Bo Jackson than Brian Jordan and Deion Sanders.  He had good speed, swiping 16 bags per season and leading the league in stolen bases in 1954 (when he compiled 22 thefts).  He was a good defender, winning the Gold Glove in 1959, just three years after the award's introduction.  He also hit for decent average but his power and run producing abilities were his calling card.  He was one of the premier power hitters of the 1950's and he was an integral part of a Red Sox lineup that boasted one of the greatest hitters in baseball history (Ted Williams).  Like I said, Jensen was probably never going to be a Hall of Famer but he's a good story, nonetheless and a worthy addition to our All-Decade team.


  1. Good story Chuck. Didn't know about his football accomplishments.

  2. He was some kind of athlete, much like Robin Roberts and Jackie Robinson.


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