I want Edwin Jackson to pitch forever, and it appears he does too.
The veteran hurler has already pitched for 14 major league teams, more than anybody in history. Jackson pitched in the minors for the A’s in 2019, then in the majors for the Blue Jays and Tigers. The only question for 2020 is if some team will have him.
“I still plan on playing, and I had a great time in Detroit. I had a great time in Toronto. I’m always blessed when I have an opportunity to put on a big league uniform,” Jackson told MLB Network Radio on Dec. 31. “To let my wife tell it, she says that somebody is going to have to pull me off the field by my ear. She says I’m definitely going to try and play until I’m 40.”
Jackson has pitched parts of 17 seasons in the major leagues, yet just turned 36 in September. He still has a long way to go until he gets to 40, which means there’s still time for him to suit up for several more teams.
Of course, time comes for us all. Jackson may struggle to come back because he was very bad in 2019. He allowed 81 runs and 105 hits in his 67⅔ major league innings last year, a 9.58 ERA, and gave up 23 home runs for an average of one dinger every 14.6 batters faced. Opposing batters hit .351/.417/.686 against him.
At his low point, Jackson had an 11.90 ERA after five starts with the Blue Jays, but he continued to receive opportunities partly because Toronto had no other options.
#BlueJays have decided to give Edwin Jackson another start in Baltimore.— Scott Mitchell (@ScottyMitchTSN) June 9, 2019
When I asked what went into that decision, Charlie Montoyo said “We don’t have anybody else.”
Jackson had an 8.63 ERA in his next 13 games, which included eight starts, with Toronto and Detroit. Bad, but an incremental improvement.
We all have bad days, or bad years. I know I write bad columns — trust me, I’ve read your comments. But I persevere, though I don’t have much of a choice. I need the paycheck for things like paying rent, investing in pun research, etc.
Jackson, who has earned more than $75 million in his career, might not need to keep going. But the fact that he wants to makes him worth paying attention to.
Rickey Henderson, a Hall of Famer and one of the game’s truly great and unique players, also seemingly played forever. I saw him play at age 46 for the San Diego Surf Dawgs in something called the Golden Baseball League, a lower-tier independent league, competing in a college ballpark.
Henderson was a true superstar when he played. Yet there he was: well past his prime, nattily clad in a velour sweatsuit postgame at San Diego State’s Tony Gwynn Stadium, two years after his last major league game. He signed autographs for the long line of fans that night, giving them a memory that would last even longer than the powerful smell of his cologne.
There’s something to be said for players who simply want to keep playing, a true nobility in effort. We often worry too much about a player’s legacy, as if they don’t own it. There is no such thing as playing too long. A slower, stumbling effort in center field during the 1973 World Series with the Mets didn’t tarnish Willie Mays’ decades of brilliance as a Giant, for example.
Jackson is by no means a Hall of Famer, and given his 2019 performance he may not even be a major league-caliber pitcher anymore. But to date, his list of accomplishments is long:
- He won his major league debut for the Dodgers on his 20th birthday, out-pitching Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who was one day shy of exactly twice Jackson’s age.
- He pitched a no-hitter, in 2010 for the Rays. He also walked eight in that game and threw 149 pitches, the most by anyone in the last 14 seasons.
- He was a starter on the Cardinals’ championship team in 2011, one of two World Series in which Jackson has pitched.
- His 318 career starts are tied for 287th-most in MLB history. Through last season, 6,626 different pitchers have started a major league game, and Jackson has started more games than more than 95 percent of them.
- Jackson is just 40 major league innings shy of 2,000, a number reached by only 444 pitchers.
It should be noted that Jackson was pretty bad in 2016-17, too, posting a 5.57 ERA in 160 innings for, naturally, four different teams (the Marlins, Padres, Orioles, and Nationals, if you’re keeping track). Then he rebounded with a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts for the A’s, helping them to a wild card berth.
Jackson has also started 28 games in the minors in the last four seasons, determined to work his way back to the majors if needed. He is willing to bounce around, too, having pitched for two teams in the majors in four of the last five seasons.
“I’m not afraid to take on whatever’s in front of me,” Jackson said in that New Year’s Eve radio interview. “I won’t say I’ve been through it all because every time I say that something new comes along. But I’ve been through a lot more than most. I’m ready. I still have fun playing this game. We get to go out and play a game we love to play for a living. You can’t ask for much more than that.”
Here’s hoping Jackson continues to pitch as long as he wants, in whatever leagues will have him, and for as many teams as possible.