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Looking Back To 1962 - Al Jackson -The Mets' ONLY Good Pick

Barry DuchanSunday, January 28, 2007
By Barry Duchan


Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.

Al JacksonIf you know your Mets' history, you are probably aware that George Weiss was hired as the Mets' first general manager, although technically his title was President because upon being fired by the Yankees, Weiss had to agree not to become the GM of another big league club. Weiss then proceeded to hire his long-time associate, Casey Stengel, who was similarly dismissed by the Yankees. Ultimately, Casey became the face and focus of the early Mets. As awful as the Mets were on the field, Stengel used his influence with the press and his colorful persona to keep the Mets in the news and always provide something to write about, win or (usually) lose.

Weiss, with the assistance of his advisors and scouting staff proceeded to the expansion draft, seeking name recognition along with some younger talent with potential. It turned out that the 1962 Mets were an assemblage of past all-stars well past their prime, decent if flawed offensive players who couldn't play defense, career second and third-stringers hoping for the chance to play regularly and mainly a lot of failed prospects from other organizations.

It's interesting to note that the best of the 1962 Mets were Frank Thomas who was acquired in a deal with the Braves after the expansion draft and Roger Craig, a legitimate fourth starter type who became the de facto "ace". Looking back over the draft crop, there was only one really good choice, that is to say, a player who lived up to his potential as a prospect, even if his record didn't reflect it.

That player was Alvin (Al, Li'l Al) Jackson, the crafty young lefty out of the Pirates chain. The Mets were fortunate that the Pirates were loaded with starting pitching, because Jackson was a legitimate major league starting pitcher who couldn't crack a solid Bucs rotation. If Jackson was around today, he'd probably be making $8 million a year. With a team like the 2006 Mets, Jackson could have been a 15-game winner easily. Unfortunately, almost all of Jackson's major league career was spent with pathetic Mets teams that couldn't field and couldn't hit and it seemed like Al had to pitch a shutout to win. When you look at his record, a couple of 8-20 years, sandwiched around 13-17 (for a team that won 51 games) and 11-16, it's hardly impressive, but when you realize that in his 4 seasons as a regular in the Mets' rotation, he had 41 complete games and 10 shutouts, you get a better picture of how good he was with dreadful teams. No one is saying Jackson was a great pitcher, but when you look at the contracts being handed out to mediocre starters today, you'd have to say that Al was born 40 years too soon.

Of course, the majority of Mets fans aren't old enough to remember Jackson, except maybe as the Mets' bullpen coach or minor league pitching instructor, but he was a pleasure to watch, and by all accounts, a great guy, too. He unquestionably had a very frustrating career. After all those years pitching for miserable Mets teams, Jackson was actually a member of the 1969 Mets, but was sold to the Reds in mid-season before the Mets made their incredible run.

I will always have fond memories of him.

Note: More of Barry Duchan's writings can be found on his own Metscentric blog.

About Barry Duchan: I've been following the Mets since 1962. Have to admit I was a Yankee fan as a kid, but I found it to be so much more interesting to see how a young team could build itself up rather than following a team where the season didn't really begin until October. I remember them all - Casey, Marv, ChooChoo, Don Bosch, The Stork, etc. As the years went on, I became more and more of a Mets fan, and a Yankee hater once Steinbrenner and Billy Martin entered the picture.   Read More -->

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Comments (6)

One point I remember Jimmy Breslin making in "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?" is that the National League's expansion coming a year after the American League had gone through an expansion draft was crucial. In the American League draft numerous good young players were exposed and drafted; the Angels did so well they managed to finish 3rd in their second season.

By the time is was the National League's turn the owners had digested the lessons learned, and the pool of available players was very different, much more geared to old fading talent. That, along with Weiss' boneheaded notion that he HAD to go with established talent (team executives have always held us New York fans in low regard, haven't they?), pretty much consigned the Mets to six or seven years of lousy baseball.

Branca, or Robinson or whoever that was in the earlier post, probably had a point in disparaging Stengel's clowning while swimming in a sea of defeat. But if everybody on the Mets had taken Richie Ashburn's attitude, and gone down kicking and screaming 120 times -- the team still would have been awful, and maybe hard to watch as well. That mindset is easy to admire, but often I find it hard to watch; sort of like watching your neighbor's marriage fall apart or something.

It could be that with his antics Casey bought the Mets valuable time with the fans. I'd rather be respected than lovable, but if I can't have respect I'll take the love.

By the way, in considering the title of this article, the question rises: who is the best expansion draft pick of all time? There haven't been so many, you know.

If you consider players picked who never played with the picking team you might choose Bobby Abreu or Dmitri Young. Otherwise you end up with several Los Angeles Angels and guys like Ruppert Jones and Vinny Castilla. No one from the new Senators, the Brewers, the Astros, the Mets or the Expos would fare well.

No doubt there's a few players I'm forgetting, but the fact is, most of the players drafted haven't been so hot.

I was a fan of Jackson back when he was the team's ace and was sorry he wasn't around to celebrate in '69 (though I assume the team voted him at least a partial share of the WS money).

dd is right: the main difference between the '61 and '62 expansion drafts was that the NL made sure there wouldn't be another LA Angels. It was done simply by changing the date the roster froze: in '61, the roster was frozen September 1, while in '62, it was frozen after the World Series. So, on September 1, 1960, teams were still in the running: The Yankees and Orioles were tied for first, with the White Sox three games back. Those teams didn't want to bring up rookies and possibly lose their pennant chances (or the chance to move up in the standings in September), so some good young players were available. The next year, the choices were made after the pennant races were older, so teams could remove players from the roster who they didn't want anyway and protect the young gems.

Of course, Weiss did such a lousy job of drafting that it probably wouldn't have mattered.

Great story. Jacson was one of the Mets best two "first pitchers, along with 3 billion loss Roger Craig. Nice guy too. Was always available for us kids to get an autograph.

Good job.

Mack

www.macksmets.com

(Reading RealityChuck's comment about the roster freeze date above, then responding in his best Johnny Carson impersonation:)

I did not know that.

The Angels made a couple of terrific expansion draft picks in Dean Chance and Jim Fregosi. Chance was a Cy Young winner, but Fregosi was an all-star who, of course, brought Nolan Ryan in a trade, after a solid career with the Angels. So, I think Fregosi has to be considerd the best expansion draft choice ever.

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