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