This is another in an update to BCB's Top 100 Cubs series, originally posted in 2006. This profile was written by Mike Bojanowski, BCB's cartoonist.
Larry Jackson is a fine representation of the starting pitchers of his era. Though well within living memory, it’s a type that now seems as distant as dead balls and webless gloves. He piled up games, innings, and decisions with clockwork regularity. He is also a classic example of a pitcher who toils for drudging teams, receiving little statistical flash or reward. He delivered three superb seasons for plodding Cubs nines during the mid 1960s; seasons that, pitched for an elite team, would have conferred major stardom.
Lawrence Curtis Jackson was born in Nampa, Idaho, near Boise, June 2, 1931, he remained a local boy all his life. Signed out of college by St. Louis, he made his pro mark spectacularly in 1952, his second season, leading Fresno to the California League pennant with a 28-4 record and 351 strikeouts. He rose steadily through the minors, debuting with the Cardinals in 1955.
Jackson divided his time between starting and relieving until 1959, when he became a starter full-time. A tall right-hander, his slider was his out pitch. His best year in St. Louis was 1960, an 18-13 record, leading the league in starts and innings pitched. He missed the beginning of the 1961 season, after his jaw was broken in a spring training game by a shard off the shattered bat of Duke Snider; nothing is new under the sun. On October 17, 1962, in one of the meaty trades so common in that era, Jackson was dealt to the Cubs, with Lindy McDaniel and Jim Schaeffer; in exchange for George Altman, Don Cardwell, and Moe Thacker.
Jackson’s first season with the Cubs is a sort that modern stat gurus love, a classic hard-luck story, revealed by a closer look at the figures. His won-loss, then as now the first thing anyone looks at, was 14-18, for a seventh place team. But his ERA was a sparkling 2.55. The Cubs scored all of 29 runs in his 18 losses, and were shutout four times, three of those 1-0. Jackson suffered eight one-run defeats in all. His only real luck that year came in the All-Star Game, the fourth of his five appearances in the midsummer classic. Though allowing two runs, tying the game, he earned the victory as the NL retook the lead immediately after his departure.
Jackson’s 1964 season is one of the most remarkable Cubs pitching years of its era; a first-class talent having the year of his life, while receiving nearly all the breaks that had always eluded him. His 24 victories (24-11, for a 76-86 8th place club), led both leagues, and were the most by a Cub since Charlie Root’s 26 in 1927. He threw 19 complete games and 297 innings, with an ERA of 3.14. In the Cy Young Award voting that year, Jackson finished second to the Angels’ Dean Chance, and ahead of Sandy Koufax. (Separate CYAs for each league were not begun until 1967. Also, the voting in ‘64 was one vote per writer). It is readily apparent that, had there been an NL award, Jackson would have won handily.
On June 30, facing Cincinnati at Wrigley, Jackson pitched the game of his life, and came within an ace of what passes for baseball immortality. As so often seems to happen in such cases, the Reds starter, Joey Jay, was also splendid, allowing two hits and one run. But Jackson was not only perfect, but utterly routine, setting down the side placidly until Pete Rose led off the seventh inning with a clean ground single precisely over the second base bag, the only Reds baserunner that day. I saw that game in person, the first Cubs game I retain in my memory. In my mind’s eye, I can still see that ball dribble into center field. This nearly forgotten jewel was played before a mob of 8,380 paid spectators, in an elapsed time of one hour, forty minutes.
Jackson’s last full Cubs season, 1965, returned to accustomed form, he was 14-21, but with four shutouts and an ERA of 3.85. He became the first NL pitcher since 1952 to win, and then lose, twenty games in consecutive seasons.
Jackson lost his first two starts in ‘66, then was involved in one of the greatest trades in Cubs history, sent with Bob Buhl to the Phillies; in exchange for Fergie Jenkins, Adolfo Phillips, and John Herrnstein. Jackson gave the Phils three steady seasons, leading the league with five shutouts the rest of 1966. On June 20, 1967, three years almost to the day after his masterpiece at Wrigley, he one-hit the Mets at Connnie Mack Stadium (the Mets’ starter that day was Bob Hendley, yet again the victim of a low-hit game).
Jackson was taken by the Montreal Expos in the expansion draft of 1968, but chose to retire, at age thirty-seven. His career record stands at 194-183, his Cubs record, 52-52, for a team whose winning percentage was .465 during his tenure. The 194 wins are the most by an NL righthander (since 1900) who did not play for a first-place team. He won a minimum of thirteen games each of his last twelve seasons.
Also remarkable is his fielding prowess, four times he led the league in fielding percentage, i.e., most chances in an errorless season. He set a record for such things in 1964, handling 109 chances without an error, breaking a mark set by the Cubs’ Mordecai Brown in 1908. Randy Jones of the Padres would break Jackson’s mark.
Larry returned to Idaho, and became a prominent, influential citizen and businessman. He entered politics, serving four terms in the Idaho legislature, and becoming chairman of the state Republican Party. He tried for the governorship in 1978, but failed to win the GOP nomination.
Jackson died of cancer, in Boise, August 28, 1990, age fifty-nine.