April 28, 1950: Jackie Jensen Gets a Hit

61 years ago yesterday, Jackie Jensen pinch-hit in the 7th inning for starting Yankee pitcher Fred Sanford. The Yanks were holding a 3-2 lead over the host (and then 2nd place!) Washington Senators when Jensen legged out an infield single for his first career hit. Johnny Lindell moved to 2B on the play and scored after subsequent singles by Phil Rizzuto and Jerry Coleman (yes, that one).

The Yankees went on to lose to the Senators 5-4, and Jensen went on to star for a Boston baseball team not named the Braves. So why are you reading this?

Jackie Jensen is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He went on to play in one game of the 1950 World Series when the Yankees swept the "Whiz Kid" Phillies in 4 games. He pinch-ran in the 8th inning of game 3 for Bobby Brown, who had hit for Hank Bauer, and was replaced by Gene Woodling in a double-switch in the bottom of the inning.  Excited yet?



 After playing in fewer than 100 games in 1950 and 51, the Yankees shipped him to the Senators for Irv Noren (with spare parts on both sides of the deal). Within a year he was on the move again, this time to Boston for the memorable Mickey McDermott (who won 17 games in the next two years with Washington) and Tom Umphlett (whose best obp year for the Sens was .271), keystones of the Senators' annual run for 8th place over the next two seasons. I'm sure it's clear by now.

Jensen is one of the greatest Yankee athletes you may have never heard of. Born in San Francisco, Jensen was a star athlete at Oakland High School and served in the US Navy during World War II.

He went on to star as an All-American halfback for the University of California. During his freshman season, the explosive Jensen returned a punt 56 yards for a TD, caught a 58-yard pass for a TD, and threw a 49-yard TD (all of which were probably the highlights of the Bears' 2-7 1946 season). 

The Bears' fortunes mysteriously improved the next season, finishing 9-1. In the 1947 Big Game, Jensen threw an 80-yard pass to Paul Keckley for the winning score over stanfurd in the fourth quarter. Jensen intercepted 7 passes in 1947 as well.

In 1948 Jensen became the first Bear to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. He ran for 62- and 64-yard touchdowns (and another 64 yard run) against Santa Clara, threw  a 54-yard TD pass against Oregon State, and ran over stanfurd for 170 yards in the Big Game that year. The Bears won their first conference championship in a decade, and Jensen was the team's punter as well as a starting defensive back as they went to the Rose Bowl. He lost the Heisman to Doak Walker (and also finished behind Chuck Bednarik). He is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

He was also a two-time All-American baseball player at Berkeley, and led the Bears to victory in the first College World Series in 1947 and was the winning starter in the second of Cal's two wins over Yale (and their shortstop George Bush).  He left school for professional baseball (with football a bit of a dead-end career at the time) and the Oakland Oaks after his junior year.  Not long after, his manager Casey Stengel got a job in New York and Jensen was traded to the Yanks in a package with some guy named Billy Martin.

The natural centerfielder was blocked during his rookie year by some guy named DiMaggio who was flanked by Gene Woodling and Hank Bauer.  The next year was DiMaggio's last, but in the meantime some kid named Mantle had shown up. Jensen finally found room to roam in Washington, batting .286/.360/.407 and playing in the 1952 All-Star Game.

He hit his stride playing for the AL team located in Massachusetts, leading the league in steals in 1954, RBI in 1955, and triples in 1956. He led the league in RBIs (yes I know, but still) in 1958 and 1959. He won a Gold Glove in 1959, made two more All-Star teams and was AL MVP in 1955. He hit 20 homers or more every year from 1954-1959. With CF natural Jimmy Piersall already on the squad, Jensen took his rocket arm and fleet feet to RF, and provided protection in the batting order for some guy named Williams.

Sadly, he could not overcome a fear of flying, retiring in 1960 and suffering through an abortive comeback year in 1961 (when ironically the AL finally expanded to his home state).

Former Cal QB Boots Erb:

was Jensen's best man when he married his college sweetheart, Zoe Ann. Jensen was unable to return the favor when Erb got married -he wedding was scheduled on the day of a [Boston ballclub SBN wants to hotlink] game. Unable to make the wedding, Jensen instead offered to hit a home run for Erb. And so it came as little surprise to Erb when, during the services, a friend stood up in the back of the room and signaled to Erb that Jensen had in fact hit a homer.1

He also coached collegiate baseball, including 4 years at Cal where the Bears were 104-95 during his tenure. A few years after he left coaching (opening a Christmas tree farm in Virginia) he died of a heart attack, at the age of 55. His grandson Tucker pitches at Embry-Riddle University.

And his 1950 appearance with the Yankees would be the only time he played October baseball. His Yankees ring made him a world champion.

So here's to Jackie Jensen and his brief time with the Yankees, which made him the only athlete to play in the Rose Bowl, the College World Series, the East-West Shrine game, and the World Series.

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