Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jackie Jensen's finally on a 1960 "Topps" card

After putting in the work on a 1960 Topps-style card of Ted Williams (see my blog entry for Nov. 28, 2013), I decided to get some further use out of the template I'd made to create a Jackie Jensen card.

You can't fault Topps for not having issued a Jensen card in its 1960 set; spring training was nearly underway when Jensen announced he was retiring from the game.

I provided some details of that event in my posting of July 8, 2012, when I unveiled my 1955 Topps All American-style Jensen football card. I'll repeat it here . . . 

In 1960, Jensen shocked the baseball world by announcing his retirement. While the principal reason put forth was that he wanted to spend more time with his family, it appears that Jensen's fear of flying was the greater motivation. 

As airplanes had replaced trains for much big league travel, Jensen's phobia deepened to the point where he suffered panic attacks in the airport. The team paid for hypnotherapy, but it was ineffective.

Among the most vocal critics of Jensen's decision to retire was The Sporting News.

In the lead editorial in the Feb. 17, 1960, issue, headlined “JENSEN’S OBLIGATION TO GAME,” The paper said, “Jackie Jensen, the unhappy warrior of the Red Sox, finally has made good his long-standing threat to quit baseball. Even though the finality of his decision in refusing to sign with the Red Sox for the new season caught some Bostonians by surprise, none could say he hadn’t been warned. Jensen had threatened to pull up stakes for several years.
            “Throughout his major league career Jensen has moaned about his separations from his family. In announcing his retirement, he also mentioned his pressing business interests on the West Coast. Finally, there were reports from others that Jensen intensely disliked flying.
            “There are those who will say that these are good and sufficient reasons for quitting, and to an extent they are. It is difficult to question the stand of a father who wants to be with his family.
            “But isn’t there some obligation to baseball on Jensen’s part? Baseball has been good to him. It supplied him with a substantial bonus which enabled him to endow his family with earthly goods long before the average family acquires them. And baseball supplied the revenue which set up his business interests.
            “If Jackie Jensen were the only ball player separated from his family, with important connections and a fear of flying, his arguments would be completely sound. But there are others with the same problems who face up to them because they believe they owe baseball that much, because they believe that their example will be an inspiration to the youth of the country.
            “This country would be in bad shape if all of us quit whatever we were doing because it was inconvenient.”

 In his column, “Bob Addie’s Atoms” in the March 2 Sporting News, Addie wrote, “You could say that the decision of Jackie Jensen to quit baseball came as quite a surprise to the Boston Red Sox . . . In fact, the Red Sox’ brochure (Editor’s note: Probably the early edition of the team’s press guide), just off the press, confidently listed Jensen on the roster, and, of course, gave him quite a bit of space in the biographical sketch. . . . Ah, sadness.”

On March 20, at a Red Sox-Cubs exhibition game at Las Vegas, Red Sox broadcaster Curt Gowdy interviewed Jensen, who was on a four-day visit to the Red Sox camp with his wife . . . curious behavior for a newly retired player.

Jensen told Gowdy “there isn’t a chance” of his returning to the team. “I want the Boston fans and the Rex Sox organization to know that I hope I haven’t hurt them by retiring. It’s something I just had to do. If I’ve hurt any of the baseball people or the fans, I’m sorry. I certainly didn’t want to hurt anybody.”

In a contentious session with Boston baseball writers on May 21, team owner Tom Yawkey, perhaps sensing it wise not to burn any bridges, said the retirement of Jensen had “obviously” hurt the team.

 “Jensen had a decision to make,” Yawkey said, “It was a difficult one. I had hoped he would be able to make it in favor of baseball. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. His family was involved and I hope the decision he made to retire turns out best for Jackie.

 “There’s something more to life than baseball,” Yawkey continued. “A family comes first and I admire Jackie for making the decision he did, although the decision wasn’t good for our ball club, the American League and baseball in general.”

After a year's layoff, Jensen returned to the Red Sox for the 1961 season, but at the age of 34, he was not able to return to the level of his previous performance. With the American League having expanded to California and the resulting increase in air travel, Jensen made his retirement permanent following the '61 season.

Though Topps did include Jensen in its regular 1960 set, he was part of the 1960 Bazooka box-bottom set that year. It is my recollection that the Bazooka cards were prepared in those years ahead of the Topps brand.

When Jensen returned to the game for 1961, Topps welcomed him back with three cards in its regular set; there was a "regular" card in the high-number series, a card in the MVPs subset and a multi-player "Beantown Bombers" feature card shared with Frank Malzone and Vic Wertz. Jensen was also on a Topps stamp insert that year.

The color photo on my custom '60 Jensen is a closer-cropped version of the picture that appeared on the cover of the June 23, 1958, issue of Sports Illustrated.

It's ironic that since the 1960 Topps set was one of my favorites during childhood and as a latter-day collector it took me so long to create a couple of my own. Perhaps there will be some more in the future.

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