Edwin Jackson's Long, Fascinating Road
The Nationals have called up Edwin Jackson to fill a hole in their rotation. Only Octavio Dotel (a former teammate, naturally) has played for more MLB teams.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Edwin Jackson made his major league debut on September 9, 2003 in what was then called Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, Arizona. The first batter he faced was Steve Finley. The second was Junior Spivey. The third was Luis Gonzalez.
Jackson was 20 years old at the time, and one of the top prospects in baseball. Pitching in place of injured Dodgers starter Hideo Nomo, Jackson tossed six innings of one-run ball, and beat Randy Johnson on the day before Johnson's 40th birthday. (The winning run came around when Johnson hit Mike Kinkade with a pitch with the bases loaded.) The future looked bright for Edwin Jackson.
"What I saw was amazing," closer Eric Gagne told the Los Angeles Times. (Gagne recorded his fiftieth save that night.). "He got the big outs when he needed, and he was emotionally in control. Just amazing."
Dodgers manager Jim Tracy compared Jackson to Dwight Gooden. Even Kevin Brown, the Dodgers' expensive, ornery ace, had good things to say.
"If he stays healthy, he's going to pitch up here a long time," Brown said.
Brown was right. Jackson has pitched in the major leagues for a long time. Only one other player who appeared in his debut is still in the majors—that would be Adrian Beltre—and four players who appeared in that game have since gotten jobs as big league managers. But Jackson's career has not necessarily gone the way his teammates might have expected after that auspicious debut. He has been traded six times. He has pitched for twelve teams. On Tuesday, he will start for the Washington Nationals in Anaheim. This will be his second stint with the Nationals and his second team of the 2017 season.
It takes a lot of talent, durability, and luck to stick in the majors for fourteen mostly uninterrupted seasons. Edwin Jackson has had just enough of each of those things. It is hard to believe that he is only 33 years old. He didn't become Doc Gooden. But he didn't need to in order to have a fascinating career.
Jackson quickly went from being a future star to one of the journeymen who populate the box score of his debut.* Before the 2006 season, he was traded to Tampa in a deal that landed the Dodgers Danys Baez and Lance Carter. Three years and a World Series appearance later, Tampa sent him to Detroit for Matt Joyce. A year after that, Jackson was swapped to Arizona in the three-way blockbuster that landed Curtis Granderson in New York and a young Max Scherzer on the Tigers.
Jackson only spent half a season with the Diamondbacks. But in his time there, he managed to throw one of baseball's weirdest no-hitters, walking eight, hitting one, and striking out six in a 149-pitch effort against his old team the Devil Rays.
The no-hitter was not only miraculous, it was a perfect encapsulation of Jackson the pitcher: forever walking the thin line between brilliant and terrible. Jackson throws hard, he throws sliders, and he sometimes loses the zone. Watching him can be frustrating and it can also make you wonder why he never actually did become the guy his Dodgers teammates expected him to.
In July of 2010, the Diamondbacks traded Jackson to the White Sox for David Holmberg and Daniel Hudson. A year later the White Sox dealt Jackson and Mark Teahen to Toronto for Jason Frasor and Zach Stewart. But Jackson never actually pitched for the Blue Jays. In one of the weirder (and more impactful) forgotten trades in modern baseball history, Jackson was flipped to the Cardinals along with Octavio Dotel, Corey Patterson, and Marc Rzepczynski in exchange for a package of prospects headlined by Colby Rasmus.
Jackson pitched effectively for the Cardinals down the stretch (as did Dotel and Rzepczynski), and was part of their playoff rotation as they won their final World Series of the La Russa/Pujols era.
After the season, Jackson signed his first ever free agent deal with the Nationals. He has since pitched for the Cubs, Braves, Marlins, Padres, and this year the Orioles. His 12 major league clubs puts him one shy of the record held by his ex-teammate Dotel. Jackson has been a starter and a reliever. He's been dominant, and he's been downright terrible. He has found and lost the strike zone on multiple occasions. He's signed a lucrative free agent deal earning him tens of millions of dollars, and he has come to camp as a non-roster invitee. He has been regarded, generally, as a good teammate. Jake Arrieta called Jackson "one of the best human beings I've ever been around."
For the past month, Jackson has been with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, where he has allowed just one run in 20.1 innings. Back in 2003, he stepped into the Dodgers rotation after an injury to Hideo Nomo, a man fifteen years his senior. This time, he steps in for Joe Ross, ten years his junior. He's joining the rotation of a team that is almost certainly going to the playoffs. And once again, Edwin Jackson has a chance to stick around.
This story has been updated to more accurately portray the Puig/Gonzalez interaction. The initial version also had Robby Hammock coaching in the minor leagues. He is in fact the Diamondbacks catching/quality control coach at the major league level.