Edwin Jackson's MLB Odyssey: From 'Young Doc Gooden' to 13 Teams in 16 Years

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterJuly 25, 2018

The many jerseys of Edwin Jackson, whose career has had stops with the Dodgers (2003-05), Rays (2006-08), Tigers (2009), Diamondbacks (2010), White Sox (2010-11), Cardinals (2011), Nationals (2012), Cubs (2013-15), Braves (2015), Marlins (2016), Padres (2016), Orioles (2017), Nationals (2017) and now A's (2018).
The many jerseys of Edwin Jackson, whose career has had stops with the Dodgers (2003-05), Rays (2006-08), Tigers (2009), Diamondbacks (2010), White Sox (2010-11), Cardinals (2011), Nationals (2012), Cubs (2013-15), Braves (2015), Marlins (2016), Padres (2016), Orioles (2017), Nationals (2017) and now A's (2018).B/R

The conversation takes place almost daily in the Jackson household.

The father and the kids want to get a dog. The wife says no, not yet, not until we're settled in one place.

For this Jackson household, that hasn't happened and might not happen for a while.      

This is Edwin Jackson, who right now is a pitcher for the A's but last year was a pitcher for first the Orioles and then the Nationals, and the year before that was a pitcher for first the Marlins and then the Padres.

Oh, and don't forget the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs and Nashville Sounds, because Jackson pitched for both of those teams this season, as well.

That's a lot of teams. That's a lot of moving.

"We just moved into our condo in Oakland, and I am ecstatic," Erika Jackson says.

Before we get too much further into this odyssey, it's worth remembering Edwin Jackson's baseball career has been about a lot more than moving around. Since debuting with the Dodgers on his 20th birthday—in the last 27 years, only Felix Hernandez, Dylan Bundy and Julio Urias pitched in the big leagues at a younger age—Jackson has pitched in two World Series and helped win one of them (with the 2011 Cardinals), made an All-Star team (with the 2009 Tigers) and thrown a no-hitter (with the 2010 Diamondbacks).

He's 34 years old, can still throw his fastball 97 mph at times and has a 2.93 ERA through five starts with the A's.

The first of those starts helped him tie a major league record. It's not as big a deal as Cy Young's 511 wins or Pete Rose's 4,256 hits, but Jackson and Octavio Dotel are the only major leaguers to play for 13 different teams. No one has played for more, at least not until Jackson eventually moves on from Oakland and joins one of the 17 teams he has somehow missed.

"It makes for good scoreboard trivia," Jackson says.

And for his own little piece of baseball history.

"It just is what it is. It's more like trivia," Jackson says. "I've had a chance to live in a lot of different cities that if not for baseball I wouldn't have had the chance to live in. I've been lucky to play in some pretty good cities."

Jackson celebrated with his Diamondbacks teammates after his 2010 no-hitter, but a month later he was traded to the Chicago White Sox.
Jackson celebrated with his Diamondbacks teammates after his 2010 no-hitter, but a month later he was traded to the Chicago White Sox.Skip Milos/Getty Images

He's gone from the Pacific Coast (Los Angeles, Oakland) to the Gulf Coast (Tampa Bay), from dry heat in the Southwest (Arizona) to the soggy heat of the Midwest (Chicago, St. Louis). He has made stops in all six major league divisions and has pitched in 35 major league stadiums.

And yes, he has tried hard to enjoy every minute of it, even the parts many would consider excruciating: the days telling his wife they had to pack up and move (again), the days getting booed off the mound at Wrigley Field, the days of not knowing whether any team wanted him or whether his career was finished.

"Our worst day is a dream for somebody else," he says.

Getting traded isn't as easy for a player as it looks on the internet or seems on television. One day you're a Diamondback and the next you're a White Sox, but it's more than just getting to a different city and putting on a different uniform.

"It's like being the new kid at school," says Nationals closer Sean Doolittle, who was traded for the first time last season, from the A's to the Nationals, where he was Jackson's teammate for half a season. "It takes you a little bit to find not just your role on the team but your niche in the clubhouse, your seat on the plane, who you eat lunch with when you get to the field.

"Maybe once you go through it a couple of times you get better at it."

Jackson insists it was always easy for him. He grew up in a military family and was born in Germany while his father was serving there. He'd lived in four different places by the time he was nine—five if you count two separate stays in Germany.

"All I knew was being the new guy," he says. "I mean, it can be awkward for some people, but with my personality, I'm a chameleon; I can fit in and jell with anyone."

His family finally settled in Columbus, Georgia, which was where Jackson discovered organized sports and where he eventually went to high school. He loved all sports but was cut from the basketball squad and gave up football because he was playing wide receiver and the team rarely threw the ball.

So baseball it was—although in those years he was an outfielder, not a pitcher.

"I didn't throw a lot in high school, but I always had a good arm," he says.

His goal was a college scholarship that would ease the financial burden on his family. He never considered the possibility he'd get a chance at playing pro ball, but then the Dodgers picked him in the sixth round in 2001.

Two weeks later, he was signed and headed for Florida, ready to begin his career in the Gulf Coast League.

He was still a hitter then, although the Dodgers never played him in the outfield. He pitched and hit.

"I would pitch one game then DH the second game," he says.

Jackson had just 29 plate appearances, but he hit a home run and ended up with a promising .802 OPS. The Dodgers were more interested in his blazing fastball, though. He had a 2.45 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning, and from that point on he was strictly a pitcher.

Two years later, he beat Randy Johnson in his major league debut. At the time, he was the youngest starting pitcher to win a game for the Dodgers in 41 years, and the youngest for any National League team since Dwight Gooden with the 1984 Mets.

"He reminded me of a young Doc Gooden back then," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times last month. The comparison was made at the time, too. "He reminds me of Dwight Gooden," then-manager Jim Tracy told the Times' Jason Reid in 2003. "His mannerisms and the way he begins his delivery. ... It's easy gas."

Jackson made his major league debut with the Dodgers on his 20th birthday.
Jackson made his major league debut with the Dodgers on his 20th birthday.Jon Soohoo/Getty Images

Roberts was on that Dodgers team. So was Alex Cora, now the manager of the Red Sox, and Robin Ventura, who went on to manage the White Sox. Craig Counsell, the manager of the Brewers, played in that game for the Diamondbacks.

The only player from that game other than Jackson who is still active is Adrian Beltre, who is 39 and hasn't committed to playing beyond this season.

In 21 years in the big leagues, Beltre has played for four teams.

Jackson's 13 teams have come over 16 seasons, with never more than three years at any one stop. And he's not done yet. Jackson turns 35 in September and hopes to keep pitching for a while longer, so it might be 13 and counting.

The Nationals signed Jackson to a minor league deal last June, and after a July call-up, he spent the rest of the season in their rotation. They allowed him to become a free agent in November then re-signed him to another minor league contract in January.

Jackson pitched for the Nationals in spring training but didn't make the Opening Day roster. He had a 3.40 ERA in 10 starts for Triple-A Syracuse, but even when the Nationals needed a starter they didn't call him up. He exercised an opt-out in his contract at the end of May and made three starts at Nashville before the A's brought him into their injury-hit rotation.

Other players with Jackson's track record would have sat at home or retired rather than take a job in the minor leagues.

"I know a lot of people who wouldn't," Jackson says. "When I was in Triple-A, people asked me all the time, 'Why are you here? You've made enough money.' I told them, 'I'm here because I still have a passion for the game.'"

He was there because he still believed he could get people out in the major leagues, something he quickly proved once the A's gave him a chance. Jackson has pitched into the sixth or seventh inning in each of his five starts for Oakland and hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any. The A's won his first three starts as they moved back into postseason contention.

"I still know what I can do," Jackson says. "I still feel somewhat in my prime."

If you count by games or starts, Jackson's longest stay with any team was with the Rays, who traded for him in January 2006 and then traded him to Detroit after he pitched in the 2008 World Series.
If you count by games or starts, Jackson's longest stay with any team was with the Rays, who traded for him in January 2006 and then traded him to Detroit after he pitched in the 2008 World Series.Ron Vesely/Getty Images

He's a different pitcher from the one who debuted with the Dodgers 15 years ago. Jackson had only a fastball and a slider then; while those are still the pitches he relies on most, MLB.com's Statcast shows he has thrown his changeup 9.7 percent of the time and a curveball 3.1 percent. And he's developed different looks for the fastballs he does throw.

"It's like he's got three different fastballs," A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters after Jackson pitched them to a 7-2 win over the Indians in late June. "One of them cuts a little bit, one of them sinks a little bit, and a four-seamer that pulls out 96 when he wants it."

The four-seamer no longer tops out at 101 mph, as it did from 2007 to '09, according to Brooks Baseball. But Jackson doesn't walk as many batters as he did then, while his strikeout percentage has remained just about constant, hovering between 17 and 19 percent.

Command was always the question when Jackson was young. Even in his 2010 no-hitter, he walked eight, hit a batter and threw 149 pitches. He didn't pitch much in high school, didn't spend much time in the minors on the way up and then kept moving around so much he had different pitching coaches with different ideas.

"My youth played into it," he says. "I wouldn't say people gave me bad information. I just didn't decipher what would help me."

Now that he's closer to having it figured out, he's not anxious to leave baseball behind.

Jackson with Yadier Molina during the 2011 World Series.
Jackson with Yadier Molina during the 2011 World Series.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press/Associated Press

How long will he keep going? It depends how long he keeps getting people out, how long teams will keep wanting him in their rotation. Jackson has played almost his entire career on a series of one-year contracts, the exceptions being a two-year, $13.35 million deal when he was arbitration-eligible in 2010 and the four-year, $52 million deal he signed with the Cubs in December 2012.

He's on a $1.5 million contract this season but, as he says, pitching now is much more about the passion for the game than the number on the paycheck.

So how long?

"My wife asks me," Jackson says. "My kids ask me. Honestly, the way my body feels—I feel pretty good. I don't really have a timetable."

His wife does. Erika Jackson has been fine with all the moving around. She grew up in a military family, too, and eventually joined the Air Force. She and Edwin met in the offseason after he first made it to the big leagues, but she was still on active duty then and going from Alabama to South Korea to Arizona to Dubai.

"I literally in my life have not lived anywhere more than five years," she says.

It wasn't until she returned from Dubai that they got married. Now they have three kids: six-year-old Exavier, four-year-old Elan and seven-month-old Elijah.

"We're officially the Jackson Five," Edwin says with a laugh.

Exavier is old enough to join his father at the ballpark, and watching how much fun he has had, Erika wants Edwin to keep playing long enough that Elijah gets a chance to experience the same thing.

Eventually they'll settle down to a life that doesn't include moving from team to team and city to city in search of another club that wants Edwin to pitch. Or maybe they won't settle down. Maybe they can't.

They spend their winters in Arizona, but Erika already has her eyes on another move.

"I would guess that in the next two-three years, we'll be somewhere else," she says. "I was just in Charlotte. I liked it, and I told Edwin maybe we could move there."

And about that dog, the one the kids keep asking Edwin to get?

"It's actually Edwin who wants a dog," Erika says. "Now the kids want one, too. Last year I told them, 'No, you guys got a baby.'"

The dog can wait, at least for another year.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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