Al Jackson, the slender left-hander whose pitching provided a semblance of hope for the historically woeful Mets of the early 1960s, died on Monday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. He was 83.
His death was announced by the Mets, who did not specify the cause. Jackson had a stroke in 2015.
The 1962 Mets, an expansion team in its first season, won 40 games and lost a record 120, but Little Al Jackson, as he was known — he was 5 feet 10 and weighed about 165 pounds — was a bright spot. He threw all four of the Mets’ shutouts that season, among them a one-hitter.
He won eight games and lost 20 for a team that finished in 10th place, but he did not lead the team in losses. The former Dodger right-hander Roger Craig, also victimized by the Mets’ dreary lineup, went 10-24.
Throwing breaking balls along with fastballs, Jackson was a mainstay for the Mets through their first four seasons. He was then traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and was a member of their pennant-winning 1967 team.
Jackson pitched for the Mets again in 1968 and briefly at the beginning of their “Miracle” season of 1969, when they rose up to become World Series champions. He was later a pitching coach and instructor, mostly in the Mets organization.
Jackson was a cheerful sort, but when he took part in Old-Timers’ Day at Shea Stadium in June 1972, the memory of his many frustrating outings continued to vex him.
“How do I explain to my kids what losing was like?” he told The New York Times. “Every time you put on a uniform you want to win, but something would always happen to us.”
Jackson’s most remarkable outing came at the Polo Grounds, the Mets’ home for their first two seasons, when he went all 15 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies, throwing 215 pitches, on the afternoon of Aug. 14, 1962. He gave up just six hits but lost, 3-1, when the Phils rallied for a pair of runs after a two-base error by first baseman Marv Throneberry, known derisively as Marvelous Marv for his fielding and baserunning mishaps.
Jackson got the Mets’ first victory at Shea in April 1964, shutting out the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he threw a two-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds that May. He outpitched the future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, 1-0, on the final weekend of the season, when the Cardinals were fighting for a pennant — which they nonetheless went on to win.
He was a favorite of Manager Casey Stengel going back to the Mets’ first spring training camp at St. Petersburg, Fla.
“He’s artistic,” Stengel was quoted as saying by the sportswriter Leonard Shecter in his book “Once Upon the Polo Grounds” (1970). “I know this because he was fielding the bunted balls. He’s got a chance because how many pitchers have I got? He’s very intelligent and his wife’s a schoolteacher. He looks like he’s been pitching baseball for 10 years.”
For his part, Jackson said of Stengel, “He rambles a little bit, but I think I understand him.”
Alvin Neill Jackson was born on Dec. 26, 1935, in Waco, Tex., and grew up there. He was signed by the Pirates in 1955 out of historically black Wiley College in Marshall, Tex., and pitched briefly for them in 1959 and 1961. The Mets selected him for a $75,000 fee in the expansion draft.
Jackson tossed 10 shutouts for the Mets from 1962 to 1965. He was 8-20 for the second time, in 1965, but that year, as in the Mets’ inaugural season, he didn’t lead the team in defeats: Jack Fisher, like Craig, lost 24 games.
Jackson was traded to the Cardinals after that season in a deal that brought them the third baseman Ken Boyer, a former National League most valuable player.
He posted 13-15 record with a sparkling 2.51 earned run average for the 1966 Cardinals, then went 9-4 for their pennant-winners of 1967 and threw a one-hitter against Houston. But he was not included on the Cardinals’ World Series roster.
Jackson concluded his pitching career with the Mets and the Reds in 1969. He had a career 67-99 record with 14 shutouts.
He was the Boston Red Sox pitching coach from 1977 to 1979 under Manager Don Zimmer, another original Met, and for the Baltimore Orioles from 1989 to 1991. He was later a bullpen coach for the Mets under Davey Johnson and a manager, pitching coach and roving instructor in their farm system.
Jackson, a longtime resident of Port St. Lucie, is survived by his wife, Nadine Simmons Jackson, who taught in the West Babylon school system on Long Island and was later chairwoman of its business department; two sons, Reggie, who pitched in the Mets’ minor league system in the 1980s, and Barry; and two grandsons. He was the last survivor of a family of 13 children.
Jackson threw out the first ball at Citi Field, the Mets’ current home, on April 15, 2015, a part of baseball’s annual commemorations of Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the modern major league color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers of 1947.
Ron Darling, the former Met pitcher and current Met broadcaster, recalled that when he was with New York’s Tidewater farm team in the early 1980s, Jackson, the pitching coach, taught him to throw a split-fingered fastball. More important, Darling said, was Jackson’s emphasis on the need for devotion to the craft in a serious, professional way.
In his book “The Complete Game” (2009, with Daniel Paisner), Darling related how Jackson spoke of the times when black players were barred from segregated hotels and restaurants.
Darling took a lesson from that. “I had no choice but to take the gift of my situation more seriously,” he wrote. “I couldn’t take anything for granted.”