A Desire to Remain Firmly Grounded

Jackie Jensen makes his first appearance on a Topps baseball card in the 1952 set, one year removed from his debut in the 1951 Bowman issue. Even his first baseball card might not be considered a rookie by some, as his first piece of cardboard arrived as part of the 1948 Leaf football set. Jensen was a two-sport athlete and was considered one of the finest running backs of his time, eventually playing in the Rose Bowl, World Series, and an All-Star Game in a four year span. He was effectively Bo Jackson.

Above: 1948 Leaf Football Jackie Jensen. Note the differences in the spelling of his name on the front and back.

Jensen would put together Jackson-beating stats over the course of an 11-year baseball career, leading the American League in stolen bases and RBIs. After a pair of trades in the early 1950s, he settled into the Boston lineup and quickly became a fan favorite.

Like Jackson, Jensen’s career was derailed early. It wasn’t a hip injury that prevented continuation of play, but rather extreme mental anxiety that made play impossible. Marriage problems and self-doubt became recurring themes for a guy who seemingly could do no wrong. Cross country travel increased as baseball expanded geographically, exacerbating a related fear of flying. By the late 1950s he was routinely seeking hypnotherapy and using sleeping pills to get through what to him were white-knuckle flights. He abruptly quit the team prior to the 1960 season to settle down and address his domestic situation. He unretired for a one-year comeback in 1961 but was unable to cope with recurring panic attacks. Jensen retired for good at the end of the season in what was frequently attributed to a fear of flying. In actuality it was almost a fear of everything. Ron Fimrite’s 1976 article for Sports Illustrated is a good start for further reading and probably one of the definitive accounts of Jensen’s career and mental state.