When Edwin Jackson threw his first pitch for the Oakland A’s on Monday, he tied an MLB record by playing for his 13th different team. That much has become common knowledge over the last few days, as his accomplishment was the starting point for every conversation about his call-up and subsequent 2018 debut. In this post, let’s take a closer look at the journey that brought him to this point.
It should come as no surprise that Jackson’s route to this particular record included a stop with the A’s. After all, the player he tied, reliever Octavio Dotel, counted Oakland as the third team on his own list back in 2004-05. Furthermore, of the three players to suit up for a dozen clubs, professional hitter Matt Stairs swatted nearly half his dingers wearing green and gold and ageless pitcher Mike Morgan began his 22-season career here, with only swingman Ron Villone missing out on the East Bay. Of course the team most synonymous with player movement would take their turn employing the players most synonymous with moving.
As for Jackson, his own pro career began all the way back in 2001, when Moneyball was still just a sparkle in Billy Beane’s eye. When he was drafted by the Dodgers in early June, the A’s roster featured names like Olmedo Saenz, Ron Gant, Frank Menechino, and Terrence Long, on top of the Big 3 and the more famous stars. Current bench coach Ryan Christenson was a 27-year-old outfielder, though he was traded away a couple weeks later. It was a long time ago in baseball terms.
Here are some highlights of the 17 years that followed that draft day, split up among the 13 teams for which he suited up (and one more that he left too quickly to play for). He hasn’t always been a star, but he’s almost always been interesting.
1. Dodgers, 2003-05
Jackson’s journey was already interesting before he ever played pro ball, having been born in Germany to an Army family. After doing most of his growing up stateside in Georgia, he was drafted out of high school by the Dodgers ... as an outfielder.
His name didn’t get called until the 6th round and he immediately switched to pitching full-time, but his prospect stock soon skyrocketed. Entering 2003 he cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 list and that September he made his MLB debut on his 20th birthday, out-dueling reigning Cy Young winner Randy Johnson. Entering 2004, BA ranked Jackson as the No. 4 prospect nationally.
However, it never quite worked out for him in Los Angeles. He struggled in 2004 and 2005, both in Triple-A and brief stints in the bigs, and before the 2006 season he was traded with another prospect to Tampa Bay for a pair of relievers with All-Star resumes (Danys Baez and Lance Carter).
2. (Devil) Rays, 2006-08
When Jackson arrived in Tampa Bay, the team was still called the Devil Rays. His numbers remained mostly ugly, but at least he was able to stick around enough to put in full workloads. Twice he made 31 starts for the big league club, and in 2008 he managed to throw over 180 innings with a league-average ERA.
That 2008 season was transformative for the franchise. They dropped the Devil and became just the Rays, and after 10 straight losing seasons they finally made the playoffs and went all the way to the World Series. They fell short of the ring against the Phillies, but Jackson at least got to pitch once out of the bullpen in the Game 4 of the Fall Classic. He only allowed one run in that game, but it was a dinger by opposing pitcher Joe Blanton.
That winter, though, he found himself on the move again. This time he was traded to the Tigers in exchange for a promising young outfielder named Matt Joyce, who is now his teammate a decade later in Oakland.
3. Tigers, 2009
Jackson only spent one season in Detroit, but it was arguably his best. He made 33 starts and racked up 214 innings, both of which still stand as career-highs, and he was rewarded with his only All-Star berth. In the Midsummer Classic he tossed a scoreless frame, retiring Yadier Molina, Ryan Zimmerman, and Hanley Ramirez in order in an eventual American League victory. He only needed four pitches to record those three outs.
And then, he packed his bags again. The Tigers sold high and included him in a three-team trade that netted them a package led by future Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, while Curtis Granderson ended up on the Yankees and Jackson found himself alongside Ian Kennedy in Arizona.
4. D’Backs, 2010
This time around he didn’t even finish a full season with his new club, but once again he made it memorable. He had a poor year overall, but on June 25 he fired a no-hitter. It was against his former team in Tampa Bay, with Joyce himself in the lineup. However, despite the objective excellence of the achievement, it’s remembered for the wrong reasons — he walked eight batters, pegged another, and needed a whopping 149 pitches to finish the task, prompting Joe Posnanski to call it the worst nine-inning no-hitter in history out of nearly 300 instances.
At the July trade deadline, though, the last-place D’Backs didn’t have much need for his bloated ERA, and he was sent to the first-place White Sox for two players including pitcher Daniel Hudson. It didn’t work out for either side, as Chicago missed the playoffs and Hudson threw one good season for Arizona before going down with Tommy John surgery.
5. White Sox, 2010-11
Chicago was 14 games over .500 when they acquired Jackson, and they finished the season the same 14 games over. He pitched well, too, with quality outings in most of his 11 starts. It wasn’t enough, though, as the Twins passed them by to win the division.
Jackson was strong again in 2011, and all told his numbers with the White Sox were arguably better than what he did in Detroit. It didn’t do Chicago much good, but it did buy Jackson another trade to a contender. Well, indirectly ...
— Blue Jays, 2011 (didn’t pitch)
On July 27, the White Sox sent Jackson to Toronto alongside former A’s prospect and St. Mary’s alum Mark Teahen. However, Jackson never suited up for the Jays, and later that same day he was traded again to the Cardinals.
Even though this entry doesn’t count as one of Jackson’s 13 teams, it’s still noteworthy. That’s because it includes perhaps the best part of this entire biography — on his way out of Toronto, he was dealt alongside none other than Octavio Dotel, who is now his partner in journeyman history. The two guys who share the record for most MLB teams were once part of the same swap. It was also the last time in Jackson’s career that he was traded.
6. Cardinals, 2011
When he got to St. Louis, they were barely .500 and fighting for first place. They finished strong, though, with Jackson doing his part to help the rotation (and trade-mate Marc Rzepczynski helping out in the pen). The Cardinals made the playoffs and Jackson won his NLDS start, getting revenge against the same Phillies squad that had beaten his Rays a few years prior. (Blanton made an appearance out of the bullpen in that game as well, though he didn’t bat this time). He then sputtered in his two NLCS outings against the Brewers, but the Cards won anyway.
For the second time, Jackson found himself in the World Series. Once again his appearance came in Game 4, this time a start against Ron Washington’s Rangers. He walked seven batters and took the loss. By Game 6, Texas was one strike away from winning it all, but Nelson Cruz botched a fly ball and the rest was history. Tony La Russa’s Cardinals snatched the championship from the jaws of defeat, and Jackson got a ring.
Finally, just after his 28th birthday, he became a free agent for the first time. He signed a one-year, $11 million contract with the Nationals.
7. Nationals, 2012
Jackson put up 31 starts for Washington at league-average quality, and the 98-win Nats made the playoffs. However, they got bumped in the NLDS by the Cardinals, the team he’d just left. He lost his only start in the series.
8. Cubs 2013-15
A free agent once more, this time he cashed in with a four-year, $52 million deal. The Cubs did not get their money’s worth — in 2013 Jackson led MLB in losses, in 2014 he pitched even worse, and in 2015 he was released. Things worked out for Chicago in the end, as they won the title in 2016 while still paying off the final year of Jackson’s salary, but he wasn’t there to enjoy it.
9. Braves, 2015
After failing to live up to his big contract, Jackson returned home to Georgia. He’d moved to the bullpen in Chicago and remained there for Atlanta, and he even pitched his way into a setup role on a bad Braves team. On the final day of the season, he recorded his first and only career save.
10. Marlins, 2016
At this point there’s not much left to tell — just a veteran on the wrong side of 30 going wherever necessary to stay in the bigs. He made eight relief outings for Miami before being cut.
11. Padres, 2016
Next up, the Padres gave him a try for 13 starts. It went poorly.
12. Orioles, 2017
He only threw five innings over three games for Baltimore, but hey, still counts.
— Nationals (again), 2017
His next stop was only a train ride away, as he returned to D.C. for a second stint. He finished out the year with 13 uninspiring starts.
13. A’s, 2018
Now 34 years old, Jackson isn’t done yet. After a couple months in Washington’s minor league system, he caught on with an Oakland club in desperate need of rotation depth. On June 25, the anniversary of his no-hitter, he got the call up to the bigs to pitch against the Tigers, the team with whom he was an All-Star nearly a decade prior. When you’ve been around as long as he has, everything is connected to something you’ve done before.
And, whaddya know, he was good in his 2018 debut and the A’s won the game!
Jackson, 6/25/18: 6 ip, 1 run, 7 Ks, 0 BB, 6 hits
He can still bring it, too.
Jackson, who hit 97 today: "I try to be young once a week."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) June 25, 2018
For his part, Dotel was bummed to lose sole possession of the record but happy that his former teammate Jackson was the one who did it, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. He also figures Jackson is likely to break the mark eventually, given that he’s several years younger than Dotel was (38) when he joined his final team.
One way or other, it’s been an incredible career for Jackson. There’s been quantity, with his 15 seasons, 13 teams, nearly 400 games, and over 1,800 innings, and also quality, between an All-Star appearance, a no-no, a ring, and over $70 million. Regardless of whether his remaining stay in Oakland (and MLB overall) is brief or turns into something more, it’s a pleasure to be part of his amazing story.
Here’s to more good times, and if fate allows, a 14th team someday.
Edwin Jackson: "It’s always good to be wanted. When I can’t find a team that wants to bring me in, then I guess it’ll be time to shut it down. Until then, I like to compete, I like to have fun, and I feel like I still have something left in me and I can bring value to a team."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) June 25, 2018