By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) “Nice guys finish last,” former Chicago Cubs manager Leo Durocher famously didn’t quite exactly say. Edwin Jackson is a really nice guy, and he now finds himself without a job.
Edwin Jackson (@EJ36) July 20, 2015
The reflexive response for many Cubs fans when news broke Sunday that Jackson had been designated for assignment was something between relief and joy. The former was understandable — that Jackson’s days were numbered was quietly felt for a while. The latter had less humanity and a bit of a grave dance bitter taste to it.
But who weeps for Edwin Jackson? Who sings his ballad?
Not enough voices, that’s for sure. Because, you see, Jackson is an unsung hero.
It’s easy to think of Jackson getting tattooed most of the time he took the mound for the Cubs. It’s easy to be irrationally angry that he dare make the many millions of dollars that were offered to him in undeniably the worst move of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime.
“Edwin is 29 years old, and he’s had six consecutive seasons making 30-plus starts,” Hoyer said when the Cubs signed him in 2013. “He’s proven his durability and proven his talent, but he’s also at an age where we think he can get even better and an age where he fits into what we’re trying to do age-wise and talent-wise with our roster. We felt this was a player who met both criteria. He can help us in 2013 and be a big part of the core of what we’re trying to build.”
Hoyer’s assessment of Jackson proved pretty true. Durable he was, to the point where it was like, “OK, dude, if you wanna sit a start out, that’s totally cool.” Finally at the end of 2014, the Cubs picked an injury out of a hat and placed him on the disabled list with a … let’s see … “OK, we’ll go with ‘strained lat muscle.’”
And help the team build is exactly what the well-traveled Jackson did. See, Kyle Schwarber is a Cub in part because of Edwin Jackson.
In 2013, Jackson led all of baseball in losses with 18. Had he been slightly less bad that year, the Cubs are picking behind the Minnesota Twins and perhaps the Seattle Mariners in the 2014 amateur draft. Let’s say Jackson makes it out of the third inning of his final start of that year against the St. Louis Cardinals, who had clinched the NL Central the day before. It could be that the pudgy sort-of-catcher Schwarber is hitting screaming line drives and awkwardly attempting to block non-Jacksonian pitches in the dirt as the heir apparent to Joe Mauer. Maybe Cub fans are screaming about Epstein and scouting director Jason McLeod drafting Alex Jackson instead.
Where are the back pats for Jackson? Where are the thank yous and the atta-boys? There are no glasses raised in song for Edwin Jackson.
In going a combined 14-33 with a 5.18 ERA in 2013 and 2014, he easily could have gone toxic during his time on the North Side. Replacing Alfonso Soriano as object of contractual hatred (and now being DFA’d to make room for another Soriano) brought on Jackson all the Cub fan venom. But he never spit it back. A consummate pro and even better guy, he worked his tail off and never shirked media responsibilities or got snippy with reporters.
Take that “lat injury.” It just so happened to come amid lots of talk (see: fans yelling) of Jackson being demoted from starter to bullpen — really the ultimate message that you stink. When asked about the potential move, Jackson responded:
“If it happens, it happens. I haven’t really gone out and made an easy decision for the organization or for the team. It’s one of those things where you just have to kind of take it in stride. Not going deep into games as a starter isn’t beneficial for the team, especially when you get paid to go deep into games. You have to deal with it as it comes. If it happens, it’s not the end of the world. You just have to continue to bust your butt and gain back what you feel you can do.”
The move to the bullpen did end up happening later and remained into this season. All the while, Jackson stayed prepared and actually pitched pretty well when called upon this year as fans waited for slip-ups in order to channel their angst toward their favorite piñata. He had a 3.19 ERA when the Cubs offically designated him Monday.
Jackson’s lack of negativity wasn’t limited to microphones, though. You can’t quantify clubhouse presence exactly, and Jackson’s probably isn’t millions of dollars worth, but his impact on the young Cubs and his good vibe contribution to the clubhouse is undeniable.
“He’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever been around,” Cubs starter Jake Arrieta said. “It’s hard to see him go.”
This one is tough. Ejax is one of the best teammates I've had. Taught me so much over the years. The ultimate professional! Best of luck—
Anthony Rizzo (@ARizzo44) July 20, 2015
I wish Edwin Jackson the best. Class act. Results weren't good here but wasn't for lack of effort. Very well respected here for good reason—
Len Kasper (@LenKasper) July 20, 2015
Numbers wise you're fine loving the move. Morale, chemistry, off the field, you're wrong. Teams need guys like Edwin twitter.com/itr_tonyladde/…—
John Baker (@manbearwolf) July 20, 2015
So to say Jackson didn’t contribute to what the Cubs are doing now and going forward is wrong. Sing the song of Edwin Jackson.
When Justin Grimm gives up a Jay Bruce home run that still hasn’t landed, sing. When Rafael Soriano’s decreased velocity creates further awkward appearances, sing. When Clayton Richard does whatever it is he does for the time being, sing.
When Schwarber goes 3-for-4 with four RBIs and a passed ball, sing, you ungrateful heathens, sing. When you realize the guy went out there time and again in a 2013 and 2014 that meant nothing — nothing — in and of themselves and took his beatings, sing with all your otherwise cold heart.
And when you see an empty chair on the dais at the Cubs championship rally someday, sing the song of Edwin Jackson.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.