Who Were the Best Ever From Idaho?
As far as I know, none of the guys in the photo nearby – a ball club from Hailey, Idaho in about 1910 – ever made a baseball name for themselves outside of the Wood River Valley. Hailey, or Idaho for that matter, hasn’t ever been in the fast lane for pro baseball players, although the great state has produced a few genuinely talented players.
Harmon Killebrew, the “Payette Strongboy,” comes first to mind. Killebrew had a great major league career with the old Washington Senators and the later Minnesota Twins. he is 11th on the all-time home run list and did it by eating steak rather than injecting steroids. Any guy in the Hall of Fame – Harmon was elected in 1984 – should be on the “all-time, all-state” team.
Steve Crump, the columnist with the Times-News who has a fine eye for Idaho history, recently compiled his all-time list of players with at least some tie to Idaho. Crump identified three other Hall of Famers who at least had a cup of coffee in Idaho on the way to bigger things – the great Walter Johnson (played in Weiser in 1907), Reggie Jackson (played in Lewiston in 1966) and Ricky Henderson (played in Boise in 1976).
As good as Steve’s list is – and aren’t these kinds of lists fun to debate – I would argue for a mention of the late Larry Jackson, a native of Nampa, as among the all-time, all-Idaho team. Jackson, a right handed pitcher, had a 14-year career with the Cardinals, the Cubs and the Phillies and a career record of 194-183 and a highly respectable 3.40 ERA. Jackson broke in with the Cardinels at the tender age of 23 in 1955.
Another baseball great, Maury Wills, the base stealer, said of Jackson: “Larry Jackson has one hell of a slider. He also had a questionable balk move that was rough on a base runner. He got away with it, though, because he was a veteran.”
Sounds like the lament of a guy who had trouble getting a good jump. Jackson also had two career home runs back in the good old days when all pitchers had to walk to the plate.
Larry Jackson also holds the distinction of being the best Idaho baseball player to have a serious political career. Jackson served in the Idaho House of Representatives, rose to chair the Appropriations Committee, ran the state Republican Party operation and ran for governor in 1978. I remember him as a quiet, effective, open guy. I covered his political career, but wasn’t smart enough to really have a conversation about his earlier career in the big leagues.
Jackson angered a few fellow Republicans in 1986 when he endorsed Democrat Cecil D. Andrus for governor. Larry Jackson died too young in 1990.
Good ball player. Good guy.