I have often been asked what prompted me to write this book, so here is a convenient place for an explanation.
While working at Fork Union Military Academy, I recall having learned that Jackie Jensen had begun work in the admission office. I saw him sitting at one of the large round tables in the mess hall along with the upper echelon of the academy. Asking who he was, I was informed that he had been a major league baseball player (American League MVP in 1958). I never thought much of professional athletes, but realized instantly the appeal such a famous person would have for the parents of potential cadets and of course how beneficial this would be for the baseball team.
A few years afterward, in 1982, Jackie suffered a heart attack and died the evening of the day he had coached a baseball session in the hot Virginia sun. I didn’t think much of the tragic event until a few years later when I was teaching martial arts and his widow joined my class. After a few casual conversations with Katharine, she asked me if I would like to go to her home and see some of his memorabilia. The first item she showed me was a baseball bat: “This was the bat Joe DiMaggio hit his last home run with. He respected Jackie so much that he wanted him to have this.”
She showed me his Golden Glove Award, his MVP Award, photos of him with famous people, a Sports Illustrated magazine with Jackie on the cover, and an album filled with newspaper clippings.
In 1986 I took a summer six-credit graduate course at the University of Virginia as part of the National Writers Project. Perhaps emboldend by the fact that COSMOPOLITAN had accepted an article I had written (and paid me $650), one night I sat up in bed and said to my wife, “I want to write a book about Jackie Jensen.”
I approached Katharine with the notion, and she informed me that Jackie had refused numerous offers to have someone write his biography. He had told her, “My story’s not done yet.”
Although I held a general disdain toward professional athletes, I knew Jackie was different based on what Katharine had told me. I my mind, the best story about Jackie was what happened after he had left professional baseball. So for the next thirteen years I gathered information, wrote letters and interviewed people who had known him intimately. This involved my going to California and Nevada in addition to interviewing local people. The process was as rewarding as the product.