MESA, Ariz. – You can see Edwin Jackson bouncing up and down in the mosh pit. He’s yelling, pointing at the Cubs and being restrained by Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr.
The full-scale brawl nearly erupted after Lendy Castillo threw inside and almost hit Bryce Harper. The Cubs had a Rule 5 pick on the mound, while the Nationals had to protect their Sports Illustrated cover boy, “Baseball’s Chosen One.”
That four-game sweep in Washington last September exposed the huge talent gap. The Cubs were outscored 31-10, leading manager Dale Sveum to call it “one of the biggest butt-whoopings I’ve ever gotten in my career.”
That moment showed the edge and attitude you need to play at that level. Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger pushed Michael Morse and got suspended. Pat Listach and Bryan LaHair tried to keep the peace and separate Jackson from the Cubs.
Washington manager Davey Johnson barked at Jackson, who was described as “very hot” by the MASN broadcast crew, which sounded like total homers scolding the Cubs: “That’s just plain embarrassing for your whole organization.”
When Jackson was asked about his role in the Sept. 6 “brouhaha” at Nationals Park, he hedged before going with “peacemaker” when a reporter mentioned the word.
“Somehow I end up in the middle,” Jackson said Tuesday, “regardless of whether I’m doing anything or not.”
That pretty much sums up Jackson’s entire career. This is the guy who was drafted by the Dodgers as an outfielder out of Shaw High School in Georgia and wound up pitching for seven teams across the past eight seasons.
Jackson witnessed the worst-to-first Tampa Bay team that won the 2008 American League pennant. He was packaged in the 2009 three-way trade between the Diamondbacks, Tigers and Yankees that involved Ian Kennedy, Max Scherzer and Curtis Granderson.
Jackson walked eight batters in a no-hitter on June 25, 2010 at Tropicana Field. The Diamondbacks traded him to the White Sox a few weeks later. Another round of deadline dealing in 2011 put him in position to win a World Series ring with the Cardinals.
Now Jackson has the four-year, $52 million deal, which made him the biggest free agent signed so far by the Theo Epstein administration, and all the expectations that come with that contract.
“Pressure is what you make it,” Jackson said. “If there’s a target or not, I don’t know. All I can do is go out and worry about what I can control.
“I don’t feel like I have pressure. I don’t feel like I have to go out and try to overdo anything. They brought me here for a reason.”
The Cubs wanted someone who’s on the right side of 30, still young enough to be effective when they become contenders. They beat out the Indians to get a mid-rotation piece that has made at least 30 starts in each of the past six seasons. They appreciate how he has experienced turnarounds and winning cultures.
Maybe some of the swagger from that 98-win, homegrown Washington team will rub off here.
Reporters in the Fitch Park media room had to Google “Cubs-Nationals brawl” to see where Jackson was that night. He was fired up, but the guy standing in front of his locker came across as polite and laid-back, someone who enjoys listening to the music flowing through his headphones. The Cubs did their homework, asking ex-teammates like Matt Garza how he would be in the clubhouse.
Jackson played it cool in December, when he found out Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts were making a pitch to Anibal Sanchez in Miami at the same time he and his then-fiancée/now-wife were meeting with general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum at his agent’s office in Newport Beach, Calif.
“They didn’t have to tell me,” Jackson said. “It really didn’t matter what they had going on in the background. Clearly, there was interest. I felt like if they took their time and left their families to come out and meet with me, then regardless of what was going on, there was definitely interest.”
Jackson didn’t have an answer why the Nationals didn’t make him a qualifying offer that could have dragged down his market, writing it off as something that was out of his control. That appears to be his philosophy – he’s seen a lot since making his big-league debut on his 20th birthday.
Jackson – whose father Edwin Sr. retired as a U.S. Army sergeant first class – was born in West Germany and that experience also shaped his perspective.
“I’m a military brat, so I’m kind of born on the fly,” Jackson said. “The only life I know is on the go, so it’s not bad. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for a long time.”
Not anymore, not when you’re the $52 million backup plan, paid to help lift the Cubs to where the Nationals are now.