John Jacobs, a Hays Larks star in the late 1950s, recalls fond memories with team
John Jacobs was one of the top hitters for the Hays Larks when he played for them in the late 1950s. Just imagine what the natural left-handed swinger could have done if he hadn’t hit right-handed.
While playing ball in the streets as a kid with his friends, his teammates pressured Jacobs to swing from the right side.
“The guys in the neighborhood made me a right-handed hitter,” Jacobs said. “They didn’t have enough players to cover right field and didn’t want a left-handed batter.”
St. Joseph’s Military Academy in Hays didn’t have a baseball team when Jacobs was in high school, but he did play American Legion ball in the summer. In the summer of 1955, after Jacobs’ junior year, he played a little first base for the Larks. He was the team’s full-time first baseman for the next three years, batting .355 in 1956; .358 in 1957; and .421 in 1958.
Jacobs, who graduated from high school in 1956, went to Arizona State for college. He walked on that first semester and promptly earned a baseball scholarship. He played first base for the Sun Devils all four years before signing with the San Francisco Giants.
Late in his senior year at Arizona State, Jacobs was beaned by a pitch just below his left eye, suffering four fractures in his cheek bone. Although he was nervous at the plate, Jacobs still played first base for a year in the minors before switching to pitching the next season.
“Every time they would throw a ball around my face, I wouldn’t move,” Jacobs said. “As a hitter, you just love to bat; I became gun shy.
“To hit, you’ve got to be aggressive,” he added. “Once you lose the aggressiveness it’s not going to work out.”
Jacobs came back to play that second year with the Giants organization so he could get the second half of his signing bonus. After six weeks, he gave up pro ball and returned to Hays, where he played one final season for the Larks.
To protect his eye, Jacobs switched from batting right-handed to his more natural left-handed swing that summer of 1961, and hit .455, second-best in Larks history. The only Lark with a better season at the plate was Vic Higgins, who batted .458 in 1957.
The thought has crossed Jacobs’ mind of what might have happened if those neighborhood kids hadn’t made him switch sides at the plate.
“I did wonder about that many times,” Jacobs said. “You face a lot of right-handed pitchers, and since I wasn’t a speedy person I was a couple steps closer to first base.”
Jacobs said he enjoyed playing for those Larks teams back in the day, and in his first full-time season he had a game for the record books. On July 31, 1956, the 18-year-old Jacobs hit a grand slam, drove in 10 runs and scored five times against Ness City, in a game played at La Crosse. The newspaper headline the next day proclaimed Jacobs had accounted for 15 runs in the 27-7 victory.
“It was just one of those days when everything goes right,” Jacobs said.
Back then, as is the case now, fans flocked to the games.
“They had a huge crowd in the stands,” said Jacobs, adding fans would park cars down the foul lines to get a good view. “When I was a kid growing up, there was no television to watch. They came out to watch the Larks.”
Competition was fierce, too, but it was friendly.
“Catherine and Munjor, they wanted to beat the big town,” Jacobs said. “After the game, there was beer in the Catherine dugout, and they would want you to come over and drink beer with them.”
Jacobs, 83, now lives in Tempe, Ariz. He was inducted into the Arizona State Hall of Fame in 2013. He and his wife, Joan, have one son, Jeff, who works for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jacobs can’t make it back for the 75th anniversary weekend, but will be there in spirit.
“Such great memories of the Larks,” Jacobs said.