Oh, What a Relief: Jack Aker
A side-arming sinkerball pitcher, Jack Aker was one of the most effective closers in baseball in the last half of the 1960s. He was one of the first genuine relief specialists, appearing in 495 games during an 11-season major league career, finishing 321 of those games and starting none.
Aker played for five different major league clubs, starting with the Kansas City Athletics, who signed him in 1959. After one minor league season as an outfielder, Aker was converted to pitching and made his first appearance for the A’s at the end of the 1964 season. He opened the 1965 season with Vancouver in the Pacific Coast League, going 6-3 with a 1.36 ERA before being called up to Kansas City, where he finished the season at 4-3 with a 3.16 ERA and three saves.
Aker’s breakout season came in 1966, when he appeared in 66 games as the Athletics’ closer, finishing 57 games. He went 8-4 with a 1.99 ERA and set a new major league record with 32 saves – all for a seventh-place team that finished 12 games under .500.
Over the next two seasons, Aker’s combined record was 7-12 with a 4.20 ERA and a total of 23 saves. In October of 1968, the Seattle Pilots selected Aker as the twenty-fourth selection in the expansion draft. Aker appeared in only 15 games for Seattle in 1969 before being traded to the New York Yankees for Fred Talbot. Over the rest of the 1969 season, Aker went 8-4 for the Yankees with a 2.06 ERA and 11 saves. His best season in New York came in 1970, when he finished 4-2 with a 2.06 ERA and 16 saves.
In 1972, the Yankees sent Aker to the Chicago Cubs to complete the deal that brought Johnny Callison to New York. Aker went 6-6 for the Cubs with a 2.96 ERA and 17 saves. He was 4-5 with 12 saves for the Cubs in 1973. He was released by the Cubs in 1974, and split that season between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, going 2-2 with a 3.57 ERA. He retired after the 1974 season.
Aker finished with a career record of 47-45 and a 3.28 ERA. He racked up 123 career saves.