Born: March 7, 1965
Jack William Armstrong was born March 7, 1965 in Englewood. He grew up in southern Monmouth County and attended Neptune High School. By the time Jack started his senior season for the Scarlet Fliers, he stood nearly six and a half feet tall and possessed a blazing fastball and free spirit. Both would develop more during his college years.
He accepted a baseball scholarship to Rider College, and then transferred to the University of Oklahoma. Jack led the Sooners to the Big 12 title in 1986. The Giants drafted him in the third round but Jack decided to stay and play for coach Enos Semore one more season. The following spring, the Reds tabbed him with the 18th pick in the first round.
Jack beat a quick path to the majors, getting called up in June of 1988. He split the 1989 season between Cincinnati and the Triple-A team in Nashville, where he went 13–9. Jack was a member of the Reds starting rotation in 1990, leading one of baseball’s most formidable pitching staffs. Lou Piniella’s hurlers had only to complete 5 or 6 innings. After that the Nasty Boys came into the game—flamethrowers Norm Charlton, Randy Myers and Rob Dibble.
Jack won 8 of his first 9 starts, holding four opponents scoreless. Big, blond and seemingly unbeatable, he was dubbed the All-American Boy after the old-time radio hero. After starting the All-Star Game for the National League, Jack wore down quickly. His arm was shot by the end of August and his record stood at 12–9.
Jack’s hot start had gotten the Reds off on the right foot. They were the surprise winners in the NL West, and beat Barry Bonds and the Pirates in the NLCS. He played in just one postseason game, but it was a huge one. With the A’s leading 4–3 in Game 2 of the World Series, he gutted out three scoreless innings from the 5th to the 7th, and Cincinnati came back to win 5–4 in 10 innings. The Reds ended up sweeping the A’s.
The following spring, the Reds renewed Jack’s contract without the big raise he was expecting. He walked out of camp, stating that he’d rather work on a tuna boat in Jersey for $30,000 than play for the Reds. When he returned to the team he found a fishing pole, fisherman’s boot and a tuna-fishing chart in his locker.
Jack’s suffered through a miserable 1991 campaign. He went 7–13 and was on the DL most of August with a sore arm. The Reds traded him to the Indians, and he went 6–15 in 1992. The Marlins picked Jack in the 1993 expansion draft and he went 9–17 for Florida in his last season as a starter. Jack pitched a couple of games for the Rangers in 1994 before walking away from the game.
Nearly a decade later, in 2001, Jack’s arm felt well enough to pitch for the Newark Bears. He made 23 starts at the age of 36 and went 13–6. He pitched a handful of games for Newark in 2003 before retiring for good.
Meanwhile, Jack’s son—Jack Jr.—was taking after his old man. The boy grew to 6’7” and pitched so well for his Florida High school that the Texas Rangers offered him a $1 million bonus to forego college and turn pro. Jack opted for the education, and accepted a baseball scholarship at Vanderbilt.