Wednesday, April 18, 2012
A baseball card mystery: Roy Lee JacksonPosted by Bruce Markusen
Competition breeds creativity. One of the outgrowths of the court decision that ended Topps’ monopoly over producing cards of major leaguers was the emergence of the Fleer Company. In the early '80s, Fleer displayed the kind of creativity and imagination that had been missing in recent sets of Topps cards. In particular, the 1984 Fleer set provides several excellent examples.
Roy Lee Jackson and gave it a nifty twist, showing the Blue Jays pitcher, not on the mound, but singing either the National Anthem or “Oh Canada” before a game with the Rangers. How can you not love a card like that?
Roy Lee Jackson is hardly a household name, unless you’re a diehard fan of 1980s baseball, but at one time he was a top prospect in the Mets’ farm system. In the late '70s, the Mets envisioned him as someone who could fill one of the gaps in a rotation that had lost Tom Seaver and Jon Matlack, both of whom had been dispatched in unwise trades.
For three straight years, Jackson won in double figures at Triple-A Tidewater. In 1979, the Mets gave Jackson a look in the bullpen, where he excelled in eight appearances. But when the Mets used him as a starter in 1980, he flopped badly. The poor performance convinced the Mets that he was expendable. So when they had a chance to acquire the highly touted and versatile utilityman Bob Bailor (whom it seem everyone wanted in the early '80s), the Mets sent Jackson to the Blue Jays in a straight-up one-for-one deal.
Wisely, the Jays made Jackson a fulltime reliever. He excelled in the role in 1981 and ‘82, slumped the following season, and then bounced back with a career high 10 saves in 1984. Strangely, the Blue Jays released him just before Opening Day in 1985. He signed with the Orioles, but never made it out of their farm system. The O’s traded him to the Padres for the ill-fated Alan Wiggins. Jackson ended up pitching well in long relief for San Diego, but all that earned him was another spring training release in 1986. The same day of his release, he signed with Minnesota and pitched a season with the Twins before his career came to an end after a brief tryout with the Brewers.
Jackson’s pitching talents kept him in the big leagues for 10 seasons. Apparently, he was nearly as good at singing as he was at throwing fastballs. Impressed by his vocal talents, the Jays arranged to have him sing one of the anthems before a game against the Rangers.
That brings us to this week’s mystery. Based on our usual logic, we assume that the photograph for his 1984 Fleer card was snapped in 1983. Jackson’s singing appearance came before a night game in Texas.
So we have several questions. On what night of the season did Jackson sing? Who is the Rangers’ catcher, seen in the background? The Rangers’ catchers that season included Jim Sundberg (we know it’s not him) and two obscure players, Bobby Johnson and Donnie Scott. And dare we ask, even though we’ve never inquired about umpires before, who is the home plate arbiter standing next to the Rangers’ catcher?
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.