A baseball card mystery: Roy Lee Jackson

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.


Fleer showed veterans Cubs outfielder Jay Johnstone wearing one of those distinctive Brock-a-brella hats, fully emblazoned with Budweiser beer logos. The company also included a Glenn Hubbard card that displayed the Braves’ second baseman with a large snake draped over his shoulders. Yikes! And Fleer took its card of
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?

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  1. Ron Kaplan said...

    Given that the catcher appears to be African-America, that would mean it’s Bobby Johnson. He played for the Rangers from 1981-83 and appeared in one game against Toronto in 1981, but as a defensive replacement, so he would not be behind the plate for the NA (which also means the Blue Jays had to be the visiting team, as confirmed by the powder blue unis).

    Johnson started three games at home against the Jays: May 15, 1982, a night game; July 21, 1983, start time undetermined as per baseball Reference; and July 24, 1983, the first game of a doubleheader and so was NOT a night game.

    The home plate umpires for those games were Dave Phillips, Jim McKean, and Merill Durwood, respectively. Going strictly by the accumulated info, I would go with the May 15 game.


  2. BlftBucco said...

    If someone can make out the number on the umpire’s sleeve, I think the mystery will be solved.

    I agree that the catcher is Bobby Johnson.

    Dave Phillips wore number 7
    Jim McKean wore number 08
    Durwood Merrill wore number 33

    I don’t think it’s Dave Phillips, it appears to be a double digit number.  Plus he had dark hair.

    Sort of looks like 33 to me.

  3. Neil said...

    It’s “O Canada”, and I’m not aware of any song called “the National Anthem” that would be sung before a baseball game.

  4. Ron said...

    That’s funny. Mostly because the National Anthem is sung before every game played. Funny you missed that.

    Or could it be that your use of “parentheses” around National Anthem doesn’t carry the same meaning as wriiting it without them?

  5. aaron said...

    I think he meant that the “National Anthem” is different in every country. Here it’s actually called the Star Spangled Banner, but we usually simply refer to it as the National Anthem, as though there are no other nations that also have anthems.

  6. kds said...

    Does the catcher wearing the “tools” require that he is starting?  Couldn’t he be in the bull pen warming up the starter?

  7. mcs said...

    The game is most likely July 21, 1983. The start time for the game was 7:35 pm. I asked a reference librarian to find the start time and she quite quickly found a newspaper listing the games of that day showing 7:35 pm for Toronto vs Texas.

  8. Michael Caragliano said...

    One interesting footnote…. I stumbled on a Chicago Tribune article from October 5, 1986. Apparently, Roy Lee sang the anthem before the October 4th White Sox/Twins game. Since his final appearance as a major league pitcher came four days earlier, technically, that would be his last appearance on a ballfield.

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