NewsPub Notes

Inside Baseball From a Local Man Who Played With the Best

There’s a guy here in Athens who is the only man ever to play football in back-to-back Cotton Bowl games for two different teams. He also played Major League Baseball for the Chicago Cubs and the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he replaced Jackie Robinson at third base and played in a couple of All-Star games. Golf is his best game, though. He is also, as many of you know, just as fine a man as he is an athlete.

Ransom “Randy” Jackson is 93-years-old, still gets around pretty well and works out carefully at the gym. After his major league career, which ended with a short stint in Cleveland and a year back with the Cubs, he retired and went into the life insurance business here, which apparently fit well with his easygoing competitiveness and his outgoing personality.

As you can see from the book jacket, Jackson recently published a book about his life in sports. He had the help of a writer named Gaylon White, as you can also see, and they did a great job of keeping the narrative in Ransom’s voice. Handsome Ransom Jackson, Accidental Big Leaguer is just what you would like it to be: stories about games and personalities by somebody who was right in the thick of it. “Handsome” was coined by a sportswriter, of course, because it rhymes with Ransom. When you read the book, you’ll understand just how accidental his career was. It is interesting that Jackson played neither football nor baseball in high school, though he was playing golf by then.

Jackson was in college during World War II and got into a Naval officer-training program, which sent him to Texas Christian University. There, the coach talked him into trying out for football in spite of his lack of background in that sport. He had played kicking games as a teenager and made the team as a punter, becoming a star in the first game when the main kicker got hurt and Jackson punted out of bounds seven times within the 10 yardline. Soon, he was playing offense and defense. TCU won the Southwest Conference, and they played in the Cotton Bowl, losing to Oklahoma A&M. The next year, the Navy transferred him to the University of Texas, where the coach got him to come out for the Longhorns team, and that year Texas won the Southwest Conference and beat Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.

He also played baseball at UT and after college played some semi-pro ball, where he was noticed by a Cubs scout and was flown to Chicago for a tryout and offered a two-year contract at $6,000 a year. Thus began his “accidental” career. Accidental or not, Jackson was obviously a natural athlete, and at six feet, one-inch tall and 180 pounds, he could play with the big boys at that time, though he wouldn’t have been able to in modern baseball.

Jackson played big league baseball during the 1950s, before the sport got bought up by the big corporations and while the great old ballparks were still in use and players were more or less regular guys who lived in the neighborhood and had their names in the phone book. He was there when baseball became racially integrated and played on the Cubs at Wrigley Field with Ernie Banks and joined the Dodgers at Ebbets Field when Jackie Robinson was on his way out. Jackson played third base with the Cubs, and he was traded to the Dodgers to play third base there, although Robinson wasn’t quite ready to relinquish the hot corner.

Jackson modestly recounts just what it meant to play third base in the big leagues and why it was called “hot corner,” standing so close to the power of right-handed hitters banging the ball at you. At that corner he sustained some injuries and also suffered some freak hits, such as a spider bite on his hand that became infected. Basically, Randy Jackson’s accidental career was cut short by injuries. But while he was there, he played with giants (and against Giants).

This book is truly “inside baseball.” What makes it so special is the fact that a guy still walking around Athens has firsthand knowledge of playing Major League Baseball with and against a legendary lineup, and he has written it all down for our reading pleasure.