Friday, July 4, 2014

Card #71: Roy Lee Jackson

Who Can It Be Now?
Roy Lee Jackson was born on May 1, 1954, in Opelika, Alabama -- in the shadows of Auburn University.  The Opelika Observer called Jackson "the first native-born Opelikian to make it to the major leagues." Since they are the local newspaper, I'll go with it too.

Jackson attended Opelika High School, and graduated in 1972.  While in high school, he was an excellent football player.  According to that Opelika Observer article from last year, Jackson was good enough as a sophomore in high school at football to be receiving letters from Southern Cal, the University of Alabama, and the University of Georgia.  But, he broke his leg his senior year of high school against Lanett High School and schools lost interest.  

He was still a good baseball player, though, and was drafted straight out of high school by the Houston Astros in the 12th round of the 1972 draft.  Jackson thought about signing with the Astros, but his mother wanted him to get his education.  As a result, he accepted a scholarship offer from Tuskegee University to play baseball there.  He was not drafted out of college, and signed with the New York Mets as an amateur free agent after his junior year at Tuskegee.

After he signed in 1975, the Mets sent him to Marion in the Appalachian League.  As should be the case for a college pitcher against a bunch of high school kids, Jackson dominated -- 1.44 ERA, 35 hits allowed and 35 strikeouts in 50 innings.  After 8 games, the Mets bumped Jackson up to the Midwest League.  Jackson did well there as well.  So, he moved to the High-A Carolina League in 1976 for seven starts.  His strikeout pitches deserted him there for some reason -- dipping to just 3.1 K/9.  No matter -- he did well enough to be promoted to the Texas League later in 1976.  

Jackson moved up to Triple-A Tidewater in 1977.  And there, his career stalled a bit.  And, by stalled a bit, I mean, Jackson must have been on a first name basis The Mets had Jackson pitching as a starter in the minors. When they tried him as a starter in the major leagues, though, he struggled to make his mark and move past guys like Craig Swan, Nino Espinosa, and Pat Zachry.  So, in 1980 in September, the Mets tried Jackson out of the bullpen.  The experiment went reasonably well -- in 24-2/3 innings, Jackson had a 3.65 ERA, a number increased artificially by his giving up 6 earned runs in his last two outings over four innings.  

That attempt to put Jackson in the bullpen either convinced the Mets that Jackson was expendable, or it convinced the Blue Jays that they could use Jackson.  As a result, the Mets sent Jackson to the Blue Jays in exchange for utilityman Bob Bailor.  The Jays put Jackson in the bullpen for good other than 2 starts in 1982.  Jackson picked up 7 saves in 1981 and had one of his best seasons in the majors despite striking out just 27 in 62 innings.

Jackson stayed in Toronto through 1984.  After spring training in 1985, however, the Blue Jays had stocked their bullpen with Gary LaVelle, Bill Caudill, Jim Acker, and Dennis Lamp, among others, so they released Jackson at the end of spring training in 1985.  From there, he signed on with the Baltimore Orioles.  Jackson never pitched for the Orioles in the majors, however, and spent the six weeks he was with the organization at Triple-A Rochester.

The Orioles didn't really need Jackson in the majors.  When the opportunity came in June of 1985 to acquire Alan Wiggins when the San Diego Padres got tired of his drug problems, the Orioles sent Jackson to the Padres with another minor league player.  The Padres called Jackson up after a couple of weeks at Las Vegas in Triple-A.  Jackson pitched fairly well -- a 2.70 ERA in 40 innings with 28 strikeouts -- and his ERA would have been better without his second of two starts for the Padres in which he allowed 5 earned runs in 4-1/3 innings.

His good year in 1985 wasn't enough to guarantee him a spot on the roster for the next season, however, and Jackson found himself looking for work during spring training in 1986. The Minnesota Twins gave him his next opportunity, signing Jackson almost immediately after his release from the Padres.  For the Twins and in his last major league season, Jackson threw 58-1/3 innings over 28 games.  The Twins let Jackson go after the 1986 season.

He caught on midway through the 1987 season with the Brewers, who sent him to Triple-A Denver.  Bad idea.  Jackson got lit up there -- 19 hits and 9 runs (8 earned) in 8-1/3 innings spelled the end of Jackson's playing career.

Mustache check: Fully bearded means fully mustachioed.

Goody Two Shoes
Jackson believes that he was released by the Blue Jays because he was a Christian.  As he said in the Opelika Observer article from last March:
The players called the few of us who were Christians "Jesus Freaks."  We were also on the cover of a Toronto magazine and they referred to us as the "God Squad." The management thought I was soft because I didn't show anger by throwing my helmet, shouting, etc.  Professional baseball is cut-throat.  There was a lot of pressure until I was saved.
Trivial Pursuit
In the first game of Cal Ripken's consecutive games played streak -- May 30, 1982 -- the Baltimore Orioles were shut out 6-0 by the Blue Jays.  Jim Gott combined with Roy Lee Jackson on a one-hitter that day -- a single to left field by Rick Dempsey.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
I don't have specific recollection of Jackson from his days as a player.  Looking at his splits, though, Jackson did very well against the Brewers -- a 2.89 ERA, a 1-1 record, 1 save, and just 20 hits allowed over 28 innings.  I guess that is what the Brewers saw when they signed him in 1987.

These days and as the Opelika Observer reported last year, Jackson is back in Opelika despite, as he put it, saying as a kid that "I ain't ever coming back."  He became an ordained minister in 2006.  With Mary, his wife of 35 years, they were in 2013 preaching and sharing their testimony out of their house.  

For what it's worth, Jackson comes across as a bit bitter about how things played out with his baseball career in Toronto.  As was said in that news story:
When Jackson was in Toronto in 1982, he remembers that there was a family atmosphere among the team members.  Wives did things together and players did too.  However, Jackson said that things changed during his third year there. "It became all about money, a business." Jackson adds, "There is a lack of integrity in professional athletics. I was raised to believe that a hand shake was an honored agreement and that when you gave your word, you meant it."
What changed?

Well, what really changed was that the Blue Jays became a contending team.  They went from a 37-69 record in 1981 -- dead last overall in the AL East -- to a nearly respectable 78-84 record in 1982 to an excellent 89-73 record in 1983.  Perhaps winning led the Blue Jays to put a bit more pressure on their players to perform better.  More likely, winning led the Blue Jays under GM Pat Gillick and manager Bobby Cox to start looking for those positions on the roster where upgrades could take place.  While Jackson was not pitching poorly, the team's bullpen was its weak link.  So, looking for a place to upgrade would lead to the bullpen.  

After all, in 1985 after Jackson was released, the Blue Jays finished with 99 wins and won the AL East.  It's easy to say that things "changed" and baseball became "a business" in 1983 for the Blue Jays.  The reality is that things had to change to move the Jays forward.  Jackson just fell victim to that.

I hope y'all have a Happy Fourth of July, and thanks for reading.

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