Ransom Jackson tells of baseball’s golden years in new book

Take a few steps into Ransom Jackson’s house in Athens and it’s clear that he’s quite the baseball memorabilia collector.

Behind the 90-year-old’s recliner is a series of photos of baseball players from years past, stars such as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Ernie Banks. There are numerous baseball cards on display along with a baseball comic strip and a newspaper story featuring Robinson and some of his teammates.

But a close look reveals a common trait with each item. The same young man appears in team photos. And is illustrated in the comic. And featured on baseball cards from 60 years ago.

Ransom Jackson isn’t just an admirer of these top-tier baseball stars. For 10 years, he was one.

“Handsome” Ransom Jackson — most fans knew him as Randy — spent 10 seasons in the majors, playing third base for the Chicago Cubs, Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians. He made two All-Star games with Chicago in 1954 and 1955 and also played in the 1956 World Series. He retired in 1959 at age 33 but remembers well what happened way back when.

“I was unusual,” Jackson said with a laugh. “ I was just having fun. I didn’t realize all these things until I got out of it.”

Jackson has collected stories from his life and pieced them together into a book. With help from author Gaylon H. White, the two recently wrote “Handsome Ransom Jackson: Accidental Big Leaguer,” a book detailing Jackson’s life, which was released last month.

Jackson may very well be game’s Forrest Gump, as he always seemed to be around the biggest names and starring in their monumental moments. The difference was Jackson was certainly not there by accident.

The Little Rock, Ark., native was a two-sport athlete in college and played football at TCU under head coach Dutch Meyer and then at Texas for Dana X. Bible. While with the Longhorns, he played on the same team as future Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry and quarterback Bobby Layne, who was elected to both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jackson had never played organized football until Meyer convinced him to come out for the Horned Frog and TCU won the Southwest Conference title and reached the Cotton Bowl in 1945. After transferring to Texas in 1946, Jackson accomplished both feats again.

Jackson’s baseball career reads like a history book. His All-Star appearances, which he cites as his favorite memories, paired him up with the likes of Musial, Willie Mays and Warren Spahn. He was traded from the Cubs to the Dodgers in 1956 with the intent of replacing Robinson, who was then coming off the worst season of his career. He was in the opponents’ dugout for Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, when Yankees pitcher Don Larsen threw a perfect game.

Jackson later hit the final home run of the Dodgers’ 1957 season only to later learn it would be the last home run hit in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. The Dodgers were headed West as part of baseball’s manifest destiny and Jackson moved right along with them.

“We got out there and were playing in the football field (at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum),” Jackson said. “What we did was sit on the steps looking up at the stands at the movie stars. At times, we didn’t know what the score was.”

When looking back at his keepsakes, Jackson’s memory is as sharp as if the events were still in progress. He explained the plaques on the wall and told stories of the trophies and signed balls spread across the back room of his house. He also pointed out photos fit for Cooperstown almost nonchalantly.

“This is just Stan Musial, Ralph Kiner and me,” Jackson said matter-of-factly at one point.

Jackson, his wife Terry and White got to work on the book two years ago after friends and golfing buddies begged Jackson for years to put his stories to paper. The drive to make it happen motivated Jackson to fill up several legal note pads with his tales. With Terry as the stenographer and White as the scribe, the project took shape as Jackson made sure nothing was left behind.

“I don’t want these stories to die,” Jackson said.