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Jerry Royster

November 25, 2008
 Untitled 
The baseball hovering above Jerry Royster’s left shoulder shows the limitations of language. Defining Jerry Royster’s role on a team with a single position, 3B, is like saying that Ben Franklin was a guy who did some newspaper work. It’s true Ben Franklin did some newspaper work, but he did a few other things too.

The comparison between Jerry Royster and Ben Franklin breaks down, of course, when you weigh the relative the importance of the many roles they played. Ben Franklin: discovered electricity, invented bifocals, formed the first public lending library, laid the groundwork for a nation, etc. Jerry Royster: subbed for Rod Gilbreath on occasion, laid down the occasional sacrifice bunt, led the 101-loss 1977 Atlanta Braves in steals, etc.

Even so, there is something entirely admirable in being able to do a lot of things competently. I’ve always been fond of Jerry Royster, as a matter of fact (and of Ben Franklin, too), and perhaps it has something to do with my long-held suspicion that I am useless. I remember, many years ago, in boarding school, playing catch with a friend out by my dorm’s “butt porch” (a cigarette-smoking area for the adolescent denizens of the school; it was a different time). It was late in my time there, the end of senior year approaching. That spring we got stoned a lot in our room and then threw on a record, most often the Dead Set side with “Franklin’s Tower,” put the speakers in the window, and hung out on the butt porch. This particular day instead of just sitting there zoning out we’d decided to play some catch. We started talking about what kind of baseball player we’d be if we could be any baseball player.

I started describing my choice, a player very much like Jerry Royster. A guy you’d barely notice most of the time and then every once in a while you’d stop and say, hey, that guy’s actually fairly useful, in a quiet, unassuming way. This amused my friend greatly.

“If you’re going to be a make-believe player, why would you want that?” he said, incredulous. “If we’re playing make-believe, make me the catcher who hits 80 home runs with 200 RBIs!”

I refused to alter my stance. I wanted to be a utility guy who hit around .260 and could steal you a base.

It couldn’t have been too much longer after this ridiculous conversation that I was expelled from boarding school. I’ve described this whole saga elsewhere, but my “judicial” occurs to me again when thinking of Jerry Royster. The judicial was a hearing where I was supposedly allowed to plead my case for staying in school to a table of students and faculty. If I’d been involved in a lot of different extra-curricular activities or charity work or sports or had had any academic prowess in one or more subjects, or had played a musical instrument, or knew how to use a computer or type or develop photographs or paint a picture or make a ceramic pot or drive or sing or identify any aspect of the natural or physical world beyond that which happened to intersect with the campus frisbee golf course I played incessantly while high, that would have been the time to mention my utility.

I said very little. What was there to say? What I could have done, and probably should have done, was to show off one of my useless skills: the ability to fill out an imaginary baseball roster with some sort of an idiosyncratic theme determining inclusion. An apt team for that situation would have been a team filled with my polar opposites, the Jerry Royster-inspired all-time versatile guy team:

C (and 1B and RF and LF and 3B): Johnny Wockenfuss
1B (and LF and 3B and 2B and RF and CF): Pete Rose
2B (and LF and 3B and SS and RF and CF and 1B): Tony Phillips
SS (and 3B and LF and 2B and CF and C and 1B and P and RF): Bert Campaneris
3B (and 2B and SS and LF and CF and RF): Jerry Royster
LF (and RF and 1B and 3B and CF and 2B): Pedro Guerrero
CF (and SS and LF and 1B): Robin Yount
RF (and P and LF and 1B): Babe Ruth
P (and OF and 2B and 1B): Smokey Joe Wood

****

(Love versus Hate update: Jerry Royster’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

27 comments

  1. 1.  Great List Josh. I always liked Jerry Royster. I am a little biased based on the fact that he is from my hometown of Sacramento California, and I went to High School with his nephew. Interestingly enough, he was later teammates with Rowland Office who came out of Sacramento as well. I always tried to be one of those guys who could do everything. I think it’s because by the time I got to High School it seemed I couldn’t do anything well. I think I advertised myself as a player who could play all nine positions with an equal lack of skill.

    As far as your list goes, I’m glad to see you included a couple Oakland A’s guys. Guys like Campaneris and Phillips have always been favorites of mine. I think that generally speaking, guys like that are often hometown favorites because the fans get to see them contribute in so many different ways. With that said, I think the best qualities for a “versatile player” have to include defensive skill and baserunning ability. That is why I’d like to nominate Alfonso Soriano to replace Pedro Guerrero in left field. He is a great hitter who can also play in the infield and outfield, and he can certainly steal you a base. I know that Guerrero was a good hitter with some power, but he was widely known as having a horrible glove. When Guerrero was with the Dodgers and Steve Sax forgot how to throw the ball to first base, Pedro was asked what went through his mind before the ball was hit. he said…

    “First I think, ‘I hope they don’t hit it to me.’ Then I think ‘I hope they don’t hit to Sax.’ ”

    I submit this for your consideration.


  2. 2.  I loved this essay – and the inclusion of Guerrero. But if there was ever a time he should have taken a back seat to Derrel Thomas, this was it.


  3. 3.  I started watching baseball, specifically Dodger baseball, in 1984 or so. So I never got the opportunity to see play a perfect candidate for this list, Derrel Thomas. Over the years, I have come to appreciate and admire his versatility — he was the jack of all trades, the secret weapon in the Dodger dugout. He started at least 3 games at every position except pitcher in his career. I wish I had the opportunity to see him play.

    Lenny Harris was probably the closest Dodger comparable to Thomas in my viewing lifetime, but I was never that enamored with him (or his subsequent pinch-hitting record) so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. :)


  4. 4.  2
    I swear I didn’t see your comment before posting mine.


  5. 5.  I think Soriano’s a decent choice, but he’s never exactly been an asset in the field. And since I thought one of those “shaky-glove-everywhere” players should be represented, I went with the one with the greatest good bat/bad glove ratio. (Sheffield was also considered.)


  6. 6.  You know what, Derrel Thomas has got to be on this team. I’m giving him the spot of greatest honor: Utility Man.


  7. 7.  17 players since 1901 have played at least 2 career games at C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, & OF, including Mr. Thomas:

    http://www.bb-ref.com/pi/shareit/n2eC

    Dave “not The Steal™” Roberts is the only other one besides Thomas (post-1956) to start at all 8 non-pitcher positions.


  8. 8.  I had a blooper tape that showed Jose Oquendo playing just about every position, including pitcher. They edited it in a way so that it looked like the Cardinals were fielding an entire team of Oquendos. They even edited Tim McCarver’s calls to add to the hilarity. “The pitch from Oquendo, ground ball to Oquendo, over to Oquendo,” etc.


  9. 9.  7 : That Dave Roberts probably deserves to be on this team over personal favorite Johnny Wockenfuss. Anybody who logged a significant number of games at both shortstop and catcher is Versatile with a capital V.

    8 : Oquendo’s a good one, too, maybe more deserving than Campy as the team’s shortstop; besides his stunt of playing every position in one game, Campy really did have a primary position, shortstop.

    Also, maybe the definitive all-versatile team should be made up entirely of switch-hitters. Oquendo and Thomas are a start, along with Rose and Phillips. Who else?


  10. 10.  I thought maybe you were just sticking with Cardboard Gods era players, but I see Babe Ruth on there, so how about Craig Biggio? C/CF/2B is pretty impressive.


  11. 11.  Hey if you are going to use Pedro at 2nd then you might want to use Jimmy Wynn at SS. 21 games in 1963.


  12. 12.  Can Lee Lacy get any love. Every position but 1st base.


  13. 13.  Me and my family became fans of Royster when we got cable TV and 100-plus Braves games in the summer. We even named our German Shepherd “Jerry.”

    I wonder how Royster’s Korean baseball team did this seaason…


  14. 14.  10 : Biggio crossed my mind.

    11 : Maybe in a later time we can compile the all-dubiously-positioned team, with Pedro and Wynn turning DPs, Don Mattingly at third, etc. (No offense meant toward Wynn, who was probably fairly decent at short.)

    12 : Lee Lacy, yes! Boy, with Thomas and Lacy the Dodgers really had the market cornered. It’s probably no accident that Royster came up in the Dodgers system.

    13 : Royster led his Korean team to their first playoff berth in many years this year. They were bounced in the first round. They were led on offense by Karim Garcia.


  15. 15.  Okay, so Soriano doesn’t make the grade.

    What about Martin Dihigo?

    I obviously never saw him play, but I found a few facts in my hasty research.

    -Began his U.S. career as an 18-year-old second baseman for the Cuban Stars.

    -He was a superb pitcher

    -Credited with the first no-hitter in Mexican League history

    -When he wasn’t pitching he regularly started in the outfield or infield and batted near the clean-up spot.

    -Dihigo played and managed the New York Cubans in 1945 and continued to play and manage in Cuba and Mexico until the early 1950s

    -The only man to ever be elected in to the Cuban, Mexican, and United States Baseball Halls of Fame.

    -Last but not least, he was respected by his fellow players

    “He was the only guy I ever saw, who could play all nine positions, manage, run and switch-hit.” said Johnny Mize


  16. 16.  15 : My god, I am ashamed to have left El Maestro off the team. At least he’s the utility guy on my all-time team:

    http://cardboardgods.baseballtoaster.com/archives/679538.html


  17. 17.  Cesar Tovar. Playing all nine positions in one game has been done since then (most recently by Scott Sheldon) but he was the first. Due to smaller rosters, it would not surprise me if some 19th Century guys played all nine positions. I did find at least one guy in the 20th Century who did it before Tovar: Bobby Reis,

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/r/reisbo01.shtml

    I’m enough of a dork that when I had him on my Diamond Mind team, I played him at all nine positions in the final game that season.


  18. 18.  I know I’m predating the Cardboard Gods era with this one, but I gotta give a little love to Rod Kanehl.

    I find him especially endearing because, from what I understand, he might not have been a major-league-caliber player at ANY position.

    Many of the other names dropped here were actually competent at whatever position they spent the most time playing.


  19. 19.  How about Psycho Lyons?


  20. 20.  19
    He’s one of the 17 players in the link in post 7 .


  21. 21.  As for date of pic: Well, it’s gotta be from ’77 or ’76, since Royster wasn’t on the Braves before ’76. However, we know it’s ’77 since his bat has a 13 on the knob, and he only wore 13 that one year. (No Brave wore 13 in ’76, so it’s not like he was borrowing someone else’s.)

    Anyway, it’s Candlestick–if the seats don’t give it away, a look at all the ’78 Braves’ Topps cards show them all in warmups at Candlestick. It’s before a day game–in fact, the clock in the background of Niekro’s card shows 11:40. Must’ve been a 1:00 game. Atlanta played at SF in May, July, and September. Checked the Old Farmer’s Almanac online and the May weekend (5/27-28) seems most likely–fairly cold and with high winds and no precip, and they’re all wearing windbreakers, though it should (really?) be noted that Royster’s wearing the jacket with “Braves” on it, while Neikro’s got the “Atlanta” one WITH his number on the front at bottom left.

    If it was that weekend, Royster’s Frisco vacay was bittersweet. On Saturday he broke a scoreless tie with a 2-run single in the eighth, leading the Braves to a 2-1 victory. On Sunday, he’d make an error in the bottom of the tenth, allowing the winning run to score.


  22. 22.  a red sox fan from pinstripe territory -

    Did you know who else analyzes baseball photos like that? George Michael, the Sports Machine guy. His Gods are from the 40s and 50s, plus he has a predilection for pictures of guys sliding. But that’s his hobby and he has done presentations for the Society of American Baseball Research about it.


  23. 23.  21 : I like that the Old Farmer’s Almanac is getting involved.


  24. 24.  I did come across one of George Michael’s projects like that somewhere. Looked like a bunch of pics were figured out, and the ones that weren’t seemed quite impossible–at least with Topps you’re given the player’s name and you have a good idea of what year it was.

    I signed up for the Almanac online a few years ago–specifically for the purpose of figuring out baseball pictures.

    My favorite “solved mystery” was when I saw a random Fenway shot, went to great lenghts to figure out which game it was, found out that it was a game in which Andy Pettitte got injured, narrowing the moment down to the actual PITCH he hurt himself on. Only to later find out that it was that injury which led him to take HGH the first time. I documented it all on my blog.


  25. 25.  We, too, were actually allowed to SMOKE in high school. During school hours! There was a “smoker’s alley” adjacent to one of the exits. Can you believe that shit?! Ahhh… liberal ’80s educational values…


  26. 26.  I’m kind of surprised that Joe Torre hasn’t come up yet. He has one less position played than Wockenfuss (C,1b,3b,lf) but is a gold glove winner at C. Ruth and Rose are must-haves in this lineup.


  27. I’d like to think we are sticking with CBG era. That being said you have to include CBG john lowenstein.

    12 Seasons LF 645
    4 Seasons OF 129
    9 Seasons RF 129
    6 Seasons 3B 72
    6 Seasons 2B 71
    5 Seasons CF 36
    7 Seasons 1B 28
    2 Seasons SS 4

    Or BubbleGum blowing champ Kurt Bevaqua
    14 Seasons 3B 329
    10 Seasons 2B 133
    11 Seasons 1B 129
    8 Seasons LF 32
    3 Seasons OF 26
    4 Seasons RF 14
    3 Seasons SS 9

    Bert, as much as i like him…really was focused on SS
    18 Seasons SS 2097
    4 Seasons 3B 76
    3 Seasons OF 69
    4 Seasons 2B 36
    1 Season P 1
    1 Season C 1
    1 Season 1B 1

    BTW is saw a video from 1972 of bert c throwing his bat at lerrin lagrow for throwing a soft pitch at his feet..kinda funny..on utube.

    Really to do this right we need % played at each position during the CBG years



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