Jerry RoysterNovember 25, 2008
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.)