Most Cub fans remember the 1950’s as a bleak period in franchise history. The bright spot was the beginning of the era of Ernie Banks, of course. And a few think of Hank Sauer, the slugging outfielder who won the MVP in 1952 for tying Ralph Kiner with a league-leading 37 home runs while leading the Cubs to a 77-77 finish—“the elusive .500 mark,” as Jack Brickhouse called it.
Fewer still might recall pitcher Bob Rush, one of the rare sometimes-reliable starters the Cubs used in the decade, who compiled a 110-140 WL record over ten seasons.
But I remember the only other Cub to make the All-Star team more than once in the 50’s: third baseman, Ransom “Randy” Jackson. Maybe it was the fact that I wanted to play third base in Little League or maybe it was the desire to root for a player that others overlooked—I don’t remember exactly why, but “Handsome Ransom” was my favorite for the six years he handled the hot corner for the Cubs.
He came up in May of 1950, replacing Bill Serena at third. Although his first year was not particularly noteworthy, in 1951 he provided enough with his bat (.275/16/76) to win the full-time job thereafter. As a regular, he ranked among the top 10 in the majors infielding each year. He showed power in his three best years with the Cubs, with 19, 19, and 21 home runs from ’53 to’55, and despite a bad year or two, he had a .266/.327/.430 lifetime line with the Cubs.
Cubs career highlights included a tape measure home run in ‘54 which cleared the left field wall and hit the third floor of one of the Waveland buildings (the wind was blowing out and the Cubs beat the Cardinals, 23-13). He was selected to play on the N.L. All Star team twice. In his first All-Star season, 1954, he came in to the game for Ray “Jabbo” Jablonski. The next year he continued his steady performance, going to the All-Star game behind Eddie Matthews.
In their wisdom, the Cubs front office decided to trade Jackson before the 1956 season. He was sought after by the Brooklyn Dodgers, who expected him to replace an aging Jackie Robinson at third. (Junior Gilliam had already bumped Robinson from second, and Gil Hodges was playing first). He went east with pitcher Don Elston (another one of my favorite Cubs) in return for third baseman Don Hoak, pitcher Russ “The Mad Monk” Meyer, and outfielder Walt “Moose” Moryn. (Hoak lasted one year with the Cubs, hit .222, and was traded; Meyer was injured—supposedly falling in the shower; but “Moose” had several productive years in the outfield.)
For Jackson, a trade to a first place team should have been a great career move, and he did get to play in the World Series in 1956, backing up Robinson at third. He holds a small spot in the record books for hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth to tie a game with the Phillies. What makes that unusual is that the previous batter, Duke Snider, had hit a homer to draw the Dodgers within one, and the subsequent batter, Gil Hodges, homered on the first pitch to give the Dodgers the win. It’s apparently the only time a game has ended on three consecutive home runs.
Unfortunately, Randy was injured in a freak play at first base in 1957. As he was running to first, a high throw pulled Pirates first baseman Frank Thomas off the bag and he hit Jackson, causing a leg injury. Subsequently, Randy never again performed up to his usual level. He filled in at third and as a pinch hitter for the Dodgers for three years(including their first year as the Los Angeles Dodgers). He holds the distinction of hitting the last home run in Brooklyn Dodgers history.
He spent two years with the Indians, and then he was sent back to the Cubs in 1959 for one last undistinguished year before he retired.
Jackson will always be overshadowed by the greatest Cub third basemen—Harry Steinfeldt (the guy they left out of the Tinker to Evers to Chance poem), Stan Hack, and the greatest of them all, Ron Santo. Aramis Ramirez may have put up bigger numbers, and Ron Cey made a great contribution to winning teams in the 80’s. Bill Madlock won two batting titles. But for a young fan in the 50’s, Handsome Ransom was a Cub hero.
Photo by Bowman Gum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons