Ransom Jackson has had quite a life. He was a two-time All-Star with the Chicago Cubs in the 1950s, he played with Jackie Robinson, he moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles with the Dodgers, he played college football with Bobby Layne at the University of Texas and played in two Cotton Bowls, he befriended a mob boss, he met Muhammad Ali, and he has a book out called “Handsome Ransom Jackson: Accidental Big Leaguer.”
And, just for good measure, he grew up in 1930s Arkansas during the Depression.
“Well, the thing is, we didn’t have anything to do back then during the Depression,” the 90-year-old said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “We made up our own games. We had a radio and that’s it. So in my book, I try to devote a couple of chapters to what we did back in the ’30s. And of course kids nowadays don’t realize that at all. They got their little thing in their hands that they watch. We just had to make up games out in the street or in the backyards or in the school yards or whatever. We had fun, too.”
Jackson isn’t the best with technology or cell phones.
“Don’t ask me that,” he said, laughing. “I can peck at the computer, but I don’t carry a cell phone. Nobody calls me anyway.”
Jackson then took DA through his amazing, Forrest Gump life.
First up: Bobby Layne.
“He didn’t come in early on Friday nights, I’ll tell you that,” Jackson said. “But he’d go out Saturday afternoon and throw the softest passes. A great guy. He went on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks that there ever was, but a real nice guy too.”
Jackson later befriended a mob boss during his baseball career – or better yet, the mob boss befriended him.
“He’d invite me down to his restaurant,” Jackson said. “He’d invite me to play golf a couple of times. He was just the nicest guy. Loved baseball. He called me one day in New York . . . (and invited me to dinner).”
They had octopus – the first and only time Jackson ever ate it.
“Many, many years later, I saw the paper where the government got after him,” Jackson said. “I don’t know if he went to prison or not, but he was one of the nicest guys. I can say he was a friend of mine. There’s not many people (that can say) a mafia don was a friend of theirs. He never asked for anything. He just loved baseball.”
Jackson played with the Dodgers in the 1950s and was brought in to be Jackie Robinson’s replacement.
“Well, the only people that were really concerned with it was sportswriters,” Jackson said. “They kept asking me every day, ‘How are you and Jackie getting along?’ Well, we got along beautifully. I had played against him for five years, so we knew each other. Most of the animosity in the league was over with. It was about seven years later.”
Jackson backed up Robinson to begin the 1956 season but eventually replaced him.
“I ended up batting cleanup for the Brooklyn Dodgers,” Jackson said, “which is about the best thing in the world.”
Later that year, though, Jackson accidentally cut his hand in the shower, Robinson replaced him, played well and helped the Dodgers to the 1956 World Series, where they lost to the Yankees and Don Larsen’s perfect game.
Still, Jackson loved playing with Robinson.
“He was just like anybody else and a pleasure to be around and to be with,” he said. “We went over to Japan for a month after the World Series, and I spent little time with Jackie and his wife. We’d sit there and talk. I just enjoyed everything about him.”
Jackson later met Muhammad Ali at an autograph event in Minnesota.
“He was in one room, I was in another, and I just had to walk over and shake his hand – just to say I shook his hand,” Jackson said. “He had a lot to him, I think. He had some different ideas from me, but he did a lot for the sport. That’s quite an athlete to be in boxing. You really had to be a special type of person.”