Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #549, Jerry Royster (Article 109)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
It's amazing what a person learns when he does a little research. What's also amazing is that much of what he finds has little (or nothing) to do with the subject he was originally looking up. Sometimes we start reading and researching and we get way off into other areas...
This essay is ostensibly about Jerry Royster, but I am afraid it's going to go in multiple different directions.
Jerry Royster was a Yankee in 1987. He wasn't a Yankee for long. They acquired him in late August in a minor trade with the White Sox. Royster ended up playing in all of 18 games for the Yankees. He did well batting .357. He appeared mostly at third base, but he also played at second base, shortstop, and left field.
Royster was a Yankee for a short time, but in that time, he had two uniform numbers: #28 and #46.
There was a book, maybe the first book I ever remember about baseball cards titled The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book. The last page of that book (as I recall from my childhood - I have not seen the book since) read, "Good Night Sibby Sisti wherever you are." A 1951 Bowman baseball card of Sibby Sisti was pictured on that page. That card showed him in the midst of having a catch. For some reason that page of the book always made me sad. "Wherever you are" seemed to indicate passing time, and lost opportunity. I must have wondered, "Where do baseball players go when it's all over?" The line, obviously, all these years later, stuck with me.
I never forgot the name Sibby Sisti, but I also never knew much about him. I assumed that he had a short career and that, based on that one card, that he was a pitcher. He looked like a pitcher to me.
As I researched Jerry Royster, I saw that on Baseball-Reference the player that he was most similar to him at age-25 was Sibby Sisti. My initial thought was, "How could Jerry Royster, an infielder, be most similar to a pitcher?" Up until the time I wrote this essay, I always assumed that Sibby Sisti was a pitcher.
It turns out that Sibby Sisti was an infielder who had a 13-year career with the Boston and Milwaukee Braves. He played in over 1,000 Major League games and batted .244 for his career.
Sisti served the US Coast Guard during World War II. It turns out, also, that he was a coach on the 1969 Seattle Pilots. That interests me greatly because I do not recall him ever being mentioned in Ball Four. I also learned that he was a consultant on the movie The Natural (one of my favorite films of all time) and played the manager of the Pittsburgh team in that film.
If you're like me, there are certain players who you might confuse in your mind. Some players just remind me of other players. Sometimes they have similar names or positions. Sometimes they have similar histories. Sometimes these were guys whose baseball cards looked similar.
Growing up I didn't really know the difference between Dave Pagan, Doc Medich, and Pat Dobson. They were all right-handed pitchers for the Yankees in the 1975 Topps set. To me, they seemed so similar, I always had a hard time differentiating between them. I still confuse them sometimes.
Since I wasn't around for the 1950s and 1960s Yankees (of course), I also used to often confuse Tommy Tresh and Tony Kubek. They each played shortstop, at least for a period of time. They were each a Rookie of the Year...
Or Bob Friend and Bob Turley. Those guys seemed very similar. Turley was also someone I confused with Ralph Terry. Those guys always confounded me. Which one gave up Bill Mazeroski's homer and which one won the Cy Young Award?
Or... when they were rookies in 2012, I couldn't separate D.J. Mitchell from Adam Warren in my mind. Both right-handers. Both young...
Two other players I also always confused were Lenny Randle and Jerry Royster.
Lenny Randle played from 1971 to 1982.
Jerry Royster played from 1973 to 1988.
They were both infielders. They both played mostly in the National League. They were both from California. As big leaguers, they both bounced around a bit, playing for five different teams. And they both played, briefly, on the Yankees.
It turns out that, according to Baseball-Reference, one of the players most similar to Jerry Royster is Lenny Randle. The only player with a higher similarity score to Royster is Derrel Thomas another middle infielder from the same era. In my mind, I often confused Jerry Royster and Lenny Randle. It tuns out that statistically, they were also similar.
Royster, as a Yankee though was much better. As noted, in 18 games, he batted .357. Randle (playing for the 1979 Yankees) batted just .179 in 20 games.
You just can't make this stuff up...
Another player on the "most similar" list for Jerry Royster was a guy named Bobby Adams. I also don't know much about him, but he was also a player who was special to me.
The first (and only, for a long, long time) baseball card that I owned form the 1959 Topps set was my card of Bobby Adams. I loved that card and when I see it today, it still brings back good memories.
I don't remember too many cards like that - my first from a particular set. For whatever reason, I do remember that the first card I owned from the 1968 Topps set was Russ Nixon.
It's interesting why there are certain things and moments that we remember.
What a big difference a few games makes...
I was interested in looking at Royster's .357 batting average for the Yankees. That batting average was so impressive that I wanted to learn more.
When he was traded from the White Sox to the Yankees in 1987, Royster was batting only .240 for the year.
Over his first 14 games as a Yankee, Jerry Royster batted .258. He actually started well, going 5-for- 14 (.357) before dropping off and going 3-for-17 (.176) resulting in an overall .258 batting line. But then came his final four games. In those games, he went 7-for-11 (.636) to raise his overall batting line to .357.
Those last four games were so good that he raised his season batting average from .243 to .265. Four games... that's it.
The Yankees, I guess, weren't fooled by the few games. Jerry Royster was released on April 4, 1988. In May, he joined the Braves and hit .176 in his final Major League season.