The ‘Phillies 50’ series usually highlights one pitcher and one position player from each Phillies team between 1971-2019. A player who made a minimal contribution to each of those teams, and combined that with an overall minimal impact on Major League Baseball as a whole.
For the 1987 Phillies there were two position players who so perfectly fit the bill that I decided to provide a snapshot of each one, so that both would get some remembrance.
Greg Jelks was a 25-year-old outfielder. Ken Jackson was a 23-year-old infielder. What they shared in common was that each would appear with the 1987 Phillies in what would be the lone season in each of their MLB careers.
A Louisiana native, Jackson had actually been the Phillies first round pick at 17th overall in the 1982 MLB Draft June-Secondary Phase as an 18-year-old out of Angelina College in Texas.
After spending a half-dozen mostly nondescript seasons in the farm system the Phillies gave Jackson a promotion when rosters expanded in September 1987. He would appear in eight games over the season’s final three weeks, including making five starts at shortstop.
Jackson’s first big-league game on September 12, 1987 was memorable. He started at shortstop next to the greatest player in Phillies history, Mike Schmidt, and delivered the first two hits of his career, scored his first run, and drove in his first run on that Saturday night at Veterans Stadium. Unfortunately it all came during a 12-4 loss at the hands of the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates.
Over his eight games, Jackson would slash .250/.333/.375 with two doubles and two RBIs. On September 25 at the Vet vs Montreal and on both October 2 and October 3, losses to the host Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium, Jackson shared the starting lineup with Jelks, who played left field vs Montreal, and then second base and third base in the two games with Pittsburgh.
Jelks signed with the Phillies as an amateur free agent in August of 1981. After rising incrementally through the farm system over the next five years he had been called up and made his big-league debut on August 20, 1987. It came as a replacement for Schmidt for the top of the 8th inning during a 10-2 Phillies blowout victory over the San Diego Padres at The Vet. In the bottom of that inning he would fly out to right field off Padres’ southpaw Keith Comstock in his first career at-bat.
Appearing in 10 games overall, Jelks would get just three starts. The first of those came in his eight appearance and would include what would prove to be his first and only hit in Major League Baseball.
On Friday, September 25, 1987 at Veterans Stadium against the visiting Montreal Expos, Jelks came to the plate with Glenn Wilson at first base and one out. Jelks doubled to right field off Expos’ starter Neal Heaton moving Wilson to third. Jackson then followed with a ground out on which Wilson scored the first run of the game, and the Phillies would to on to a 4-2 victory behind a strong outing from Don Carman and closer Steve Bedrosian‘s 40th save of the season. Bedrosian would be named the NL Cy Young Award winner for that season.
Jelks would go on to a lengthy career both playing and managing in Australia. He became a dual citizen and represented Australia in a number of international tournaments, including the 1998 World Cup, 2000 Sydney Olympics, and 2006 World Baseball Classic. He also managed during the 2000’s in the independent Frontier League.
On January 6, 2017 while on a return flight to Australia from his native Alabama where he had been visiting with his elderly mother, Jelks fell asleep. When the plane landed in Perth, Jelks could not be woken up. He was pronounced dead of unknown causes at just age 55.
“Greg was a tremendous influence on hundreds of ballplayers during his time in the Frontier League…He brought an upbeat, infectious personality to the field and truly loved teaching the game of baseball,” said Steve Tashler, Deputy Commissioner of the Frontier League per Ryan O’Bryan of NewsTalk 1280 in Evansville, Indiana.
Jackson spent 1988 back at Triple-A in the Phillies system, split the 1989 minor league season between the Phillies and Texas Rangers organizations, but never returned to Major League Baseball and was done at age 25.
NOTE: ALL entries in this “Phillies 50′ series can be viewed at that link as well as from the History section on the toolbar at our home philliesbell.com website.