Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Meet the Brewers #19: John Kennedy

On the same day -- May 18, 1970 -- that Brewer #18 Greg Goossen was sent to the minor leagues outright, another Brewer was placed on waivers and sent to Triple-A: John Kennedy.

Kennedy did not make his debut as a Brewer until the bottom of the 7th inning in the second game of the season. He debuted by pinch running for Goossen, who had pinch hit for Mike Hegan. Kennedy then played first base for the rest of that game. 

1970 McDonald's Milwaukee Brewers
Kennedy was a 28-year-old utility infielder with the Brewers when the season started. Marvin Milkes, the GM who quit at the end of the 1970 season -- likely allowed to resign before he was fired (interesting side note: Milkes went next to be the GM of the New York Raiders in the World Hockey Association in 1972 for 8 months, then, nearly 10 years later, he became the GM of the Los Angeles Aztecs in NASL just before it folded) -- sold Kennedy's contract to the Red Sox in June of 1970 rather than getting a player. Perhaps Bud Selig needed to pay for a new shipment of used Buicks.

Anyway...Kennedy. Kennedy was born on May 29, 1941. Coincidentally, he shared this May 29 birth date with a more famous John Kennedy, the future president who turned 24 on John Edward Kennedy's birthdate. Even more coincidentally, as his SABR biography points out, the baseball player was signed by the Washington Senators in 1961 and broke in with the Senators in 1962.

It was a rather auspicious debut. Pinch hitting in the bottom of the sixth inning against the team that was the Senators previously -- the Minnesota Twins -- Kennedy stepped up and promptly homered in his first major league at bat and, in the process, broke up a no-hitter. Still, JEK was never a power hitter; his career high came in 1964 when he hit 7 homers in 521 plate appearances. 

The highlight of his career came in 1965, when Walter Alston used Kennedy as a late-inning defensive replacement for much of the season (104 games played, 120 plate appearances). The Dodgers went on to win the World Series that year, and Kennedy was on the field at the end of the seventh game when the Dodgers won.

1994 Miller Brewing Milwaukee Brewers
Two stories seem to have followed Kennedy around for his career. The first is one Kennedy probably told hundreds of times: that, on one occasion, a letter meant for him went to the White House; by 2010 when the SABR biography writer asked, the letter was from Kennedy's fiancee.

The second story is, as you might guess, one of infamy from Ball Four in an entry dated June 18:
John Kennedy flew into a rage at Emmett Ashford over a called strike and was tossed out of the game. Still raging, he kicked in the water cooler in the dugout, picked it up and threw it onto the field. Afterward, we asked him what had gotten into him. He really isn't that type. And he said, "Just as I got called out on strikes, my greenie kicked in."
Kennedy told that story to some 250 kids and adults at the Elks home in Rockland, Maine, in December of 1971.  Kennedy claimed that the remark had been made in a joking fashion, saying, according to the newspaper, 
that he had vowed that anywhere he spoke he would relay the tale and try to impress upon young people the evils and dangers of taking drugs. He told the young ballplayers that it would be physically and mentally impossible for any athlete to perform effectively if he took drugs.
Ah, that 1950s mentality still in full force and effect.

Kennedy repeated his statement about that being a joke in 2010 to his SABR biographer as well, saying that he and many of the 1969 Pilots -- and, by extension, a number of the 1970 Brewers -- felt violated by Bouton's book. Kennedy admitted, though, that "Now, though, looking back on it, it all seems pretty tame."

Kennedy went on to manage here and there in baseball -- a couple of years in the Red Sox system in the late 1970s and four seasons in two different independent leagues in the mid-2000s in particular.  In the time in between, he served as a scout who admittedly did not sign anyone who made it beyond Triple-A. As of 2010, he and his wife were living in Peabody, Massachusetts.

There are three to four cards of Kennedy as a Brewer. I say three to four because his Mike Andersen Postcard from 1970 probably calls him a Brewer but it features him with a logo-less helmet. Otherwise, he also appears with the Brewers on his 1971 Dell Today's Team Stamp and the two cards that I have, shown above.


  1. If you want your league to fold, hire Marvin Milkes.

  2. Ball Four. I recently added this to my reading list. Before I begin reading, I'll tape my jaw closed - and maybe wear some gloves. Not sure how many gals have read this masterpiece.