John Kennedy

By Joan Geary

As far as careers go, it wasn’t a bad start.

On September 5, 1962, 21-year-old John Kennedy stepped to the plate for the first time in his major league career, to pinch hit for the Washington Senators. Moments later, he was in the record books, ending Minnesota Twins’ Dick Stigman’s attempted no-hitter and becoming the ninth player in American League history to hit a debut home run.

44 years later, Kennedy is still in baseball, as manager of the Lynn, MA-based, minor league North Shore Spirit.

“There were three players in Washington they said they were going to build the team around. I was one of them. The next thing you know, two of us got traded away,” he recalled.

In a December, 1964 deal, Kennedy went to the Dodgers, along with Claude Osteen and $100,000, for Frank Howard, Phil Ortega, Pete Richert, Ken McMullen, and a player to be named later (eventually Dick Nen). That key trade put Kennedy on the 1965 World Series Champions and ’66 National League pennant winners, and gave him his favorite memories.

“I was 22, 23-years-old, and the excitement! Just going to the Dodgers; just the history of it. Being thrust into the Series two years in a row.”

“And the players! I was in awe of Sandy, of Drysdale and Wills. Sandy didn’t pitch in ’65 because of Yom Kippur. You’ve got to respect him for that. But he pitched in the final game, and won it. He had such outstanding command of his pitches. Such command. My best all-time memory is the final out.”

In L.A. Kennedy also cemented his position as utility infielder. “They wanted me to play shortstop and move Wills to third. He didn’t go for that too much. But, I couldn’t hit. I just couldn’t hit. Jim Gillian was coaching, and they activated Gillian. I became a back-up player. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I got to play in the league a lot longer than I would have.”

Traded to the Yankees in 1967, Kennedy spent a year in New York before being purchased by the expansion Seattle Pilots, eventually winding up in Milwaukee with the Brewers. In June 1970, he was acquired by Boston, where he became known as “Super Sub.”

“I again was coming over to a team of history,” he says of the move. In his first at bat in a Red Sox uniform, July 5, 1970, again as a pinch-hitter, Kennedy hit an inside-the-park home run.

Of his career, which wound down in 1974, Kennedy says, “It was great fun. I got to play with Hall of Fame guys like Mickey Mantle, Yastrzemski, Drysdale and Koufax.”

A move to the minor leagues as coach and manager for six years was followed by a thirteen year scouting career, with Yankees, Phillies and Tigers. “When you’re scouting, you’re tired all the time,” he says. “You’re in a car from March through the draft. You really get exhausted, but you’re still close to the game, and that part is fun.”

In 1996, with three World Series rings and a watch to his credit, Kennedy retired to his home in the greater Boston suburbs. But not for long. In 2003, he was lured back to baseball by the newly-formed North Shore Spirit, who he managed to a division championship that year.

The Spirit became part of the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball in 2004. CanAm, a professional, independent league, unaffiliated with major league baseball, is made up of teams in the northeast United States and Quebec.

“This team is unlike any other minor league team,” Kennedy said of the Spirit. “It’s run like a major league team.” He’s an fan of Spirit owner Nick Lopardo, who renovated the Fraser Field facility after years of neglect by prior owners.

“I used to scout in here, and this place was a mess. Lopardo came in and put in between $3 and 5 million into the ballpark. He reconfigured the seating area, tore it all down and put in new seating. Put in lights, re-did the field; and a synthetic infield. We’ve got a new clubhouse and showers. He feeds the kids. He feeds the visiting team. It’s the best facility in the league.”

With the team having a shot at the playoffs this season, attendance is good. Saturday fireworks displays and other regular game day events, such as July 16’s John Kennedy Bobblehead day, add to the entertainment.

That, says Kennedy, coupled with good baseball and inexpensive ticket prices, makes for a great time at the ballpark.

He invites fans, old and new, to come see him and the Spirit in action.

Joan Geary is a freelance writer from New Hampshire, whose work appears regularly in newspapers, consumer magazines and online publications.


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