John Kennedy was born May 29, 1941 in Chicago, Illinois and attended Harper High School, excelling in football, basketball and baseball. He was drafted by the Washington Senators out of high school in 1961 beginning a twelve-year career in professional baseball.
John played for the Washington Senators 1962-64, Los Angeles Dodgers 1965-66 (two World Series), New York Yankees 1967, Seattle Pilots 1969, Milwaukee Brewers 1970 and the Boston Red Sox from 1970-1974, where he was a fan-favorite earning the nickname Super Sub for his role as a utility infielder.
Throughout his career, John was known for his hustle, often fiery disposition, and commitment to playing the game the way it was meant to be played. John was one of those unique individuals who discovered his passion at an early age and dedicated his life, with a lot of hard work and sacrifice along the way, to achieve his dream.
John grew up as the shortstop and pitcher on his high school and youth teams. Kennedy had a $5,000 offer from the Cleveland Indians when he signed with the expansion Senators in 1961 for $1,500.
Kennedy’s father, Edward, drove a streetcar and then a bus for the Chicago Transit Authority and every day his route took him along 35th Street and right past Comiskey Park. In 1962, in Kennedy’s first big-league start, he went 3-for-4 at Comiskey Park against Eddie Fisher and Don Zanni of the White Sox.
Kennedy had been called up following a .season at Class B Raleigh of the Carolina League. He got into 14 games before the end of the season and batted .262. Back in the minors in 1963, Kennedy split between Double-A York (Eastern League) and Triple-A Hawaii (Pacific Coast League). In 1964 he settled in as the Senators’ regular third baseman.
Unfortunately for Kennedy, his solid numbers in the minor leagues did not translate to major-league hitting success. He appeared in more than 100 games each season from 1964 to 1966 and had batting averages of .230, .171, and .201. And while he played in all or part of 12 seasons in the big leagues, accumulating an impressive 2,210 at-bats, it was as a utilityman. Except for a couple of stretches with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he never had another shot as a regular.
In 1964, he was traded by the Senators with pitcher Claude Osteen and $100,000 to the Dodgers for outfielder-first baseman Frank Howard, infielder Ken McMullen, pitchers Pete Richert and Phil Ortega, and first baseman Dick Nen.
Kennedy said the Dodgers at first told him he would be the shortstop and that they would move Maury Wills to another position. Later that winter, though, Jim Gilliam retired and the Dodgers decided to install Kennedy as their regular third baseman for the 1965 season. Kennedy, however, did not hit and had developed some problems running. Kennedy hit .171 and had just 120 plate appearances in 104 games that season.
Kennedy’s role with the Dodgers in 1966 was expanded slightly. He appeared in 125 games and had 274 at-bats while hitting .201. The Dodgers again won the pennant but lost the World Series to Baltimore.
Kennedy appeared in both the 1965 and 1966 World Series. In 1967, the Dodgers traded Kennedy to the New York Yankees for pitcher Jack Cullen, infielder-outfielder John Miller, and $25,000. Kennedy says the Yankees told him they acquired him to play shortstop. His hitting was weak at .196 and it was no great surprise that he found himself in Triple-A in 1968 for the first time since 1963.
Kennedy split the 1968 season between the Yankees affiliate in Syracuse and the Pirates’ Triple-A club in Columbus. He was shipped to Columbus while remaining the property of the Yankees. There he played for Johnny Pesky, who liked him and who he believed recommended him to the Red Sox in 1970, ultimately extending his big-league career another three seasons. Kennedy also helped himself with a .268 BA in the International League and was purchased by the fledgling Seattle Pilots in 1968.
Kennedy’s bigger problem in 1969 was the lack of playing time. While he was back in the big leagues for the entire season, he appeared in just 61 games. He hit .234 with four homers for the Pilots in his limited role.
He opened the 1970 season with Milwaukee after the Seattle Pilots franchise became the Milwaukee Brewers in spring training. Despite a solid .255 average with a couple of homers as a part-timer, he was dispatched to Triple-A for about a month before being purchased by the Red Sox.
From his arrival in Boston in 1970, until his release in October 1974, Kennedy enjoyed his longest continuous stretch with one club. He hit better, played more games, and played all over the infield (plus designated hitter) during his Red Sox years. The two World Series appearances with the Dodgers were special, but John said he made his reputation in baseball during his time with the Red Sox and was able to set himself up for a career in the game after he was done playing.
“I always ran as hard as I could and played as hard as I could throughout my career,” Kennedy said. “Shagging, throwing batting practice, and all that is part of the job and a way to increase my value and improve my chances of staying in the game. I threw batting practice to Yaz after games if coaches weren’t available. When I went down to Pawtucket during the 1974 season, I worked with Jim Rice and Fred Lynn and threw them extra batting practice. I told manager Joe Morgan that I was going to retire at the end of the season and to let the young kids play and I would work with them to help them get better. I think I got a minor league managing job with the Red Sox in 1975 as a result.”
Kennedy said he regretted that the Red Sox played one less game because of the rules put in place after that year’s players’ strike, and lost to Detroit by a half-game. Starting with Winston-Salem in the Class A Carolina League in 1975, he managed for three years in the Boston organization and one with Oakland before becoming a scout. He scouted until 2001, and then returned to the dugout from 2003 through 2006 with the North Shore Spirit in Lynn, Mass, which played in the independent Northeast League and the Canadian-American Association during Kennedy’s tenure.
John Kennedy passed away peacefully on August 9, 2017 at his home in Peabody after an extended illness. He was 77 years old.