An inglorious ending

Dateline: June 7, 1968. One week before the author of this post was born. The country is reeling from the shocking assassination of New York Senator and potential Democratic presidential nominee Robert F. Kennedy, who had died the day before.

By some strange and spectral coincidence, the Baltimore Orioles used their first pick in the amateur baseball draft that day on a high school kid named Kennedy. Junior Kennedy. And no, the Junior wasn’t an appendange to his family name, like mine is or Ken Griffey’s is or Sammy Davis’ was. This kid’s given name was Junior Ray Kennedy, and he was on his way–he hoped–to the major leagues.

He made it there at the end of the 1974 season. He had been traded to the Cincinnati Reds,  the Big Red Machine that was poised to dominate the majors for the next few seasons. But Kennedy, as a second baseman, had limited potential, as he was playing behind All-star and future Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan.

It was back to the minors for Junior Kennedy during the Reds’ glory days, and it wasn’t until 1978 that he made it back to the big leagues. And in 1980, after Morgan had left Cincinnati and signed with the Houston Astros, Junior Kennedy and Ron Oester were splitting second base duties for the Reds.  A dozen years after the Orioles had drafted him, Junior Kennedy had arrived, as much as he was ever going to.

But 1981 didn’t go so well for Kennedy. Ron Oester emerged as the Reds’ everyday second baseman, and Kennedy was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in time for the 1982 season. He shared playing time at second base with Bump Wills that season, and when Wills didn’t return to the Cubs after the 1982 season, things were looking up for Junior Kennedy.

But fate intervened, as it does so very often in life. The Cubs traded for third baseman Ron Cey, and to make room for this All-star the Cubs shifted their incumbent third baseman, a prospect named Ryne Sandberg, over to second base. Kennedy’s playing time soon dwindled to almost nothing, but one of his final appearances with the Cubs–and in the Major Leagues writ large–is interesting to me.

It was Sunday, July 10, 1983. Junior Kennedy hadn’t started a game in over a month, and he must have been thinking he couldn’t get out of Chicago fast enough. The Cubs were in San Francisco, playing a double-header against the Giants. Kennedy didn’t play the first game, but in the ninth inning of the second game, he was called upon to pinch hit for the pitcher. He had no way of knowing this would end up being his final plate appearance in organized baseball.

Kennedy saw a pitch he liked from Giants’ pitcher Atlee Hammaker, and ripped it into right field. That could have been the sort of thing he needed to get himself into the games more often. At least he got on base, like his manager had sent him into the game to do.

But the Giants’ right fielder, Jack Clark, had other ideas. The ball came to him so quickly that he fielded it cleanly and fired to first base, recording a 9-3 putout that denied Kennedy a base hit. Kennedy then had to return to the dugout, humiliated worse than if he had struck out or hit a pop-up. He had a hit, or was supposed to have a hit, but he didn’t have the speed necessary to make it to first base in time.

Junior Kennedy played, briefly, in two games the following week, and was then released by the Cubs soon after. He was unable to catch on with another team, and his professional baseball career ended, fifteen years after it had begun back in 1968.

I chose to write about Junior Kennedy because his number 15 matches my position on the mlb.com/blogs list of top fan blogs for the first half of the 2012 baseball season. I’ve done this before with other players, but they’ve all been players that a baseball fan had some reason to have heard about before. But few have heard of Junior Kennedy, nearly thirty years after he played in his last major league season. But the sense of a sad ending is really what I am after here.

Back in September of last year, I applied for inclusion on MLB’s blog list. I indicated that I wrote about baseball, because I love the game and always have, but that other topics unrelated to baseball would also appear regularly on my blog. So I never was strictly about baseball here, even though there was a time during last year’s playoffs when nothing seemed to matter, other than baseball.

But the volume of my baseball writing has really taken a nose dive over the past month or so. It’s not fair for me anymore to take up one of the limited spots on MLB’s monthly list, when baseball has stopped being the main focus of my writing. I spun one more baseball card tale, as I have done many times before in this space, but I will soon be changing my blog to use a theme other than the prescribed MLB-related one. And as a result, I won’t appear on their monthly lists any more. And no, the recent addition of ads had nothing to do with this decision, either.

I really enjoyed the monthly ritual of finding out where I landed on the list, once it had been released, and then searching for a baseball story to tell relating to my position. But I won’t be doing it anymore after this. I love baseball, but I can’t say that my blog is as baseball-centered as someone going to the MLB website might expect it to be.

So now it’s off to other things, instead. The web address here won’t change, even though my creative focus already has. My thanks to Mark Newman for running a valuable place for baseball bloggers to meet. And all my best to the seamheads out there, whose passion for the game has always been a source of inspiration to me.

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