The THT interview:  Terry Kennedy

Last July, we presented a two-part article on the remarkable baseball career of the late Bob Kennedy. In response, I received a gracious e-mail message from Bob Kennedy’s grandson, Bart.

He corrected me on a detail I had gotten wrong: I had presumed that Kennedy, drafted into the Marines in both World War II and the Korean War, had seen combat action, but that wasn’t the case. His service both times was strictly stateside, as an aviation instructor, and in fact one of his flight students was none other than Ted Williams!

Bart also let me know that he would forward my article along to his dad, Terry Kennedy. Well, a few weeks ago I received another nice note, this one from Terry. After a few pleasant exchanges, he consented to an interview, which we conducted via e-mail.

I’m interested in your childhood. How many brothers and sisters?

Three sisters, Kathleen, Colleen and Chris, and one brother, Bob Jr. I am the youngest.

Where did you live? Did you move around a lot?

I was born in Euclid, Ohio, and lived in Salt Lake City, Utah for two years, but basically grew up in Arizona. I always traveled with dad during the summer … got to get out of school early!

Big house/small house?

When we got older we moved from a modest home to a much larger one, both in Mesa, Ariz.

Pets?

We had a dog named Beau that my brother found in the desert.

What kind of stuff did you like to do as a kid (other than play ball)?

I was into playing anything, army, whiffle ball, football. I was always out of the house doing something.

Did you like school? Did you get good grades?

I always liked school, I am a knowledge junkie. I could have gotten better grades, some of the classes bored me … big mistake.

In what ways did your dad influence you to focus on playing baseball?

My father NEVER pushed me to play ball. He told all of us he didn’t care what we did as long as we gave it our best and were right with God.

Was he able to coach Little League or anything like that?

He never saw me play until the major leagues!

Were you able to visit him with any of the ball clubs he was working for? Did you meet any pro ball players when you were a kid/teenager?

When I was in high school and getting serious about playing, I would travel with him to his minor league clubs when he was farm director of the Cards. I always got as much BP as I wanted and got to hang out with the players.

One time, when they still allowed kids on the field, I took infield as a catcher in St. Louis with the big club. I know now that the players probably hated that. When I was playing, I didn’t want any kids taking my BP time or work time. I can remember some snide remarks by the major leaguers. I didn’t care much.

When I was 12 years old and my dad was managing the A’s, he always introduced me to the great players that came through Oakland. I met Mantle, both Robinsons, Frank Howard (who managed me in 1981) and others. I remember being in the clubhouse with Reggie, Bando, Rudi, Campy, and all the other ones. Reggie was especially nice to me. We ended up playing against each other years later.

Where did you play high school ball? How did you come to attend Florida State?

I went to St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix. One of my teammates, and best friend, was Alan Wirth. Alan was drafted in the third round by the Giants and got to the major leagues with the A’s. He just retired after 20-some years as a fire chief here in Phoenix.

At high school I played against Bob Horner and Ozzie Virgil. I grew about seven inches in 15 months between my junior and senior years and really played poorly. I was not drafted and my father called the two guys he knew who were college coaches: Eddie Stanky at South Alabama and Woody Woodward at Florida State University. Thankfully, I went to FSU.

After such a poor high school career, I did really well at FSU. I was National Player of the Year in 1976 and a two-time All-American. Also, I was inducted in the FSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1982. Ironically, I am not in my high school HOF and likely will not make it!

Did you receive a degree?

I did not get a degree from FSU, but finished my 25-year plan at University of Phoenix. I have a bachelor of science in business administration. I am also a Realtor here in Arizona. My wife and I (she is the real star of the business!) have been doing it now for eight years.

Can you describe the story of your being drafted by the Cardinals? Signing with them?

June 5, 1977. I was waiting in Woody’s office when I got the call from the Cards GM. I was very happy because I knew the organization well, all the instructors, front office, etc. Also, I’d been to all their minor league venues!

At that time they still allowed family members that were in baseball to negotiate the signing bonuses. My father did a nice job in that: Although I took half the cash that other first-rounders got, I believe I was the first player to get a major league contract. I had a three-year deal, so I could get paid a lot more than the other rookies and use up my options. Oh by the way, I still have an option left!

Did your dad give you advice/coaching when you were playing pro ball?

Yes, he gave me tons of advice when I asked. We talked all the time. He stayed out of it generally and let me feel my way. I believe that was the case because his father was a second-guesser at times and my father wanted to stay away from that, knowing how debilitating that could be.

Did the fact that he was working in the Giants’ front office have an influence on them trading for you? On your re-signing with them?

By the time he got with the Giants, my career was established and neither of us felt funny about the situation. I saw him occasionally during the season, but a lot less than you might imagine. I do remember after we had beaten the Cubs to get to the ’89 Series I poured champagne all over him and he was so happy! Happy for the club and happy for his son.

(Giants GM) Al Rosen liked me as a player and he traded for me from the Orioles. Al was generous. I still talk to him.

Who were your best friends when you were playing major league ball?

For some reason, I always hung out with second basemen: Tom Herr in St. Louis, Tim Flannery in San Diego and Robby Thompson in San Francisco. (Padres pitcher) Gary Lucas was and still is a good friend of mine. It is the relationships that players treasure almost as much as the competition.

What did you like most about being a big league ballplayer?

The highlights of my career were the opportunities to play in four All-Star games and see the very best and be counted, however briefly, as one of them. And also to see guys like Tony Gwynn, Rich Gossage, Lou Brock and others perform their magic day-in and day-out. It was like a free ticket to the game, every night.

Describe the end of your active playing career … did you voluntarily retire or just not get signed? What was your state of mind? Satisfied, or sad it was over? (Or both?)

I was pretty much done physically. The catching had taken a toll on my legs and I couldn’t generate much offense any more. As a result, my confidence was waning. The game (the actual nine innings) was still fun, but all the peripheral stuff, travel, workouts, etc. were wearing me out.

My kids were getting older and in school and could no longer be with me all year. At the end of ’91 I knew it was time to go home. As I drove out of Candlestick that day, my career as a player, all 15-plus years, seemed to be a whisper. It went so fast. I remembered at that moment what my father used to tell me when I would whine about bad days… he said, ”Hey, stop and smell the roses. Because before you know it, it will be over.” How true.

I have become more satisfied over the years about my career. There were many times that I felt I wasn’t that good, but looking back and being involved now, I see I had many good days. Of course, human nature, at least mine, makes me remember the horrible days! There were days when I was as good as anybody and days I was the worst player ever. What I have learned is to never compare yourself, because there will ALWAYS be someone better and someone worse.

What have you done since your active career? What are you doing now?

I have mostly been in baseball as a manager, coach and field coordinator. I am currently managing for San Antonio (the San Diego Padres’ Double-A affiliate). I am looking forward to it after being hitting coach last year. The Padres did not have a good year last year but have a lot of promise in their young minor leaguers.

As I said, I am a Realtor and work during the offseason with my wife. Right now, Arizona is one of the hardest-hit states for foreclosures. Even so there is opportunity here for Realtors who know what to look for.

How did you come to know the story of your dad and Buck Weaver? (This refers to something Terry had related to me in an e-mail: “I am scratching together a novel about my father and Buck Weaver. When my father was a kid (3-14 years old) in Chicago and playing ‘up’ in amateur ball, Weaver was playing in the same league. Anyone who played in a game with or against Weaver was banned for life! All the old-timers kept my father out of the games in which Weaver participated.”)

My father told me that story. Of course it was just a snippet of time, but I think I can expand that. Now that almost all the players from that era are dead, there seems to be a lot of interest.

Did he talk to you a lot about his boyhood, and his ballplaying days?

He told me so much about his time in Chicago that I am unable to relate any one right now or my fingers would bleed!

Do you know the story Bart related to me about your dad playing third base for the White Sox, and Luke Appling at shortstop whistling “You Are My Sunshine?” [Terry’s son Bart: “He told a story about playing third (I can only imagine he would have been 19 or 20 at the time) and Luke Appling would constantly be whistling or singing. At one point during a game, he was whistling ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ and my grandpa looked over at him with a ‘what are you doing’ sort of look, and Appling just looked back and said ‘Kennedy, you need to relax!’"]

He loved Appling. He would get so frustrated that it came so easy for Luke and he had to fight for everything.

It would have been much better for my father to sign with another team outside of Chicago. He was a big-time high school phenom and it would have suited him better. He threw seven no-hitters in one year when he pitched Legion ball. The old-timers who played against him said he had the best arm they ever saw, from anyone.

How many kids do you have?

Three kids, two married and the other getting married in February. All three within seven months. Thank goodness for two streams of income!

Have any of them played ball?

Bart played ball at Franciscan University. He did not play much growing up and was behind the curve a little. He is now a lieutenant in the Army at Fort Benning. He will be going to Iraq next year.

Do you talk with them about your ballplaying career?

We don’t talk much about my playing career. I don’t have a “dig me” room. I have seen some odes to self that would gag a maggot (one of my dad’s favorites).

I keep my career close by remembering and helping the players I manage. I don’t have one single picture up at the house. I have some important memorabilia in a trunk, but otherwise, nothing.

There is no use talking about it anyway. No one knows who a player is that is not active, let alone Terry Kennedy. I am not insulted or hurt by that. People are fickle. My good fans in San Diego still recognize me once in a while and that is all that matters.

Okay, the most important questions of all: Pizza: thin crust or thick crust? Chocolate chip cookies: soft or cruncy?

Pizza makes me fat and I can’t stop eating it. Same with cookies. I’m trying to lose weight, as all my catching seems to be “catching” up with me. Knees, hips, etc.

What are your favorite TV shows?

My wife and I watch very little TV, but when we do it’s TiVo. We like House, and Law and Order CI. I like the How It’s Made and This Old House kind of thing.

What are your hobbies?

I like to garden, but it is too hot in Arizona to really have a good one.

I play golf once a week with my “krewe.” We have a website, 2centgolf.com, that you should check out.

Bonus: One more Bob Kennedy story

Bart shared this in an email.

It’s in the biography (of Ted Williams) by Leigh Montville, but I heard it from Grandpa, also.

Grandpa was already an instructor in the Marine Corps (Pensacola, I believe) and Ted was assigned as a pilot.

They already knew each other, but Grandpa knew about Ted’s flying assignment, so he took him up on his first flight in Pensacola. He didn’t take off his flying helmet or glasses and gave him a hard time before and during the flight. Ted thought that this guy was just being hard on him, and was apparently really nervous about the whole thing.

By the time they landed my Grandpa couldn’t take it anymore, so when they got off the plane he took off the helmet and googles and revealed the sham. Ted was furious, and as my Grandpa would tell it, said “Kennedy, you so-and-so!”

Eventually Ted was also assigned as a pilot instructor so they spent a lot of time together. There’s some really great photos of them we have somewhere, one of them debriefing after a flight in their pilot gear, and another of them waiting on the steps of the dugout in their Navy baseball team uniforms. Apparently the Florida team was stacked with talent, which may have had something to do with them both being instructors.

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