Jake Kenyon was on the threshold of the major leagues in November 1887 when he signed to play in St. Louis for the 1888 season. At the time, Kenyon was a highly regarded catcher who had played the previous two seasons with Topeka in the Western League. While he was signed by the St. Louis Whites in the new Western Association, in early April it was reported that his contract was transferred to the reigning American Association champion St. Louis Browns (both clubs being owned by Chris Von der Ahe). He played three games with the Browns in spring training, and then nothing. He reappeared with the Whites for a couple of stints, but never played in a game with the Browns.1 He retired from baseball after the 1889 season and returned to his vocation as a candy maker.
Jacob J. Kenyon was born in June 1861 in Detroit, Michigan, to John and Mary (Smith) Kenyon. There do not seem to be any census records for his family from that time. His father died in Detroit in 1906, but little else is known about his parents.2 According to his obituary, he was survived by three brothers and three sisters.3 It is not clear when Jake moved to Burlington, Iowa, where he worked for J.W. Smithers, manufacturer of crackers and confectionaries.4 In May 1884, he played for a local amateur club called the Orchard City against the semiprofessional Burlington Baseball Association club. “Kennyon [sic], who is an importation, did some excellent work behind the home plate for the Orchard City club. If his batting ability equaled his skill behind the bat he would be a desirable member of any nine.”5 The Burlington club must have agreed with that assessment, because later in the summer he was playing for Burlington. He shows up in box scores catching for the Burlington club in both 1884 and 1885.
Jake Kenyon first played professional baseball with the Topeka (Kansas) Capitals of the minor Western League in 1886. His handedness is not officially recognized, but he is pictured batting right and throwing right on baseball cards issued by Goodwin and Co. in 1888 with their Old Judge Tobacco products.6 The Topeka State Journal reported that “[Roxie] Burchard and Kenyon… have worked together for nearly three years, and will do good work.”7 He was with Topeka for the entire 1886 season, throwing out would-be base stealers to teammate Bud Fowler at second base. He hit .223 in 175 at bats with 39 hits and 29 runs, but his fielding was second in the league, with 289 putouts, 72 assists and only 16 errors for the season.8 It isn’t clear how many games he played for Topeka (“over fifty” per the Topeka Daily Commonwealth); it appears he caught the bulk of the games for Topeka in 1886.
After the season, Kenyon returned to Burlington to work for Smithers again. He was the only player from the 1886 club to return to Topeka in 1887, described as “the old reliable seven days in the week catcher.”9 The 1887 Topeka Golden Giants were possibly one of the best minor league clubs of the nineteenth century, sporting a .775 winning percentage and scoring more than 12 runs per game. Kenyon was one of two primary catchers, along with Joe Gunson. Other regulars on the club included Spud Johnson, Bug Holliday, and Perry Werden. Kenyon is one of only three players listed on the 17-man roster at Baseball-Reference who did not appear in the majors at some point.10
The team announced its presence with authority when it defeated the reigning American Association champion St. Louis Browns in an exhibition game at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis by a score of 12-9 on April 10, 1887.11 They took that presence with them into the regular season, going 83-24 and finishing 15 1/2 games ahead of second-place Lincoln, according to information in The Sporting Life. That record included a stretch of 23 wins in 24 games from August into September.12 While he wasn’t the star of the club as he had been the previous season, Kenyon was a popular player: “Jake Kenyon’s home run on Saturday yielded him a $20 gold piece, his admirers in the grand stand making up the purse before the crowd quit yelling.”13 He caught 48 games for Topeka (while Gunson caught 69), hitting .304. His fielding record is not known.14
Kenyon was signed in November 1887 to play for the St. Louis Whites in the newly-formed Western Association. The Whites were owned by Chris Von der Ahe (majority owner with Charlie Comiskey and Tom Loftus) and were widely believed to be intended as a farm team for the St. Louis Browns. At the start of spring training, Kenyon caught three games for the Browns against the Whites, catching lefthander Pete Somers. Sporting Life reported that Kenyon was released by the Whites and signed by the Browns.15 However, while Somers began pitching for the Whites later in spring training, Kenyon didn’t play again for either club until the Whites’ season started. On Opening Day for the Whites (April 28, 1888), Jerry McCormick hurt his shoulder warming up prior to the game, and Kenyon was put into center field in his place. A week later, Hunkey Hines hurt his leg, and Kenyon was installed as the regular center fielder for the next two weeks. When Hines returned on May 20, Kenyon stopped playing.
Despite the notice in The Sporting Life, it is not clear if Kenyon was on the Browns roster or the Whites roster during the 1888 season. This mattered because, under the rules at the time, while players could go from the Western Association to the American Association with no restrictions (and indeed Von der Ahe moved Joe Herr from the Whites to the Browns after an injury to Chippy McGarr), the American Association constitution required a player to be offered to all other clubs in the Association before he could be traded or sold to a club in a different league.16 Further, under the National Agreement in place at the time, a player under contract for one team couldn’t play for another club. That Kenyon played twelve games for the Whites in May suggests he may have remained on the Whites’ roster after all.
In late June, after Von der Ahe sold Harry Staley and Jake Beckley to Pittsburgh, and Jack Crooks to Omaha, the Whites were down to just eight players on their roster. Kenyon played center field for the Whites on June 20 in St. Louis against Des Moines. Two days later, when the Whites tried to put Jim Devlin into the outfield with Kenyon, Des Moines objected, as Devlin was under contract with the Browns. St. Louis forfeited that game and the next (for the same reason) before folding on June 24. Kenyon was released with the other Whites players and returned home to Burlington. For the season, Kenyon appeared in 13 games for the Whites, all in center field. He made 9 errors (including three in the second inning of the final game) against 18 putouts and 4 assists. He hit just .212 in 52 at-bats. He played locally in Burlington later in the summer of 1888.
Jake married Daisy Cleaver on January 1, 1889. in Burlington. Their first son, Raymond, was born in 1891 in Burlington. Their second son, Paul, was born in 1902, in South Bend, Indiana.
Kenyon signed with Des Moines in the Western Association for the 1889 season. He was with Des Moines through the end of May. He only appeared in three games with the club, batting an anemic .100 in just ten at bats. The team’s primary catchers were Michael Cody and Bill Traffley. At the end of May, manager Will Lucas of the Burlington club in the Central Interstate League secured his release from Des Moines.17 It is not clear if Kenyon ever played for Burlington, however. In any case, 1889 was Kenyon’s last season of professional baseball.
Kenyon resumed working for the local candy factories in Burlington. In April 1893, the family moved to South Bend, Indiana.18 Ads started appearing in the South Bend Tribute for candy manufactured by J.J. Kenyon in 1894, with a store first at 216 Colfax avenue, and later at 127 Colfax avenue. There was a fire at the latter store on December 24, 1895.19 Subsequently he worked as a candy maker for Whiteman Bros. until April 1902, when he once again opened his own store.20 The family remained in South Bend through at least the 1910 US Census. His profession at that time was listed as “laborer” while wife Daisy was a sales lady at a dry goods store.
By 1911, Kenyon and family had moved to Portsmouth, Ohio, where Kenyon worked at the Sugar Bowl.21 In 1917, he assisted in planning the Moose Boosters Day for the local Order of the Moose Lodge. “This committee is headed by L. J. Kenyon [sic], of the Sugar Bowl, an old time Western leaguer and a teammate of the great Charles Comiskey at one time.”22 Kenyon died on November 3, 1919 after several weeks’ illness. He was survived by his wife and two sons. Jake and his wife Daisy (1870-1949) are buried in Greenlawn Cemetery in Portsmouth, Ohio.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
US Census data was accessed through Geneology.com and Ancestry.com, and other family information was found at Ancestry.com and FindAGrave.com. Stats and records were collected from Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted. Articles cited in this biography were typically accessed through Newspapers.com and/or Geneology.com. Box scores and articles about the St. Louis Whites 1888 season were found in the St. Louis newspapers (St. Louis Republic, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch) as well as newspapers from the other cities in the Western Association, most notably the St. Paul Globe, Omaha Daily Bee, and Des Moines Register. Mark Eberle at Fort Hays State University (Hays, Kansas) recently (2020) published an article on the 1886 and 1887 Topeka ball clubs, which discussed the two seasons in great detail. (Eberle, Mark E., “Topeka Enters the Minor Leagues, 1886–1887: Bud Fowler and Goldsby’s Golden Giants” (2020). Monographs. 25.)
1 The Browns had Jack Boyle and Jocko Milligan as their primary catchers in 1888, so it isn’t that surprising that Kenyon didn’t get a chance with the club. The Whites had a glut of catchers in Tom Dolan, Bart Cantz, Hunkey Hines, and Tug Arundel (signed during spring training) along with Kenyon.
2 “Personal Mention,” South Bend (Indiana) Tribune, October 30, 1906: 5.
3 “J. J. Kenyon,” Portsmouth (Ohio) Times, November 4, 1919: 2.
4 “James W. Smither. Manufacturer of Crackers and Candles, Dealer in Foreign Fruits, Nuts, Etc.,” Burlington (Iowa) Hawk Eye, May 29, 1884: 7.
5 “Base Ball. The Orchard City Club Defeated by a Score of 19 to 5,” Burlington Hawk Eye, May 14, 1884: 8.
7 “Personal Mention,” Topeka State Journal, May 14, 1886: 1. Kenyon caught Roxie in Burlington in 1885.
9 “Base Ball,” Topeka Press, March 8, 1887: 3, and “The Topeka Team,” Topeka Commonwealth, April 21, 1887: 8.
10 Mark Eberle suggests that one of the minor leaguers, Will Lund, was actually an incorrect identification in a box score of John Sneed.
11 “Topekas, 12; Browns, 9,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 11, 1887. Jim Conway pitched for Topeka, with Joe Gunson catching. Tom Dawson, a young pitcher from Chicago, auditioned for the Browns. He was released after the game. The Browns earned their revenge the next day, defeating Topeka by a score of 16-7.
12 The Western League: A Baseball History, 1885 through 1999, W.C. Madden and Patrick J. Stewart (McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson North Carolina and London), 2002. The final official records published for the league for 1887 in the Sporting Life (“Western League. The Record,” October 12, 1887: 4.) do not include games against two clubs, Emporia and Wichita, which folded during the season.
13 “Base Hits,” Topeka Commonwealth, May 17, 1887: 4.
14 The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Kenyon had a fielding average of .956 and a batting average of .321 for 1887 in a preview published on March 11, 1888 (“The Young Blood Idea,” pg 21).
15 “Notes and Comments,” Sporting Life, April 4, 1888: 5.
16 “Transferring Players,” St. Louis Globe Democrat, May 6, 1888: 11. This article discusses the rules which would govern the transfer of players between the White and the Browns, or the Chicago Maroons (Western Association) and the Chicago White Stockings (National League), which clubs were both owned by Al Spalding.
17 “Diamond Drops,” Burlington Hawk Eye, May 30, 1889: 3.
18 “Breakfast Table Talk,” Burlington Hawk Eye, April 18, 1893: 4.
19 “An Incipient Blaze,” South Bend Tribune, December 24, 1895: 1.
20 “Day’s Brief News,” South Bend Tribune, April 26, 1902: 3.
21 Portsmouth Times, December 16, 1911: 5.
22 “Many Things Planned By Local Moose Lodge,” Portsmouth Times, June 21, 1916: 7.