Injury has curtailed the career of major league pitchers since the beginning of the professional game. In the days before rotator cuff and Tommy John surgery, pitchers had to hope for recovery or look for another line of work. Theodore A. Kennedy was one of those pitchers, but he was much more than a couple of lines in the baseball encyclopedia. Kennedy was a self-promoter, an innovator and a baseball entrepreneur who is largely forgotten today. He also left behind an invaluable account of his baseball career.
Ted’s father Robert was born in Ohio in 1840. In 1860 Robert Kennedy was working as a laborer on a farm in rural Muskingum County near the village of High Hill when, taking the advice of Horace Greeley, the young man went west. Kennedy settled in Henry County Illinois, was soon married, and on February 7, 1865, his wife Roseanna gave birth to their first child, a son they named Theodore.
Robert Kennedy moved his family to Peoria, settling in a working class neighborhood in the city’s fourth ward, where Robert worked first as a laborer and later a carpenter. The Kennedys had three more children, two daughters and a son, the oldest daughter dying in childhood. Ted learned the carpenter’s trade from his father, but he soon shared the passion for baseball prevalent in Peoria. The city had one of the country’s top independent teams, and attracted notice with a 1-0 win over the Boston Red Stockings. Jack Rowe, Bill Gleason and Tom Loftus were among Peoria’s standouts, but the star of the team was pitcher Charles Radbourn.
The thirteen-year-old Kennedy served as bat boy and water boy for that team. Kennedy later remembered Radbourn as being one of the first to master the overhand curve ball. In addition to his duties with the team, Kennedy was eager to learn the art of pitching. “When Rad would practice pitching I would keep a close watch on him, and when he was pitching a game I would sneak behind the old board backstop, which in those days stood to the side of the grandstand. I watched his curves and pitching day after day; so Rad and I got to be good pals and I asked Rad to show me how he held the ball for that breakout curve. Rad held the ball in his fingers and explained the correct grip and I was almost tickled to death to know the grip. I practiced for days holding the ball as near like I had been shown as possible. One day I noticed a little curve. I jumped for joy. Easy when you know how; and a few days later it came to me easy.”
During his teenage years, Kennedy recalled himself as being “very light for a pitcher, as I was growing, being only able to pitch five or six innings. In the old Dublin Browns (a Peoria area team) I began to play third base, playing that position until 1884 with tournament and city league teams. I was rated a good third corner and could stick some in those days. ”
The 1884 season was one of the most chaotic in baseball history. The National League and the American Association were challenged by a third “major” league, the Union Association, formed by Henry Lucas of St. Louis. The resulting war for players was especially difficult for minor league and independent teams. One of the local teams was the Carson & Rand club of Keokuk, Iowa. Team president R.W. Curtis had already hired many strong players, but needed more talent to compete with other strong teams in the region. (Before season’s end, Curtis also signed African American second baseman Bud Fowler).
Dan Dugdale was already with the team as catcher and almost certainly sent word of the need for players. Kennedy later gave an account of his entry into professional baseball. “I wrote for a trial and received a letter to come. A pitcher named Hawkins went with me. We talked the matter over on the road and agreed that Hawkins was to be the pitcher and I was to hold down the third corner. We were met at the depot by a few of the members of the club and some fans. The sports sized us up as being too light but we had the real action of good players, which offset our light appearance.”
Initially the arrangement worked, but Kennedy soon became a fulltime pitcher. Kennedy later said the turning point was against a team from Rock Island, Illinois featuring pitcher Nat Hudson. “Hawkins as usual was booked to pitch, but when the time came he weakened, as he knew he’d be knocked out of the box. I became disgusted with him and chased him to right field and called a player named Goggins to take my place at third base.” Kennedy was immediately successful as a pitcher with Keokuk, but reasons for his conversion to pitcher aren’t quite that simple. As a professional, Kennedy was a notably poor hitter and surviving accounts and box scores indicate that he was mediocre at best defensively. If he hadn’t become a pitcher his stay in Keokuk would undoubtedly have been a short one.
On the mound, Kennedy dominated most competition. He later remembered striking out 277 batters in 18 starts, while Sporting Life in the November 12, 1884 issue credited him with accomplishing the feat in 17 games. He lost a couple of games to Omaha’s team which was sponsored by the Union Pacific Railroad. The Omaha club was considered as a replacement franchise by the Union Association, which lost several teams during the season, and the team convinced major leaguer Live Oak Taylor to join them before returning to his California home. Ted’s most memorable game of 1884 was at Burlington, Iowa in early October. On that autumn afternoon, Kennedy reportedly struck out 24 batters, 17 in succession and the team’s first baseman didn’t have a fielding chance in the game.
When Keokuk’s season ended in early November, Kennedy remained in town. The nineteen-year-old pitcher and Dugdale, the twenty-year-old catcher, opened a saloon called Ted and Ned’s place. Having his catcher in town gave Kennedy a chance to stay in shape and abreast of area baseball happenings.
Events of that off season would be even more important than his 1884 success in bringing Kennedy to the major leagues. At first it looked like Keokuk would be admitted to the Western League, but Omaha secured the last berth. According to Sporting Life, Keokuk did form an alliance with the league and secured exhibitions with league teams.
The first of those exhibitions were on April 8 and 9 at home against Kansas City. Keokuk lost 4-2 and 8-2 but Kennedy was again outstanding. In the first loss he allowed just two hits no earned runs and struck out fifteen batters while walking two. The next day he was nearly as effective. He allowed a single earned run on five hits striking out nine more “of [Manager Ted] Sullivan’s much talked about hard hitters.” Keokuk’s correspondent to Sporting Life reported “Sullivan commenced working to secure Kennedy immediately after Wednesday’s (April 9) game.”
Through the month of May, Keokuk played an independent schedule. A key series for the team and their young pitcher was against another independent team, the Chicago Blues. In an 8-5 win on the 18th, Kennedy defeated Al Atkinson and struck out nineteen Chicago batters.
At the beginning of June, 1885, Keokuk replaced Omaha in the Western League, and the city received an unwelcome visitor. The league was already on its last legs when Keokuk played its first league game on June 6. The Toledo and Cleveland clubs were on the verge of disbanding and it was felt adding replacements wouldn’t do any good. Kennedy beat Milwaukee in that first league contest and lost to the same team three days later. In the two league games he allowed four earned runs and struck out fifteen. Meanwhile The Sporting Life reported “E.D. Clark manager of the Chicago (White Stocking) reserves last season, was here Monday endeavoring to induce several of the Keokuk players to break their contracts. It was said that he came from very close to President Spalding.”
No names of Keokuk players were mentioned, but the June 12 issue of the Chicago Tribune said, “The Chicago team will place a new man in the pitcher’s box today–Ned Kennedy, until recently with the Keokuk nine, and looked upon as one of the strongest unengaged pitchers in the country. He practiced with the boys yesterday, and Anson predicts he will be able to surprise the Detroit batters this afternoon.” Chicago was badly in need of a second pitcher, or “change pitcher” as they were then called. Larry Corcoran was out of action with an arm injury, leaving John Clarkson as the team’s only real pitcher.
Kennedy won his debut that afternoon 6-4. The Tribune had positive comment on the twenty- year-old pitcher: “Although he sent his first two men to base on balls, he picked up wonderfully after the first inning and succeeded in retiring eight of the visitors on strikeouts, besides having a putout to his record. He evidently had the sympathy of the audience as a new pitcher, and was heartily applauded whenever he did good work.” The Tribune also predicted a bright future for the rookie: “If he continues as he has begun and does not allow himself to become overconfident he will probably be a creditable acquisition to the nine.” In addition to the two walks, Kennedy allowed home runs to George Weidman and Charlie Bennett of the Wolverines.
Kennedy’s second start four days later was also against Detroit, and again he struck out eight Wolverines in an 8-6 win. His control was erratic as he walked five. Also notable in his first two starts was shaky fielding. In the two contests, he made four errors a poor performance even in the day of gloveless fielders.
A short-lived but important controversy soon surrounded the Chicago rookie. Keokuk claimed Kennedy had a valid contract with them and tried to have him blacklisted under terms of the National Agreement which then governed professional baseball. The American Association indicated willingness to support Keokuk, while the National League allowed Kennedy to continue playing. The Keokuk club also threatened to bring suit against Kennedy and Spalding’s alleged agent Clark.
On the surface, Keokuk appeared to have a case. Kennedy’s contract with the Western League team had been submitted and approved, and Kennedy had played in three Western League contests. The Chicago Mirror offered a rebuttal to the charges. “His contract bears date from June 2, and Keokuk was admitted to the Western League June 6. Kennedy was anxious to join the Chicago Club, and represented that he was wholly free to leave the Keokuk Club, as the latter was in arrears to him on salary and was losing money right along, and in his opinion it was only a question of a few days or weeks when the club would be compelled to disband. Subsequent events show that his judgement was not far wrong.” Ultimately the demise of the Western League and the disbanding of Keokuk’s team soon afterward saved Kennedy from the possibility of being barred from playing. Under the agreement, a case for contract jumping could not be pursued if the team the player jumped ceased to exist.
On the field, Kennedy was inconsistent. He allowed sixteen hits and five earned runs in a 9-8 victory over Buffalo. Two days later he pitched a one hitter in an exhibition game at Milwaukee. He walked five batters and threw a wild pitch. The Tribune hoped that Corcoran would regain his health or that Cap Anson would acquire another pitcher for a series of games against New York and Providence because “Kennedy has thus far failed to show a degree of strength or efficiency which would justify the club in playing him in these games.”
On June 26, Kennedy suffered his first major league loss to Philadelphia while pitching his best game of the season. The White Stockings lost 4-3, but Ted allowed just five hits, struck out six and walked four. The Tribune said of the contest: “For lively play and exciting situations the game excelled any that has taken place upon the home grounds thus far. (Ed) Daily pitched for the visitors and Kennedy for the Chicagos, and, while both succeeded in sending their share of men to bases on balls, each topped off his errors with a good showing of clever assists and strikeouts, and held the strikers of the opposing team down to very close work.”
In his next start, it wasn’t pitching but lack of hitting that drew the Tribune‘s attention. “Kennedy pitched for the home team and did fairly well so long as he remained in the pitcher’s box, but just so sure as he came to bat he was certain to either strike out or to make a weak hit to the infield which would cut him off at first. He could not hit the ball hard enough to guarantee him a place among the batsmen of any amateur nine in the city.” Kennedy won that game from Boston to improve his won loss record to 4-1. When the National League statistics were published in Sporting Life a few days later, he was next to last in batting with an average of .053. Opposing batters were hitting .258 against him tied for fourteenth among twenty pitchers listed.
Corcoran didn’t return and Anson was unable to acquire another pitcher, so Kennedy pitched twice in the Providence series. In both contests, the opponent was Ted’s former mentor Charles Radbourn, now a star pitcher in the big leagues. An 8-5 win on July 9 was highlighted by a great catch and throw for a double play by Billy Sunday (the future evangelist). Kennedy was also responsible for a strong defensive play. After Radbourn was picked off at third by King Kelly, the next day’s Tribune reported, “(third baseman Ned) Williamson then threw to Kennedy, and the latter, suddenly wheeled and threw to (Tom) Burns at second where Mr. (Barney) Gilligan was standing with folded arms deeply interested in the black clouds arising in the west. He did not suspect anything wrong until he heard the sphere strike Burns’ hands, and then walked off in disgust while the crowd yelled as though greatly tickled at such play.” Radbourn beat Chicago and Kennedy two days later 6-1 and Chicago left for a long eastern road trip.
Kennedy later remembered that John Clarkson “was lame–his arm was very weak.” Jim McCormick would join the team later on the trip but wasn’t available at Buffalo on July 16. Kennedy thought the Buffalo team was particularly tough for a pitcher to face. “We opened up at Buffalo with ‘The Big Four’, Dan Brouthers, Hardy Richardson, Jack Rowe and Deacon White, the greatest bunch of hitters that ever stepped to the plate. They were known as ‘pitcher killers,’ and they certainly killed them. Two games were booked for the one day. I had to pitch both of them winning the two.” Kennedy held Buffalo to nine hits and a single earned run winning the opener 9-3. In the nightcap, Kennedy had to be relieved by Williamson after seven innings and finished the game at third base.
After the iron-man effort the last day of the Buffalo series, there was no rest for Chicago’s young pitcher. In an exhibition at Syracuse the next day, Kennedy surrendered eleven hits and lost 5-0 to the Stars of the New York State League. The game would change the course of his career. Ted would later write about the injury he received that day: “The Chicago team went to Providence from Syracuse. We put the windows up on the lake side of the hotel and spread out our ball suits on the window sills to dry. That was my fatal night. After being overworked, I went to bed, leaving the windows open. During the night a cold, damp wind blew in the windows and this draught chilled me stiff and I caught cold. After pitching three games in two days my arm was tired and weak. The cold, of course, settled in the shoulder. A few days later I noticed my shoulder getting lame with a pain at the shoulder socket. This left my arm dead and I couldn’t raise it without the assistance of the other arm.” Kennedy didn’t play anymore that season and was released by Chicago in September.
During the off-season, Kennedy signed with the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association, a major league at that time. Kennedy pitched well in the preseason city series against the National League club. In game eight, he pitched the Athletics to a 6-4 win over their intercity rivals. Sporting Life thought Kennedy and Louis Bierbauer would prove a valuable battery.
He was effective in his first regular season start allowing just three hits in a 4-1 loss to the New York Metropolitans, and he beat New York 14-6 in his second outing, allowing just two earned runs. Kennedy finished April with a 2-1 loss and a 7-4 win, both against Baltimore. Nonetheless, there were signs in these early starts that Kennedy wasn’t completely healthy. His strikeout totals were much lower than they’d been during his stint with Chicago, but his decline became much more evident in a May 11 start at Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Eagle said of the game, “the home team virtually won the game in the first inning. They went to bat no less than thirteen times, their first four strikers having two chances each. (George) Pinkney opened with a hard hit ball to (Jack) Gleason, who found it too hot to hold and the batsman earned his base. This good beginning was followed up by base hit after base hit…..when the inning ended 8 runs had been scored off 8 base hits and 6 of the runs had been clean earned off the pitching.”
Kennedy was again badly beaten by Brooklyn in his next start before beating Louisville and Cincinnati to even his record at 4-4. Despite the losses to Brooklyn, his earned run average was 2.00 and opponents were hitting just .240 against him.
Unfortunately, Kennedy would win just once more the rest of the season, beating Brooklyn 3-2 on June 6. The Eagle said of the game, “the home team did no heavy hitting at all, not a man getting beyond first base on his hit, while not a run was earned in the entire game. The visitors put Kennedy in to pitch and he proved troublesome to the home batsmen.” He pitched well in a couple of June losses to New York, but suffered a sharp decline in effectiveness as June ended. Kennedy later remembered, “I was terribly lame–had to pitch underhand. Every game I pitched that season it was like a rusty knife was being thrust into my shoulder.” He’d drop his last ten decisions with Philadelphia including a relief loss and missed significant time due to his shoulder injury. He returned briefly from the injury, but was left at home when the Athletics went on an extended road trip, and was soon released.
In September, Kennedy received an opportunity with Louisville, also of the American Association. Temporarily replacing Toad Ramsey, Kennedy made four starts between September 16 and 23, all losses. One loss was to his former team and the other three were against New York. He finished the season 5-19 with a 4.66 earned run average. His major league career was over.
That winter, Kennedy returned to Keokuk to spend the off-season, highlighted by his wedding to his bride Regina. The Northwestern League reorganized, and in February Kennedy was signed by the league’s Lacrosse, Wisconsin team.
The Northwestern League proved to be a strong minor league, perhaps too strong for its own good. While there were some young players on the way up including Bobby Lowe and a young deaf mute outfielder from northwest Ohio named William Hoy, there were also many veteran players with major league experience. Those players expected and received higher salaries which would eventually cause severe financial difficulty for the league’s smaller cities, including Lacrosse. A late season note in Sporting Life reported the league was paying salaries comparable to those in the major leagues.
The Lacrosse team would spend much of 1887 in the second division, though at one point it was said of the team “they have some of the finest players in the league and should not be battling for last place.”
For the team’s 21-year-old pitcher, it was also an up and down season. Clearly no longer the dominant hurler he had been, he was still effective on occasion. One of his best outings with Lacrosse was a 7-4 victory over Des Moines on May 31. Unfortunately, he was hit hard just as often. One of his worst games was against Hoy’s Oshkosh team; though he won 10-9, Kennedy allowed 22 hits in 12 innings pitched.
After a series of poor outings in July, Sporting Life reported, “Pitcher Kennedy has been discharged by Lacrosse for laziness.” Kennedy later said he was released by Lacrosse in a cost cutting move. While there may have been elements of truth in both statements, reports of financial difficulties with the Lacrosse club soon appeared in Sporting Life.
He was quickly signed by Des Moines, one of the league’s better teams. After a poor outing in his debut, he won seven straight starts between August 6 and September 6. His best performance was a five-hit 9-1 win over Minneapolis. The streak improved Kennedy’s record from 9-13 to 16-13. Ted was less effective during the final month of the 1887 season, but did throw a four-hit shutout against Duluth. He also played a few games in the outfield, though his hitting hadn’t improved: on the season he hit .172, last among 117 players listed in the league’s official statistics. The Northwestern League didn’t publish pitching statistics, but a check of box scores indicate a 17-17 record with approximately 435 hits allowed in 301 innings and an earned run average of 2.96.
Kennedy spent the winter in Des Moines and returned to Charlie Morton’s team for the 1888 season. It would be his last full season as an active player. During the off-season, the Northwestern League’s larger cities, including Des Moines, formed the Western Association.
Des Moines had an outstanding team in 1888. Besides Kennedy, the pitchers included Fred Smith and Ed Cushman. The lineup was a mix of youngsters, like as Joe Quinn and Bug Holliday, and veterans, most notably Orator Shafer.
With this lineup, Kennedy didn’t have to worry about run support. He won his first three starts including a four hit shutout at Omaha before losing three straight. As May ended, Kennedy started a nine game winning streak.
Kennedy received outstanding run support during his streak, but also pitched very well in most of his starts. Among the highlights were two victories over Sioux City in which he allowed seven hits and one unearned run. In late July, manager Morton signed pitcher Bill Hutchison. Not needing four pitchers, Kennedy was released soon after an August 7 win over Chicago. Years later Kennedy said he was released “to cut expenses. I was signed up 15 minutes later by Frank Selee of Omaha.” At the time of his release, Kennedy wasn’t quite as understanding and there seems to have been some friction between him and Morton. He wrote a letter to the Des Moines Daily News titled “The Reason Why”. This was later criticized by Sporting Life‘s Des Moines correspondent who said “He hauled the manager over the coals without any reason for so doing, which made him (Kennedy) appear ridiculous in the eyes of the public.” The release may have cost Kennedy another chance at the major leagues. Morton took over Toledo for 1889 and used many of the former Des Moines players. Several remained with the team when it was elevated to major league status in 1890, including Cushman and Smith.
With Omaha, Kennedy continued as an effective pitcher. He threw one-hitters against Davenport and Milwaukee, but most satisfying was undoubtedly a 4-2 win over Des Moines on September 13. In that game he allowed six hits, one earned run and struck out seven. That win raised his record on the season to 18-7. Box scores after the middle of September are unavailable, but up to that time Kennedy had an earned run average of 2.60 in 26 starts. Final stats published by the league don’t show pitching statistics but have him appearing in 31 games. His hitting though inconsistent improved. He finished with a .207 batting average.
During the off-season, the Western Association folded and Kennedy signed with Dubuque of the Illinois-Iowa League. As it turned out, 1889 would be his last season as an active player. Kennedy later blamed summer heat for his retirement. “My last game was played with the thermometer 110 degrees in the shade. I won, but was affected by the heat.”
After retiring as a player, Kennedy became a sporting goods manufacturer. He specialized in gloves and catcher’s mitts and initially based his factory in Chicago. In 1893, he even found time to serve for one game as a major league umpire. On September 3, Chicago was hosting Baltimore. The Chicago Tribune reported, ” (Tim) Hurst did not show up in time for the first inning and Ted Kennedy umpired satisfactorily until he arrived. There was little kicking, even the sulky (Tony) Mullane behaving himself most creditably.”
Soon after, Kennedy sold his patents to the A.G. Spalding Company and returned to his hometown of Peoria. Kennedy later said “Here I experimented on new ideas of improved mitts, which I began manufacturing.” He also operated a baseball school, specializing in teaching young players how to throw the curve ball. He became a vegetarian and as his obituary later said “held that the training ideas of the baseball teams in the country were wrong. He had a theory he could take a team trained along his own ideas, with a meat diet absent and turn out a nine which would capture a championship.”
By the end of the nineteenth century, Ted and Regina Kennedy had four children: Fannie (1887), Mabel (1889), Herbert (1891) and Viola (1896). Shortly after 1900, the Kennedys moved to St. Louis and Ted became a furrier in addition to operating his baseball school. He continued to be an innovator. The Peoria Star remembered that “he invented the use of a ball light in weight and so marked as to give the handling for the various curves and breaks in order to make the learning of the latter easier.”
He also invented an early pitching machine. The Washington Post reported that he was going to help manager Jimmy McAleer “make better batters” of the 1904 St. Louis Browns. The plan didn’t work. The Browns team batting average for 1904 declined from the 1903 figure. Though Kennedy had theories on how to improve the game, he also believed the old players were better. He said of deadball era pitchers: “Take the pitching of today and put old 1885 Chicago, Buffalo, and New York teams against it, and they would turn the infield into a hospital, and many of the games would have to be postponed and played the next day, as they would be unable to get the real old sluggers out.” Even the innovation of the spitball was nothing new to Kennedy. “What they call the spit ball has moss four feet thick on it. The old thumb drop ball has found a new name. Bobby Mathews the grandest little man of the box used it.”
Apparently the baseball and fur businesses were successful. By the summer of 1907, rumors were circulating that Kennedy was part of a group attempting to purchase the St. Louis Cardinals.
Unfortunately, none of that would come to pass. In late July 1907, Ted’s father died in St. Louis after a fall down an elevator shaft. Three months later, Ted Kennedy would be also be dead. The account in The Peoria Star said, “Kennedy’s death came as a surprise, as he retired Sunday night (October 27) apparently in the best of health. Members of Kennedy’s family were awakened at 3 o’clock Monday morning to find him in such serious condition that a physician was hurriedly called, but he died before the latter arrived.” The coroner’s inquest attributed death to fatty degeneration of the heart. Kennedy was buried on October 30 at St. Louis’ Calvary Cemetery. He was 42.
Note: Most reference sources give Kennedy’s date of death as October 31, 1907, but the Peoria Journal of that date quoting an item printed in the St. Louis Republican of October 30, reports Kennedy’s death. Additionally, the obituary in the Peoria Star of Friday November 1 specifically says that he died early on Monday morning, which would have been October 28, 1907.
United States Census (Ohio for 1860 and Illinois for 1870, 1880, and 1900).
Brooklyn Eagle, 1886.
Chicago Tribune 1885, 1893, 1905, 1907.
New York Times, 1886.
Peoria (Illinois) Journal, October 31, 1907.
Peoria (Illinois) Star, November 1, 1907.
Sporting Life, 1884-1888.
The Sporting News, November 28, 1907.
Total Baseball, 7th ed.
Washington Post , 1904, 1907.