This article was written by David E. Skelton
“As the son of former major league player, manager and [front-office executive Bob Kennedy]…Terry grew up among baseball…and had the privilege of learning about hitting from the likes of Stan Musial and Ted Williams.”1 This privileged education undoubtedly contributed to Terry Kennedy’s selection as the youngest player on the 1976 College All-America baseball team. He topped that honor a year later by being named collegiate Player of the Year. In a 14-year major-league career, he earned a Silver Slugger Award, four All-Star berths and two seasons of Most Valuable Player consideration. A fierce competitor, self-described as “high-strung,”2 his leadership skills led two clubs to World Series play and enabled a minor-league managerial career, which extended into the twenty-first century and included Manager of the Year honors.
Born on June 4, 1956, Terrence Edward Kennedy, the youngest of five children born to Bob and Claire Kennedy, followed his father and brother (Robert, Jr.) into baseball’s professional ranks. Characterizing himself as merely a fair prep player, he experienced a seven-inch growth spurt between his junior and senior years, eventually filling out a strapping, 6-foot-3, 220- pound frame. Riding a partial athletic scholarship garnered by his father’s close relationship with Florida State’s coach, Woody Woodward, Terry blossomed as a Seminole. “Woody was the right guy for me at that time. He let me play a lot my freshman year.” En route to Tallahassee before his first semester at FSU, Terry’s mother, Claire, made a slight detour into Pensacola and proudly pointed out the former location of the airfield where Terry’s father had taught Ted Williams to fly fighter jets, before the Korean War.3
Selected to consecutive College All-American teams, Terry earned a 1982 induction into FSU’s Sports Hall of Fame, but he attracted professional scouts long before then: “[B]ats left-handed with power to all fields, and a throwing arm equal to that of Jim Sundberg…the best throwing catcher in the major leagues.”4 He entered the 1977 amateur draft and found baseball bloodlines that matched his own, including members of the Francona, Kuenn, Bando, and Blyleven families. The Seminole catcher attracted vast interest, including both sides of Chicago (the interest on the north side coming from none other than Cubs vice president Bob Kennedy). “I asked my father if he would take me in the draft and he told me he would if I was still there. I told him I would go back for my senior year if he did. I saw how hard it was for my brother when he was playing under my dad in the Cardinals system, players always wondering if it was just a favor to his kid. My dad told me he would trade me after he signed me, and I said, ’Sure you will!’” But Terry was already off the board when the Cubs made their choice, having been selected with the sixth overall pick by the very organization where his brother had toiled – the St. Louis Cardinals (it was a curious choice for a team seemingly secure behind the plate with perennial All-Star Ted Simmons). Aggressively pursued by scout Chase Riddle – who soon after began a long tenure as head baseball coach of Troy University – Kennedy reportedly signed a $100,000 bonus (he states it was only half that amount), of which $5,000 was promptly donated to FSU for stadium improvements.
Terry made an immediate impression in July, going 4-for-6 in a doubleheader debut in Johnson City (Appalachian [rookie] League). A .590 clip in 39 at-bats resulted in a speedy promotion to St. Petersburg, Florida (Class A). His rapid ascent further accelerated when he led the Cardinals entry to a 31-17 record and the Florida Instructional League championship. It was during this winter campaign that Kennedy began experimenting with switch-hitting, an on-again, off-again endeavor he abandoned in the 1980s.
His offensive onslaught continued in the Texas League the following spring, resulting in still another debut on June 30, 1978, with the Springfield Redbirds in the American Association (Class AAA). Again he was impressive with two hits, including a solo home run. An ensuing 13-for-30, 15-RBI surge resulted in a combined batting line of .309-20-100, which earned Terry a September call-up. Making his major-league debut in the eighth inning of a September 4 blowout loss to the Philadelphia Phillies (and pinch-hitting for Simmons), he grounded to second base and then moved behind the plate in the final frame. Nine additional appearances followed, all in a starting role. He captured his first base hit on September 15 before a Wrigley Field crowd that included his father; it was a run-scoring single to left field off Cubs right-hander Mike Krukow. In each of Terry’s starting assignments, Simmons played left field, generating speculation over the next two years that this move would become permanent when Hall of Famer Lou Brock retired.
Even if discussions of this move were serious – they were dismissed by manager Ken Boyer and balked at by Simmons – it was not going to occur anytime soon. Entering the 1979 campaign 100 hits shy of 3,000, Brock was not ready to relinquish his left-field post, thereby leaving Simmons behind the plate (in fact, by the time the Cardinals sought to fill the vacant left-field post in the spring of 1981, both Simmons and Kennedy were wearing other uniforms). Seeking full-time play for Kennedy, the Cardinals returned their young backstop to Springfield. Upset over the demotion – he’d hit at a .300 pace in the Grapefruit League and seemingly had little more to learn at the lower level – Terry ultimately accepted the change with a little help from his consoling, encouraging father.
If Terry’s 1978 work in Florida represented “Exhibit A” in a case for his readiness, his early 1979 performance was “Exhibit B.” On April 21, he drove in five runs with a homer and double in a 6-0 win over Iowa. A three-run homer against Denver on May 6 gave him 24 RBIs in 19 games. He rang up another five-RBI performance on May 19, in a 12-3 lashing of Wichita. “[Terry] is the finest ballplayer I’ve seen in my three years in the league,” noted Indianapolis manager Roy Majtyka. “He is the most complete player.”5 Although his numbers and accolades made a strong argument for promotion, another development made it happen.
On June 24, 1979, Simmons broke his wrist and was sidelined for a month. Promptly recalled from Springfield, Kennedy received playing time in 23 of the next 28 Cardinal games (including 18 starting assignments). Hitless in his first seven at-bats, he went on a .364 tear (16-for-44) that included his first major-league home run, struck in grand style. On July 1, in the eighth inning of a tie game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Terry came to the plate with the bases loaded against reliever Tug McGraw and promptly put the game out of reach. Dismayed by yet another trip to the minors after Simmons recovered, Kennedy was back in St. Louis by September and produced a .400 clip in his final 20 at-bats.
His performance at the major-league level, albeit part time, drew considerable attention; no less than eight clubs were rumored to have approached the Cardinals that winter about a trade (including Bob Kennedy’s Cubs). His perceived value was evidenced by the quality of trade bait dangled before St. Louis, including Atlanta Braves slugger Gary Matthews and Baltimore Orioles lefty Scott McGregor, a starter on a team that won a World Series berth in 1979. But spring arrived without any trades completed; Terry had to resign himself to a full campaign behind Simmons.
On June 20, 1980, Kennedy single-handedly dismantled the Cincinnati Reds by driving in six runs (two three-run homers, one off Hall of Famer Tom Seaver) in a 7-5 win. That game was one of the few season highlights for both player and team. The two home runs represented half of Terry’s season output in a mere 64 starting assignments, nearly half of them in left field – small yield for a youngster who, according to a Houston Astros scout, “may be the ‘best catcher of the decade’ before he’s finished.”6 The Cardinals posted their third-worst record in a quarter century as they combed through four managers (a modern record, matched by three teams). From December 8-12 they undertook a complete housecleaning, engaging in three trades that affected 22 players – including Kennedy, who shipped out to the San Diego Padres.
There were reports that Padres general manager Jack McKeon, busy with his own house-cleaning efforts, had been given his choice between Kennedy and Simmons (who was traded to Milwaukee on December 12). “I can’t say enough about the new young catcher,” McKeon chirped. “He’ll give us stability behind the plate.”7 Weighing in on the same subject, manager Frank Howard inveighed that Terry will “be worth his weight in gold.”8 Provided an opportunity as a regular starter, Kennedy responded with his first All Star campaign. A 13-game hitting streak (a .346 pace in 52 at-bats) was interrupted days later by the 1981 strike, but Kennedy returned just as strong after the two-month delay. Another surge in September – including seven consecutive base hits before his father’s watchful eyes – resulted in his becoming the only major-league catcher with more than 320 at-bats to achieve a .300 average.
Impressive as this All Star season was, one component was conspicuously missing from Kennedy’s arsenal: power, a sorely-needed commodity for the Padres, who were last in the majors with 32 home runs. Kennedy had hit a mere two home runs, a matter that new manager Dick Williams set out to rectify for the 1982 campaign. “Dick took a lot of pressure off me,” Kennedy said. “I knew I could swing hard and not have to worry about [my batting average] … I switched to a lighter bat, so I could pull the ball.”9 Terry’s average hardly suffered as he hit 21 homers (his career high), trailing only Hall of Famer Gary Carter among the league’s catchers. He fell three short of becoming the first catcher to lead either league in doubles, while tying the NL record of 40 set by Johnny Bench in 1968 (he struck two more two-baggers as a first baseman). Terry’s 15 game-winning hits helped the Padres to their second non-losing campaign since the franchise’s inception in 1969; his .295-21-97 batting line earned ballot consideration for Most Valuable Player (the first of two in consecutive seasons).
“[Kennedy] is capable of hitting 30 home runs this season,” opined Williams before the 1983 season.10 This lofty projection, combined with a .390 average and a league-leading 21 RBIs, earned the 27-year-old Kennedy April Player of the Month honors. But there was more hype than that. Some boldly forecast Terry as the NL’s first Triple Crown winner since Joe Medwick, in 1937. Falling far short of these soaring heights, he still made his mark by becoming the first Padre in franchise history to hit a homer in four consecutive games and, for the second straight year, led the team in home runs and RBIs. He slugged a dramatic game-winning home run against the Houston Astros on September 7, to cap a come-from-behind surge against Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who had led 7-0. It was his first major-league homer witnessed by his father, now the vice president of baseball operations for the Astros (Bob had “resigned” from the Cubs in 1981, a claim hotly and publicly challenged by his son), and it prompted Terry to chirp, “I’ve never been that excited before in my life.”11 Designated the league’s “next Willie McCovey,”12 he enjoyed his second All-Star campaign while outdistancing the Pirates Tony Pena for the Silver Slugger Award for catchers.
A sputtering offense prevented the Padres from eclipsing the .500 mark in consecutive seasons. “We play like King Kong one day and Fay Wray the next,” Kennedy quipped.13 This changed in 1984 with the emergence of youngsters such as Kevin McReynolds and Tony Gwynn. The team vaulted to its first World Series, granting Terry his first taste of postseason play. In his first at-bat in the Fall Classic, his double to right field plated two runs (the only runs for the Padres in Game One). This made Terry and Bob Kennedy into the first father-son combo to drive in runs in World Series play. The Padres lost to the Detroit Tigers in five games.
Despite the success the Padres sustained under Dick Williams, the crusty manager had his detractors – one of whom was Kennedy. Terry had stoically faced a continual barrage of criticism regarding his defensive work since the manager’s 1982 arrival (criticism that continued throughout his career). He remained silent when the team explored the free agent signing of Astros catcher Alan Ashby that winter – a move that would have shifted Kennedy to first base. Admittedly, Williams’ critique is supported in part by the large number of errors and stolen bases allowed throughout Terry’s career; on the other hand, he placed among the league leaders in base runners thrown out and fielding percentage. “My size never made it easy to be a ’smooth’ defender and it was always a chore. I envied the 5’11” to 6’1” catchers.” While never considered Gold Glove material, he was not a liability behind the plate, either.
The final straw came when Kennedy’s pitch calling drew unfavorable commentary. Reliever Gary Lucas, Kennedy’s San Diego teammate for three seasons, commented: “[T]here’s too much of an accent on the negative … [Williams and pitching coach Norm Sherry are] always second guessing the pitcher and catcher, getting on them for pitch selection or location.”14
During the two seasons following their World Series defeat the Padres fell out of pennant contention. Terry’s name continually surfaced in connection with trade rumors as the team prepared for the emergence of catching prospect Benito Santiago. Despite appeals from the Yankees, Pirates, Orioles, and his former team, the Cardinals, Kennedy continued to produce for the Padres. In 1985, a 12-game hitting streak (.440 in 50 at-bats) brought his average to a season-high .296 on June 10, earning Terry the starting assignment in the All-Star Game when voter-selected Gary Carter was forced to rest. He established a team record with five consecutive pinch-hits the following season, and only Carter exceeded his 792 games behind the plate from 1981-1986 (a strong testament to his durability). But after Santiago received the bulk of playing time following a September 1986 callup, the Padres actively began pursuing trade inquiries for their All-Star catcher.
The mound performance of the 1986 Padres was a mere shadow of that which led to post-season play two years earlier. Injury and underperformance resulted in a near league-worst 3.99 ERA, a situation San Diego sought to remedy by acquiring Baltimore Orioles right-hander Storm Davis. On October 30, 1986, in exchange for Davis, Kennedy and reliever Mark Williamson were sent east, the Orioles thus securing a replacement for the pending free-agent departure of their aging veteran backstop Rick Dempsey. Terry responded with his fourth – and final – All Star campaign in 1987 (joining former teammate Ted Simmons as the only catcher to start an All-Star Game for both leagues), while catching a single-season club record 142 games. A second-half swoon (.230) marred an otherwise productive season. But Kennedy’s slow start the following season (.172-0-5 through May) contributed to a platoon situation and a mere 265 at-bats. In January, Kennedy made way for the Orioles large, off-season youth movement when he was traded to the San Francisco Giants.
Now the Giants vice president of baseball operations, Bob Kennedy likely had influence on general manager Al Rosen’s decision to acquire the 33-year-old backstop. But another factor also loomed. Poised to enter the 1989 campaign with a little-tested young catcher, Kirt Manwaring, the Giants believed Terry’s veteran presence would be an asset. Much as he’d thrived in the new environs in San Diego and Baltimore before, Kennedy captured most of the time behind the plate in his first season with San Francisco. Instead of being a stopgap, Kennedy earned credit for stabilizing a pitching staff that vaulted the Giants to the World Series. “He’s a very intelligent catcher when it comes to communicating with the pitchers,” Dave Dravecky said. “He develops a relationship between the lines with the pitching staff, and that’s so important.”15
A free agent at the end of the season, Kennedy was re-signed by the Giants and split time in 1990 with another free agent acquisition, Gary Carter. One of his last home runs was a near bookend to his first: a grand slam against the Mets Ron Darling on May 15, 1990, which contributed to a 6-5 Giants victory. But by 1991, the Giants committed to a younger presence behind the plate and Kennedy garnered a mere 171 at-bats. He made his last plate appearance as a pinch hitter on October 6. In 1,491 major-league games and 4,979 at-bats, Terry collected 113 home runs and 628 RBIs to accompany a .264 lifetime batting average. Despite the criticism of his defense, he placed 55th all-time for putouts by a catcher through 2013.
“[I]t’s like having another manager out there…[he] can size up situations early, and the pitchers seem to have more confidence,”16 claimed manager Roger Craig, reflecting on Kennedy’s leadership qualities while also, perhaps, predicting his future. In 1993, Kennedy earned the mantle by taking the helm for the St. Petersburg Cardinals in the Florida State League. He served as manager or minor-league instructor for a number of organizations over the next two decades, overseeing youngsters and former major-league stars alike (he was the last professional to manage Rickey Henderson). A fierce competitor his entire life, Kennedy was let go by the Montreal Expos following the 1994 season for, as the organization explained, “philosophical differences; he was interested in winning and we were interested in player development.”17 Four years later he was named Baseball America Manager of the Year after leading the Iowa Cubs to a Pacific Coast League best 85-59 mark. In the early 2000s, manager Don Baylor offered a position on the Cubs coaching staff, but Terry declined: “My kids were still in high school and I did not want to be away from them. I remembered the solitude of my teen years [when my father was frequently away].” He spent 2013 as a Cubs scout and, with the children grown, hopes to follow his father into the front office someday.
From his mother’s detour to the retired Pensacola airfields to his father’s impact on his own career, family has had strong influence on Terry’s life (by sheer coincidence, the Cardinals assigned Terry number 16, the last number worn by his father during his playing career. Terry always sought to keep the number thereafter). The message in the Kennedy house was clear: Loving baseball was optional; being a good person wasn’t.18
In college, Terry met the love of his life, Teresa Murphy. “With all the people in the world, it still amazes me that God put us together.” A dancer who taught jazz, tap, and ballet, she sought to improve Terry’s agility with tap. “I attempted, only one time mind you, [but] I was a terrible student and did not pursue it any further. I am sure my wife was grateful.” Married in 1978, their second child, Sarah, arrived on February 22, 1984, with her father on crutches (he had arthroscopic knee surgery that off-season, though he proudly points out that he never spent a day on the disabled list in his career). Suzanna and Bart preceded and followed Sarah, respectively, and by 2014 Terry and Teresa enjoyed the company of seven grandchildren. Terry helps Teresa run The Kennedy Realty Team in the Phoenix region during the off-season.
Although the Cardinals organization almost stymied his budding career, through 2014 Terry maintained his place among Padres all-time leaders in a variety of statistical categories (including, significantly, the most games caught, despite playing just six years for the franchise). He led two teams to World Series play while garnering the respect of fans and contemporaries alike with four All-Star appearances. A torrid start to the 1982 season – arguably his finest in the major leagues – generated speculation that he might attain heights achieved by Hall of Famers Joe Medwick (as a potential NL Triple Crown winner) and Mickey Cochrane (most doubles by a catcher). Though he fell short on both accounts, there is ample record of the respect he commanded as he strode to the plate. His defensive durability places him among the all-time leaders in baseball history.
Last revised: September 5, 2014
The author wishes to thank Terry Kennedy for: (1) his invaluable review and input ensuring the accuracy herein; and (2) his extraordinary kindness shown to my 11-year-old son in 2004, prompting the desire to pursue the narrative. Further thanks are extended to Michael Lynch regarding the Cardinals’ 1980 record four managers and Matthew J. Perry for editorial and fact-checking assistance.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted baseball-reference.com, ancestry.com, and:
Kennedy, Terry, email correspondence (from which all unattributed quotes derive), December 12-13, 2013
1 “Kennedy Steps Up Barrage,” The Sporting News, May 9, 1983: 18.
2 “Kennedy in Pasture And Cards Make Hay,” The Sporting News, July 12, 1980: 32.
3 Kennedy, Williams, and Jerry Coleman were the only major-league players to serve in both Korea and World War II.
4 “No Evidence of Juiced-Up Ball,” The Sporting News, June 18, 1977: 53.
5 “American Association,” The Sporting News, June 23, 1979: 37.
6 “Notebook by Stan Isle,” The Sporting News, September 13, 1980: 16.
7 “Padres Count Youthful Blessings,” The Sporting News, January 10, 1981: 43.
8 “Kennedy Welcomes Padres Opportunity,” The Sporting News, February 7, 1981: 43.
9 “Padres’ Kennedy Showing Muscle,” The Sporting News, October 11, 1982: 47.
10 “Kennedy Steps Up Barrage.”
11 “Kennedy’s Big Bat No. 1 Padre Weapon,” The Sporting News, September 19, 1983: 23.
13 “Kennedy Steps Up Barrage.”
14 “Slumping Padres An Unhappy Bunch,” The Sporting News, May 28, 1984: 27.
15 “Lightening in a Bottle?” The Sporting News, May 15, 1989: 22.
16 “Gary – Terry Combo Sparkles in Twilight,” The Sporting News, June 4, 1990: 10.
17 “N.L. – Montreal Expos,” The Sporting News, October 3, 1994: 43.
18 Daniel Berk, “Kennedy’s late dad lives on in his son,” Arizona Daily Star (June 17, 2012). (http://azstarnet.com/sports/baseball/professional/minor/kennedy-s-late-dad-lives-on-in-his-son/article_07f85a05-adc1-5205-892d-5e9a451a3569.html ).