SABR Salute: Jack Kavanagh

Editor’s note: The SABR Salute, first bestowed upon writer Fred Lieb in 1976, was designed as a manner of recognizing the contributions of some of the older members of the Society. Subsequent SABR Salutes appeared in the SABR Membership Directory and honored members who had made great contributions to baseball historical research. Jack Kavanagh received the SABR Salute in 1995; the following biographical sketch appeared in that year’s membership directory.

Jack Kavanagh was born in Brooklyn in 1920, a National League pennant year for the Dodgers, who played to a 26-inning tie game against the Braves on May 1, but lost to Cleveland in a World Series highlighted by Bill Wambsganss’ unassisted triple play. Those records still stand—all three of them. He spent three years at Manhattan College in NYC prior to four years in the Army during World War II. Additional study followed at Loyola of Baltimore and Ohio State University.

Jack was settled in New England when he joined SABR on July 9, 1973. Actually, he was SABR’s first member in Rhode Island, where he resides to this day. He had designed and was self-marketing a dice and charts table baseball game, “Extra Innings,” and looked to SABR as a source of information from which teams of the past could be reconstructed.

Jack was also in the process of changing careers. His choices were driven primarily by the needs of his mentally retarded, paraplegic son, Brian. He resigned from an upward executive career with Capital Cities Broadcasting, an emerging telecommunications power which today owns the ABC network. To remain with them would have meant further relocating and extensive travel, placing the burden of home care of their son on his wife, Sally.

An active volunteer in the service of the handicapped, Jack became executive director of a Rhode Island service and advocacy private agency. His group pioneered the advances in group home living, and supportive services. In 1983 Brian moved into a group home and his father began “early retirement.” This meant starting a full-time writing career which had been postponed to meet other responsibilities. In the past a variety of writing was published. A book, many articles, sci-fi and detective fiction, a NYC-produced play, had been done while juggling the demands of a job and family, which included a daughter, Beth. Beth and Jeny Martin have provided five grandchildren for Jack to spoil. He and Sally had a 50th wedding anniversary in November 1993, four months before her death.

Jack Kavanagh’s byline appeared mostly for sports articles, but also in such publications as: Alfred Hitchcock, Ellery Queen, Yankee Magazine, New England Coastal Journal, Current Biography, and Hobbies and Collectives.

He wrote frequently for Sports Heritage and Sports History. A number of articles also appeared in Baseball Research Journal, The National Pastime and SABR Review of Books. In 1990 he was asked to write for the “Legends of Baseball” series, which is being published by Chelsea House for an audience of 12-year olds. These books, which are authored primarily by SABR writers, also must meet the Society’s standards for research. Jack’s titles include Grover Cleveland Alexander, Walter Johnson, Dizzy Dean, Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, and Joe Jackson. Also in production from Chelsea House is Robert E. Lee (no relation to pitcher Bob Lee), a title he took over when a final illness prevented Gene Murdock, a SABR pioneer, from completing the book.

Jack contributed an astonishing number—more than 600—of the short biographies in The Ballplayers; compiled the 1930s section of Macmillan’s The Baseball Chronology; and prepared the section “Streaks and Feats” for Total Baseball. Finally, a full-length book on Walter Johnson has been published by Diamond Communications. More than 100,000 words cover the career of the pitching great with the tragedies of his private life included. Bob Broeg wrote the foreword and a list of acknowledgements for assistance and an address for readers who want to join the Society further ties this book to SABR. A companion book about Grover Alexander has been started.

In seeming disregard of his tremendous output as a baseball researcher and writer, Jack Kavanagh would prefer to be saluted for his service as acting President of SABR during the administrative chaos in the early 1990s when an elected candidate was unable to take the reins of office because of an illness. Jack, who had been elected Vice-President, took charge of re-writing SABR’s bylaws, worked to resolve differences among Board members, and made significant efforts to have SABR publications produced on a timely basis. Drawing from his real-life experiences and his earlier job as executive director of a services and advocacy agency, Jack believes that “SABR provides an umbrella which covers a great variety of baseball interests. Keeping it upright and providing shelter to all is the challenge of its future.”

Postscript: In 1999, a youth baseball research award was established in Jack Kavanagh’s name in recognition of his writing and research achievements and his contributions to SABR. It was presented for the first time at the SABR national convention in 2000.


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