Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

John Kennedy ended Phillies' all-white streak in 1957

John Kennedy played briefly with the Phillies. (Staff file photo)
John Kennedy played briefly with the Phillies. (Staff file photo)

IN 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers infielder Jackie Robinson became a pioneer for Major League Baseball as the first African-American to play professional baseball. Only a week into his professional career, Robinson dealt with what he called the most unpleasant day of his life when Phillies manager Ben Chapman insulted Robinson with racial and vulgar slurs from the visiting dugout at Ebbets Field.

On April 22, 1957 - 10 years after the Chapman incident in Brooklyn - shortstop John Kennedy became the first black player in Philadelphia franchise history. Kennedy made his first appearance as a pinch-runner in a 5-1 loss to Brooklyn, ending the Phillies' run as the last MLB team to integrate.

The road to the majors was not easy for Kennedy, because of segregation within the organization. During spring training in Clearwater, Fla., he lived in a private home away from his teammates and had to eat alone in restaurants designated for blacks. Despite the restraints, Kennedy is remembered for never complaining, because of his love for baseball.

Kennedy had a brief career in Philadelphia, appearing in only five games and earning only two plate appearances, striking out in one of them. The shortstop also committed an error in four innings.

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  • While his success on the field was scant, Kennedy opened the door for many black baseball players in Philadelphia. More than 50 years later, the Phillies entered the 2014 season with an all-black outfield and two black infielders, something not even Ben Chapman could have imagined in 1947.

    On April 27, 1998, at age 71, Kennedy died of a heart attack in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla.

    "He felt like he didn't get a fair chance to prove himself, but he didn't have any regrets, because he felt lucky to at least make it to the majors when a lot of other people didn't," daughter Tazena Kennedy told in 2008. "I'm quite sure he would have preferred to stay on a little longer and prove he was the player that they signed on, but my dad just didn't complain, except for when an umpire made an unfair call."

    - John Murrow

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