That’s not a typo. Bill Kennedy sent 456 batters back to the bench on strikes in just 280 innings of work for a minor league team in 1946. Thought to be a record* for organized baseball at the time, this works out to nearly 15 K’s per 9 innings. He even struck out 24 batters in single game.
This performance made teams take notice and he quickly found his way to the Boston Red Sox farm system and the St. Louis Browns through a trade. That’s about as good as it got for Kennedy who never lived up to his impossibly good 1946 totals. He put together a few average seasons for the mediocre Browns and was then traded to the White Sox. The Sox used him as a reliever throughout the 1950s but his MLB career didn’t amount to much. Demoted to the minors and unceremoniously dumped he retired to tend a bar near Seattle.
*Another obscure minor leaguer actually shut down 465 batters in nearly 400 innings of work in 1907. Kennedy’s near miss is much more impressive given the lower number of innings he pitched.
Tracing Kenendy’s Performance Through Card Photos
It is apparent that Bill Kennedy’s Major League career did not go as well as his minor league one. Shown below is the complete run of his major baseball card issues. If placed in chronological order you can see the optimism fade from Kennedy’s face as time progresses.
When he first broke into the big leagues there was a lot of promise. Those following his performance probably wrote off his 8-8 debut record and 5.21 ERA as rookie nervousness. He is shown relaxed and broadly smiling on his 1949 Bowman rookie card. His ’52 Topps shows hints of a smile but he’s not having fun. The painted portrait of 1953 Topps looks more like he’s just been told for the fourth time he had been traded.
1952 Topps Added to the Collection
Less than two dozen cards into my set building project I am sill feeling out where the overall condition will end up. Financially I know many cards will be little more than low-grade fillers, but I will almost certainly deviate from this when opportunity allows. My Bill Kennedy card looks like one of those outliers. I found this one on eBay. Its condition is solidly EX other than some fairly extreme centering. Viewed on paper I think I got it for an attractive price, though over time I have come to the conclusion that I would have rather had two or three lower grade commons rather than this one particular example.
Like the 1952 set’s card of Spec Shea, Kennedy is pictured with the wrong team. A St. Louis Browns uniform is clearly visible in the picture and the team’s logo is clearly printed alongside the card’s name area. He had been sent to the Chicago White Sox during that year’s Spring Training. Topps was well aware of the switch but did not correct the card. The back of the card identifies him as a pitcher for Chicago and the biographical text even describes the March 1952 sale of his contract.