Tuesday, November 24, 2015

John Kennedy - First African American to play for the Philadelphia Phillies

John Irvin Kennedy’s Negro League baseball career was wedged between his two attempts to play in the Major Leagues.  After college (Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida), the slick fielding shortstop played two seasons in Canada on a team managed by former Negro League star Willie Wells.  Signed by the Major League’s New York Giants in 1953, Kennedy was released after one season in the team’s minor league system.  He played the next three seasons in Negro League baseball; 1954 – 1955 with the Birmingham Black Barons and with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1956. 

The talent level in the Negro Leagues had decreased by the mid-1950s as the best players had been signed by Major League teams.  However, Kennedy was an All Star while with the Monarchs and got the attention of the Philadelphia Phillies who in 1957 were the only National League team without an African American player.  He was invited to the team’s spring training camp that year and made a strong effort to be their number one shortstop. 

However, just as other former Negro League players in the 1950s faced when signed by a Major League team, Kennedy a had problem about his age.  The Phillies discovered he was not 23 years old as told, but 30.  Some records say Kennedy was born November 23, 1934 in Sumter, South Carolina.  But, his official birthdate was October 12, 1926 in Jacksonville, Florida.

The team brought in a younger shortstop, but Kennedy remained with the team and on April 22 became the first African American player to appear in a game wearing a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.  He entered the game against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field as a pinch runner.   Kennedy appeared in four other games and then was sent back to the minor leagues with an injured shoulder; never to play in another Major League game.

"Last Train to Cooperstown:The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  is the perfect gift for the baseball fan on your Christmas list.  For more information go to  or 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Cristobal Torriente - "The Cuban Strongman"

In a poll of former Negro League players and sportswriters conducted in the early 1950s, Cristobal Torriente was named one of the best outfielders to play in the Negro Leagues.  Known as the “Cuban Strongman, Torriente was born on November 16, 1893 in Cienfuegos, Cuba.  The left handed slugger stood 5’11”, 185 pounds, with broad shoulders, and a rifle for a throwing arm.
The following is an excerpt from my book, Last Train to Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era, which profiles the Hall of Fame outfielder:

“Pitchers had a hard time getting him out due to his quick,

powerful swing. They could not throw strikes pass him. Getting him

to swing at pitches out of the strike zone also did not work because

the Cuban was a notorious bad ball hitter. Facing him was an

experience pitchers dreaded.

Many stories have been told as a testimony of the Cuban’s

power when batting. One is about a line drive he hit off the right

field wall in Indianapolis against the ABCs. Supposedly the ball was

hit so hard, it got to the wall so fast, the right fielder was able to

throw the speedy Torriente out at first base. Another story is about

a ball he supposedly hit in Kansas City against the Monarchs. It

smashed a clock 17 feet above the center field fence. According to

Torriente’s American Giant teammate shortstop Bob Williams,

“The hand of the clock started going round and round.” It is doubtful

all the stories of balls hit by Torriente are true. But there is no

doubt he was one of the best hitters seen by Negro League fans.”

For more of Cristobal Torriente’s Negro League baseball story, read Last Train to Cooperstown:The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.   For more information, go to  or