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.
A younger shortstop was brought in, 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 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.
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