I was upstairs on the third floor in the Rays executive offices a few days ago and over heard a conversation that was going on between a few people about Kevin Kennedy. Now I knew that the Fox Baseball broadcaster had been contacted by the team in the past about their job opening, but I did not know he was considering the position until I read it in another blog ( www.raysindex.com ) two days later. Where was my journalistic instincts that day.
I could have broke a great story, or at least posted the same day as everyone else. But for some reason I did not think he was going to be on the broadcast team. I was under the mindset that he might be a guest during Fan Fest like Buck Martinez and would shed some great light on baseball today. I was told on Saturday at Fan Fest that they tried hard to get him there for the Florida Sports Network ( FSN ) autograph signing to surprise the Rays faithful with the announcement. Not tell me that would not have psyched you out to go up to the table to see colorful Dwayne Staats and Kevin Kennedy sitting with Todd Kalas singing away like madmen.
So even if I am upset with myself for accidentally falling into a story, I am excited that we have a high caliber replacement like Kennedy for Joe Magrane. I was sorry to see Magrane go to the MLB Network. Not so much that I would miss his tall sense of humor and inside jokes during the broadcast, but I liked his analogies during the game. He had a special bond with these players having played at this level and had his own success on the mound. I recently saw a review of the American League East, and Magrane looked troubled to have to chat about his former team. He will be great at MLB Network, and I truly wish him the best.
Kennedy will be the color analyst for most of the Rays broadcasts in 2009, but he will have to leave the booth from time to time to take care of prior commitments with Fox Sports and will also still do his daily XM radio talk show with Rob Dibble on XM Satellite Radio channel 175. Un known to some fans is the fact that Kennedy has been nominated twice for Emmys for his work at Fox Sports. So with his new position, Kennedy also has some past commitments and in his absence in the booth, the Rays will have a familiar voice to fans stand in for him. During the 2008 season when Magrane was out of town in New York City for the Olympic baseball telecasts, former Cleveland Indians color commentator Brian Anderson would take off his Rays uniform and strap on his suit to help take over for him. Pregame and post-game host Todd Kalas will also slide up into the commentators chair on select broadcasts in 2009.
So let’s get to know a little bit more about the guy who will be up in the Rays booth this year with Staats. Kevin Kennedy did play organized professional baseball, but was limited to the minor leagues as a catcher in the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations. He began his trek into coaching with stints in the Caribbean Winter League before finally getting position in the minor leagues. In 1983 he began his coaching career as a catching instructor in the Los Angeles Dodger organization and in 1984, he began his first full season coaching in the Pioneer League with the Great Falls Dodgers. He stayed with that franchise until 1986, and he appeared in the conference finals twice in the last two years, winning the championship in 1985. In 1987, he moved up to the Bakersfield Dodgers in the California League and 78-65 record for the season.
Kennedy then got his first taste of life in Texas when he went in 1986 to the San Antonio Missions in the Texas League and lead them to a 73-60 record. The team ended up in second place in the conference and lost in the first round of the playoffs that year. From 1989-1991, Kennedy again stayed put in the Pacific coast League as he took over as manager of the Albuquerque Dukes. He finished the regular season all three years in first place, but only won in the PCL’s playoff championship in 1990. That season the team posted a 92-51 record, which became his best minor league managerial records.
Kennedy finally made it onto a major league squad as a coach with the Montreal Expos in 1992. He was hired by Tommy Runnels , but ended up coaching under Felip Alou after Runnels was let go by the franchise. He only stayed in Montreal for one year before getting his big break in 1993 when he was hired by the Texas Ranger to take over as manager of the team. His squad posted a 86-76 record for the year and placed second in the American League West division. But the best was yet to come as in 1994 when he won his first divisional title. Kennedy is still the only manager to ever win a division title with a sub-.500 record. When the 1994 strike put a premature end to the season, the Rangers were standing atop the four-team AL Western Division, with a record of 52-62. They had finished ten games over .500 in 1993, and their record in the strike-shortened season was considered a serious disappointment, leading to Kennedy’s dismissal.
But Kennedy did not have to wait long for another opportunity to manage in the major leagues. He was hired by Butch Hobson to coach for the Boston Red Sox and was the Red Sox managements choice to succeed Hobson in 1995. Kennedy pushed the Red Sox to a 86-58 record in 144 games, and they won the American League East title that season. But in 1996, the Red Sox struggled and posted only a 85-77 record in 162 games. The overall team record and his teams being swept in the playoffs by the Cleveland Indians was viewed as a travesty and Kennedy was replaced by Jimy Williams in the off season.
Kennedy then went on to work at ESPN in 1998, where he spent two years as an analyst on their national Wednesday Night Baseball game telecast, and on ESPN Radio’s Sunday Night Baseball games. After leaving ESPN, Kennedy began work with Fox Sports Net as an analyst for the ” National Sports Report “, providing commentary and in-depth features. In recent years, Kennedy has been on the Fox Saturday pregame show with Jeannes Zelasko. I also did not know that Kennedy was co-author of a baseball book entitled, ” Twice Around the Bases”. I am going to have to hit Amazon.com in the next few days and see if I can find a good copy of the book to read, and then get Kennedy to autogrpah. Maybe I might even review the book in a blog sometimes during an off-day during the season.
Within the last two months it has been learned that Fox will terminate the pre-game show featuring both hosts and that might have opened the door for the Rays opportunity for Kennedy. MLB on Fox has not decided on their 2009 direction, but they will now have to stay the course without Kennedy on board the ship. I think this hiring is an excellent decision by the Tampa Bay Rays. They get a guy who is respected for his baseball knowledge as an ex-manager, and as a network show co-host for several seasons. Kennedy was also very pro-Rays during the 2008 season and will bring great insight into the managerial and network side of sports for the viewers. He will also be a great speaker for the Rays in civic events and will be a firm foundation for the broadcast team in 2009.
He comes on board with Staats who has now done over 4,400 broadcasts in his career, and is always a finalist for the Hall of Fame’s Frick award. Kevin Kennedy might not have been my first choice to fill that position, but I also did not even know that he was available at the time. People like Bobby Valentine were mentioned for the job, but Kennedy bring with him the clout and the prestige that the Rays need to push their image nationally in the coming years. Again the Tampa Bay Rays front office get kudos for their smart decision and quick grasp to get Kennedy into the Rays fold.
photo credits for today’s blog include Reddawg32on Flicker.com, http://www.orbitcast.com, http://www.grandstandsports.com.