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Kevin Kennedy Was Just a Stranger to Most of the Texas Rangers When He Took Over at Start of Season, but . . . : He's Managed to Win Respect


ANAHEIM — George W. Bush, son of the former president, made a move last October that raised more than a few eyebrows.

He hired a Kennedy.

Kevin Kennedy, of the San Fernando Valley Kennedys, was new manager of Bush's baseball club, the Texas Rangers.

Responding to the news, Rafael Palmeiro, the club's star first baseman, spoke for the majority of his teammates when he admitted, "I don't know who he is."

Few people did.

Kennedy, a Taft High graduate, never played in the major leagues. His only big league coaching experience came last season, which he spent as a bench coach, inconspicuously stationed at the right hand of Manager Felipe Alou of the Montreal Expos.

But he had a track record, one that Tom Grieve, Texas' general manager, found difficult to ignore.

In eight seasons managing in the Dodgers' organization, Kennedy steadily climbed the minor league ladder. From rookie ball to triple A, his teams never had a losing season or finished worse than second place.

"We knew he was a high-caliber guy," Grieve said. "People in baseball, the ones who follow the inner-workings of the game, knew all about Kevin Kennedy."

And those rather baffled Rangers players? They would learn.


Their lineup already savaged by injuries, the Rangers were eight games below break-even and in a free-fall toward the division cellar when their rookie manager called a workout for June 24, on what was supposed to be a day off.

The previous night, a Wednesday, the club completed a 2-8 trip by losing to the Chicago White Sox, 7-4.

On Friday, Texas was scheduled to open a six-game home stand with the first of three games against the Oakland Athletics. But there would be no rest for the weary.

Kennedy, a no-nonsense, 39-year-old Mike Schmidt look-a-like, did not believe his team deserved time off.

"The biggest thing Kevin had facing him when he got here was turning around an atmosphere and attitude that wasn't conducive to winning," said Claude Osteen, Texas pitching coach. "There were a lot of stat-conscious things going on, things we knew did not lead to winning."

So Kennedy laid down the law. The players had their way for 70 games. He would have it his way the final 92.

"Basically, we had a lot of problems," Palmeiro said. "All of our guys weren't on the same track."

Kennedy demanded aggressive, team-oriented play. He would help set the example. The coaching staff would steal signs, catcher's signals and whatever else they could hustle from the opposing dugout.

Ranger players would be expected to bunt, execute a hit-and-run and even the slowest of players would be asked to swipe a base given an opening.

If they were going down, it would not be without a fight.

Since then, the Rangers have a record of 52-35, best in the American League.


During his first season, Kennedy kept the Rangers in a pennant race longer than any of the 12 managers who preceded him in the club's 21-year history.

But he still is best known as the man who mistakenly made a pitcher out of Jose Canseco.

On May 29, in the ninth inning of a 15-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox, Kennedy chose to save his bullpen while also satisfying his $4.1-million slugger's longstanding request to pitch.

Canseco, normally an outfielder, threw 33 pitches. In the next six games, he started only once and failed to hit a ball out of the infield in five at-bats.

On June 4, a magnetic resonance imaging test revealed a ligament tear in Canseco's right elbow.

Canseco's injury required ligament transplant surgery. After driving in 46 runs in his first 60 games, he was done for the season.

There was media speculation that Kennedy, his team already reeling, also might be finished.

Typically, he faced the controversy without a flinch, taking full responsibility.

"If anyone in the country wants to ask me about it, I'll answer," Kennedy said before a recent game in Anaheim. "I'm not going to go hide and feel sorry for myself.

"There was a little goodwill involved. But I had said before when our pitching was going poorly in June that if the situation arose in a blowout game and I didn't want to use my bullpen, I would use Jose.

"In that situation, we were playing about as bad as you can play. Our bullpen was being taxed every night, so I decided to do it."

Canseco was prepared for the appearance. He worked on his pitching during spring training, appeared in an exhibition game during the season and had thrown on the side under the watchful eye of Osteen between games.

Since then, doctors assert that Canseco's injury was progressive, and that pitching probably only worsened damage already done to the ligament.

But for a team that had lost a 40-home run, 100-RBI man from its lineup, that was small consolation.

"I wouldn't do it again, but it happened and we've had to deal with it," Kennedy said. "The main thing was to go forward and not allow negativisms, the heat, injuries, the absence of Jose, or anything else to knock us off track."


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