When Nick Lopardo purchased the Waterbury Spirit and moved them to Fraser Field in Lynn, he knew several things had to happen for an independent league franchise to thrive in the heart of a baseball-crazy region.
And one of them was that the on-field management had to have almost instant credibility. And after interviewing several ex-major leaguers, Lopardo hired former Red Sox “supersub” John Kennedy.
“I had a lot of respect for John,” said Lopardo. “For a new start-up, he did a very good job. He got us into the players, and into the (CanAm League) final right away.
“He was a very hard-nosed, no-nonsense guy to be around,” said Lopardo, “but he was also fun, especially when all those guys (Kennedy, Rich Gedman, Dick Radatz, Frank Carey, Jim Tgettis and Tom Donahue) got together.”
Kennedy, the leader of the inaugural Spirit management staff, died last week at the age of 77 from complications after suffering a stroke, according to Carey.
“John knew his baseball,” said Lopardo. “He was really solid. He won a World Series with the Dodgers (against Minnesota in 1965), played for the Yankees and Red Sox. Those are three pretty good teams. It’s pretty impressive to be capable enough to play on those squads.”
Kennedy gained the moniker “supersub” while with the Red Sox for the final five years of his major league career. But perhaps his biggest thrill was being on the field on Sept. 9, 1965, when Sandy Koufax pitched his perfect game against the Chicago Cubs. Kennedy went into the game in the ninth inning to play third base, replacing Junior Gilliam.
“We used to kid him,” said Carey, “we’d say to him that Koufax looked out and decided he’d have to strike out all three batters.”
He did exactly that. In fact, he struck out the side in the eighth too, en route to 14 strikeouts in all (including Ernie Banks three times).
Both Lopardo and Carey said Kennedy was at his best, behind the scenes, in the coaches’ room.
“I don’t think he ever felt comfortable out in public,” said Lopardo. “But in those meetings, and when he was with the guy, he felt comfortable. And all those guys got along so well.”
Carey said Kennedy and Radatz (the pitching coach for the Spirit) were each other’s favorite targets.
“One day, John calls over to Radatz and says ‘hey, Monster (Radatz’s nickname), tell me about the time Johnny Callison hit that home run off you in the All-Star game (1964)’,” Carey said. “Radatz looked right at him and said, ‘you mean the one where you were home in your living room, watching on TV?’ All he could do was laugh.”
Carey said he first got to know Kennedy because of their mutual friendship with Mike Hegan, who, like Kennedy, played for several teams during his career.
“John had done some managing in the minor leagues, so he knew the routine,” said Carey. “He knew all about the long bus rides, and he understood that if you managed at that level, you pretty much gave up your summer, between traveling and playing.”
Carey, a special assistant on Kennedy’s teams, also recalled warmly the camaraderie among the coaches.
“We liked to hang around together,” Carey said. “We’d all show up at noon for a 7 o’clock game, and we all swapped stories. I loved to sit back and listen to all their stories about the days in the Major Leagues.”
But, said Carey, “he was serious about his responsibilities as a manager. He knew part of why he was there was to lend credibility to the franchise.”
And to that end, Kennedy lent some old-style urgency to te Spirit.
“He could be fiery,” said Carey. “I think he must have led the league in getting thrown out of games.”
That, said Lopardo, was because “he had his players’ backs. Always. He’d go to the wall for his players.”
Also, Carey said, “he knew the ins and outs of baseball — the stuff not a lot of people notice. He’d be able to tell a pitcher when to hold the ball a little longer, or when to try a pickoff move.”
Kennedy was not one for modern analytics, Carey said.
“We’d all be breaking down every little move the guys would make, and he’d be looking at us and laughing. We’d ask ‘well, how did you do such-and-such’ and he’d just say ‘I don’t know. I just went and did it.'”
Yet with all that, Lopardo said, Kennedy was a good teacher.
“He was good for the kids we had playing for us,” Lopardo said. “He was a very good instructor.”