Selection of Kennedy in Rule 5 Draft Aided 1948 Tribe
Bob Toth | On 07, Dec 2015
The Rule 5 draft has been around in some form since 1903. The annual selection helped to spread the wealth around the league, preventing teams from stockpiling talent while allowing deserving players to get an opportunity to reach the Majors and avoid potential roadblocks in front of them on their home roster.
While historically, the most successful Rule 5 selections have been average players at best, a handful have turned into All-Stars and even a couple have become Hall of Famers.
The Cleveland Indians have not had many brag-worthy selections in their history, but one such pick became a big contributor to their pennant chase and, ultimately, their second World Series title in 1948, but not quite in the way the club might have envisioned.
Following the 1947 season, the Indians selected left-hander Bill Kennedy from the Louisville Colonels, a minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. They also selected a shortstop, Leonard Ratto, from the Portland Beavers, and lost pitcher Alex Danelishen to the Chicago White Sox and an outfielder, native Ohioan Johnny Blatnik, to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Kennedy was born in 1921 and was signed by the New York Yankees in 1939. He pitched in the minors for the club through 1942, when he joined many fellow ball players in the World War II fights overseas. After three years of service with the U.S. Army, he was discharged on March 2nd, 1946, and had a season to remember with the Rocky Mount Rocks of the Coastal Plains League in his return to the game. He went 28-3 with a 1.03 ERA and struck out a mind-boggling 456 batters in 280 innings of work, arguably one of the finest minor league seasons ever compiled.
After that success, he signed with the Red Sox organization. At the age of 26, he went 15-3 with a 3.02 ERA in his first full season back in the pro game, leading to his selection by the Indians in the Rule 5 draft.
The Indians rotation for the 1948 season was a bit up in the air. After Bob Feller and Bob Lemon, the team had a pile of moderately successful right-handed pitchers to throw on the mound. Southpaws were even more limited, as they had just rookie lefty Gene Bearden deserving of a look with the Major League club.
Kennedy broke camp with the Tribe and appeared in just a handful of games. He made three starts and six total appearances, earning a win, but was plagued by his control. In eleven and one-third innings, he struck out 12, but walked 13, allowed 14 runs, and gave up 16 hits.
In June and fighting for the top spot in the American League, the Indians needed an upgrade for their rotation to stay competitive and take the load off of their work horses. While they had found some success in spot starters, Feller had struggled, leaving Lemon and the unproven Bearden to carry the staff. The club needed someone else reliable.
The St. Louis Browns, 19-29 and 13 games in back of the first place Indians, were dealing. The Indians sent Kennedy and $100,000 cash to the Browns for lefty starter Sam Zoldak.
“It was a case of begging for him on our knees,” Indians President Bill Veeck was quoted following the trade in The Plain Dealer. “I think it’ll be worth it though. He should help a lot.”
The left-hander was in his fifth Major League season after coming up with the Browns in 1944. He had won nine games in each of his last two seasons working primarily in the rotation and was 2-4 with a 4.67 ERA in eleven games (nine starts) in 1948. For the Tribe, he would give them a needed and reliable rotation arm, as he would go 9-6 with a 2.81 ERA in 23 games (12 starts) with four complete games and one shutout.
Zoldak would be a member of the Tribe for each of the following two seasons before he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics at the beginning of the 1951 season in a three-team trade that included the Chicago White Sox, most notably remembered as the trade that sent young Indians outfielder Minnie Minoso west to the Sox.
Kennedy, meanwhile, would finish the season much better than he had started it. He went 7-8 with a 4.70 ERA, making 20 starts and six more appearances in relief while throwing three complete games. He pitched for the Browns through the 1951 season before he was purchased by the White Sox prior to the 1952 campaign. After one season in the Windy City, he was dealt with two others to the Boston Red Sox for Vern Stephens. He spent the 1954 and 1955 seasons in the minors before returning to the Bigs in the National League for the first time as a member of the Cincinnati Redlegs. He appeared in nine games over two seasons in 1956 and 1957 before closing out his career in the minors through 1960.
While the Rule 5 selection of Kennedy did not quite bring the results the Indians had hoped, his acquisition did lead to better things for the ball club. The trade chip he provided, plus the substantial sum of money exchanged to sweeten the pot, gave the Indians what they had hoped Kennedy would have provided all along – a durable, reliable, southpaw arm to complement the aces at the top of their rotation.