Friday, February 20, 2009

North Side - South Side: Don Kessinger

Most people who know of Don Kessinger know of him as an all star shortstop for the Cubs in the late '60's and early '70's. But Don also had a short, interesting stay on the south side.

Kessinger had a brief minor league career after being named an All American at Ole Miss. After 77 games in the Texas League in 1964, he had a cup of coffee with the Cubs at the end of the season. Following 46 more games in the minors in 1965, he was brought back to the Cubs for good and played in 106 games with the big boys. He hit only .201, but it was his glove that the Cubs wanted.

Kessinger's first card, 1966

He was converted to a switch hitter in 1966 and his average improved. He became the Cubs lead-off man and was their only real stolen base threat. By 1968 he was named to his first all-star team, something that would happen six times in his career. He also won gold gloves in 1969 and 1970.

Topps 1968

All Star Card, 1969, with a picture of a Pittsburgh Pirate in the background

Growing up, I had two different ways to imitate Don Kessinger. As a hitter, it was to stand with one foot in the batters box and move around the batting helmet. He always seemed to wiggle his helmet before getting set in the box. The fielding Kessinger move was more fun. You would go far to your right for a ball, pick it up then turn, leap, and throw the ball all at once. It was Kessingers signature move and we all could do it.

Topps 1972 - always looking for a good excuse to show these beauties!

Kessinger's last card as a Cub, 1975

As the Cubs of 1969 aged, the team was broken up. Kessinger stuck around the longest, finally being traded to the Cardinals before the 1976 season. He didn't hit much for the Cardinals and in 1977 he lost the starting job to a much younger Garry Templeton. The Cardinals sent him back to Chicago in August of 1977, although to the south side with the White Sox. He played in 131 games for the Sox in 1978 and was the surprise choice of owner Bill Veeck to be manager of the team in 1979. He was one of the last player/managers in MLB history.

As a member of the White Sox, 1978. He just looks out of place in that strange Sox uniform instead of in Cubs pinstripes

Topps 1979 White Sox team card with manager Don Kessinger

With the Cubs, Leo Durocher was always on Kessinger to be more vocal, be more of a leader on the field. But that just didn't seem to be him. It's ironic that of the Cubs of 1969, Kess was the only star of the team to become a big league manager. But maybe Durocher was right, and Kessinger just wasn't the manager type. He led the Sox for only 106 games and then resigned as mananger and retired as a player. The Sox named an unknown coach as their new leader, some guy named Tony LaRussa.

Don returned to his alma mater and was the baseball coach at Ole Miss for ten years. He retired as coach in 2000 and now is in real estate.


  1. I was a big fan of Kess, even though I grew up a Sox fan. He was a bad (but inexpensive) choice to manage the Sox. He knew it and everyone knew it. He was a team guy.
    I got a signed ball by Kess through his son Keith. Keith played for a bit and coaches in college. I sent him a ball, which he signed and then had his dad signed. I didn't even ask for that, but I am happy he went the extra mile.

  2. Love the pix and comments. Thanks for stirring up some fond memories of my childhood as a devoted Cubs fan. Kess was my favorite player and the DP's he and Beckert used to pull off were things of beauty.

  3. Don Kessinger is wonderful guy. He became my idol during his short playing days with the Sox. My father would often talk to me about his appreciation for how efficiently Kessinger handled his position. (This efficiency, of course, is what I tried to emulate to please my father.) I sent Don an email last year (2010) recalling how my late father and I bonded during my youth while watching him play shortstop. Don replied and his letter was, of course, humble, kind, and yet startlingly personal. He was overly gracious and assured me that my letter was welcome. He also expressed gratitude at being so accepted by all of the Sox fans after many great years with the Cubs. Most importantly, however, I appreciated his thoughts about how baseball can forever link a father and son. I read that letter over and over; probably more than 100 times. I became, to say the least, quite choked up. Dad would have really enjoyed it.

    Thanks for hosting this page.