Before They Were The Rangers: President Kennedy & Senator Kennedy
Things were not going well in the Kennedy White House on September 5th, 1962. In another month, the Cuban Missile Crisis would hit. Here in September, things were already heating up over a possible confrontation with the Soviet Union. With a new Communist dictator, Fidel Castro, now firmly in control in Cuba, President Kennedy announced September 5th the United States would use any means necessary to prevent Cuban aggression anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Hemisphere, the Soviet Union was claiming a US U-2 spy plane had flown over Soviet airspace five days before, despite a US ban on such flights agreed to as a result of the downed U-2 plane during the latter days of the Eisenhower administration in 1960. The US government had to admit that yes, the plane may have “inadvertently” violated Soviet airspace, but it was an honest mistake and the reconnaissance ban was indeed still in effect. No, September 5th, 1962 wasn’t shaping up as a particularly good day for the Kennedy Administration. Why, it could be enough to forever tarnish the name of John Kennedy.
That night, the expansion Washington Senators were suiting up to play a doubleheader with the previous Washington Senators team, now playing as the Minnesota Twins. The Twins were on a 4-game winning streak and came to town sporting an 80-61 record. The Senators, now in their second season, checked in at a meager 54-88 under manager Mickey Vernon. The pitching match-up was Dave Stenhouse for the Senators against Dick Stigman for the Twins.
Minnesota struck early, plating two runs in the first on a 2-run Harmon Killebrew home run. The Senators first consisted of two groundouts and a fly to right. The Twins added another run in the second on a lead-off homer from catcher Earl Battey. The Senators went quietly on 2 strikeouts and a fly to center.
The Twins chased Stenhouse in the third. After a sacrifice fly plated the fourth run of the game, Stenhouse walked the next two batters and got an early trip to the showers. Another run would score to make it 5-0 after just 2 1/2 innings of play. The Nats went down in the third, again on two strikeouts and a fly to center.
By the time the bottom of the sixth inning came, the Twins were not only up 5-0, their pitcher Dick Stigman had faced 15 batters and recorded 15 outs. A walk was the only blemish on his record and a double play took care of that baserunner in a hurry.A fly ball and a groundout put Stigman in rarefied air: a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings. With two outs and the pitcher’s spot in the line-up scheduled to bat, Vernon decided to send a pinch-hitter to the plate. It would be the batter’s major league debut, in front of maybe 7,000 fans.
The batter stepping to the plate in DC Stadium in Washington, DC on September 5th, 1962? John Kennedy.
No, he wasn’t the President of the United States, but he shared the same first and last name of the President. Coincidentally, he also shared the same birthday as JFK, May 29th.
So here was John Kennedy, making his major league debut in Washington DC in the middle of the John Kennedy Administration. We already know JFK wasn’t enjoying a great day in office that day. How would his namesake do in the batters box facing a pitcher throwing a no-hitter?
The 21-year-old from Chicago did what every kid dreams of when he hits the big leagues: he homered in his first major league at-bat. Stigman lost his no-hitter and his shutout to DC’s own John Kennedy.
It would be perhaps the only day John Kennedy bested his better known namesake throughout the Kennedy administration. Although the baseball player John Kennedy enjoyed a 12-year major league career and even played in two World Series with the Dodgers, his overall career numbers in Washington in 1962 and ’63 consisted of a .212 batting average in 50 games with only 6 RBI in 104 AB’s with 8 walks and 29 strikeouts in that span, along with one home run, achieved in his first major league at bat.