“The Poet-Pitcher”

17 Sep

Edward Benninghaus Kenna came from a prominent West Virginia Family; his father, John Edward Kenna was a United States Senators.  Another West Virginia Senator, William Edwin Chilton was often referred to as Kenna’s uncle—he was his father’s former law partner and best friend, but they were not related.

Edward B. Kenna, circa 1900

Edward B. Kenna,1900

He was, according to The Kansas City Star:

“(A)n unusually well-educated young man,.  He spent four years at Mount St. Mary’s College and was graduated there in 1898.  His post graduate course of one year was taken at Georgetown University, and the following three years he spent at West Virginia University, studying law.”

Kenna played football and baseball at all three schools—and coached both sports at Richmond College in 1900, the same season he made his professional debut with the Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.

He was also a poet who had two anthologies of his poems published and was later the editor of The Charleston Gazette.  While most current sources say his nickname was “The Pitching Poet,” during his lifetime he was nearly always referred to by the slightly less lyrical “The Poet-Pitcher.”

Despite his education, and pedigree, The Star said:

“Seeing Kenna on the ball field one would not think that he was the possessor of so many distinctions.  He does not attempt to hold himself aloof from his teammates, but on the contrary is one of the most energetic (players) in the pursuit of victory and when not in the pitcher’s box is on the coacher’s line haranguing the opposing players and urging the members of his own team to their best efforts.  Coaching is one of his hobbies and he is particularly successful at this line of work.  He finds special enjoyment in ‘kidding’ the bleacher element…He says that base ball is not an uplifting pursuit either morally or intellectually, but is an enjoyable one.”

He pitched two games in the major leagues—with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902, but said the two most interesting games of his career were back-to-back starts in 1904 while he was a member of the Denver Grizzlies in the Western League.

When Kenna joined the Louisville Colonels in the following season, The Louisville Times told the story of the games—both against the Des Moines Prohibitionists:

“(He) was touched up for nineteen safe hits, and yet his opponents failed to get a runner over the pan.  In one inning he was hit for a triple, a double and three singles, and still his opponents failed to get a man home.

“The first batter up hit for a triple, but was nailed trying to stretch it into a homer.  The next man doubled down the left field line, but was afterward caught off second by the poet.  The next three batters hit safely, and then Kenna got down to work and fanned the next batter with the bases full.

“Two days later Kenna was sent in against the same team.  For eight innings he did great work (allowing no hits) and his teammates made but one error.  He had perfect control and during this period gave only one base on balls.  The Denver team managed to get one runner across the pan, which looked as good as a hundred when the ninth inning was about to close.  The bard fanned the first two batter, but the third reached first on a fluke (a second error).  Then (Bob) Ganley, who is now with Pittsburgh, stepped to the plate and drove out a home run, which won the game.  Only one hit was made off his delivery, and yet Kenna lost the contest by one score.”

He was 16-13 for the Colonels in 1905 when, on September 1, he and seven other members of the team were injured in Kansas City when an electric trolley car crashed into the wagon they were riding  to the ballpark.  Kenna was the most seriously injured, and  reportedly suffered broken bones in his right (pitching) hand, a fractured left arm, a concussion, broken nose and an eye injury.  The Kansas City Star said he was listed in serious condition at a local hospital.  Despite the extent of his injuries—which ended his season– Kenna sent a telegram to family members in Washington D.C., saying simply

“Nothing serious; strained arm.  Don’t worry.  Ed.”

He never fully recovered.  He returned to Louisville in 1906, and struggled, finishing the season 12-21, but he hit .325 in 166 at bats.  Given his new found success as a hitter—his best previously recorded average was .225—Kenna decided he was through as a pitcher:

The Louisville Times said:

“Kenna announces that from now on he will be an outfielder, and he hopes (team President George) Tebeau will play him in right field on the Louisville team next season.  Kenna is simply tired of pitching.”

The Colonels accommodated him, but he struggled at the plate and was released in July after hitting just .143.

Edward Kenna, circa 1910

Edward Kenna, circa 1910

Kenna returned to West Virginia, newspapers and poetry.  About the time his book “Songs of the Open Air, and Other Poems” was published in early 1912, he left his job at the, and went to Florida to attempt to recover from what was described simply as “a heart condition.”  He died in Florida on March 22.

The Sporting Life said of the thirty four-year-old’s funeral in Charleston:

“(It) was one of the largest ever seen here.  All races and creeds showed their deep grief for this beloved man.”

Kenna’s younger brother John Edward Kenna Jr. was also a right-handed pitcher; he was 15-6 for the Chattanooga Lookouts in the South Atlantic League in 1909 and 7-7 with the Worcester Busters in the New England League in 1910—also born in Charleston on January 6, 1883, he died there on May 5, 1956.

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3 Responses to ““The Poet-Pitcher””

  1. Evin Demirel September 17, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    This is a sad story, but I am glad that you found it. Reminds me of the artist colonies in France of this era, filled w/ painters and poets who were also quality baseball players: http://thenextbaseballcountrywillbefrance.blogspot.fr/2013/05/lamerican-paris-team.html#more [may want to Google translate the above link]

    Have you heard of any other other artist-types (or teams) in baseball history? (or any other sport for that matter)

    • Thom Karmik September 17, 2014 at 11:34 am #

      There have been a handful of good writers, but none strayed far from baseball as a subject. Franz Hosp Jr., who I wrote about earlier, was the son of a very famous landscape architect, and since posting that piece I have been told that he was himself very talented, although he did not do any high-profile projects like his father. An interesting subject for further research. Thanks for bringing it up. Stay tuned for possible resulting baseball artists post.

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