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December 23, 2016

Vernon Kennedy, UCM, America's greatest all-around college athlete, 1927

"But other than Jim Thorpe the best Track & Field athlete who played Major League Baseball may have been Vernon Kennedy who won the decathlon at the 1927 Penn Relays and won 21 games for the 1936 White Sox."

Vernon Kennedy Link
 Lloyd Vernon Kennedy, Mendon, MO, March 20, 1907-January 28, 1993, was a starting pitcher in Major

League Baseball from 1934 through 1945 he played for the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Browns, Philadelphia Philles and Cincinnati Reds.  Kennedy batted left-handed and threw right handed in college that is now known as the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, where the football field is named in his honor. While pitching for the Chicago White Sox, Kennedy threw the first no-hitter ever in Comiskey Park, a 5 to 0 shutout over the Cleveland Indians August 31, 1935. His most productive season came in 1936, when he posted career-highs in wins with 21, innings pitched with 274 1/2 and 20 complete games.  A good hitting pitcher Vernon had a .244 batting average with 36 extra base hits including 4 home runs and 61 runs batted in.  He was selected to the American League All-Star team two times, in 1936 (Roster below)
and again in 1938. In a 12-season career, Kennedy posted a 104-132 record with 691 strikeouts and a 4.67 ERA in 1025⅔ innings.Kennedy died in Mendon, Missouri, at the age of 85 after a shed roof collapsed on him. He was active in Senior Olympics.

Mr. Kennedy died Thursday, January 28, 1993, when a shed he was tearing down near his home collapsed and he was struck by falling timbers. Chariton County Coroner W. W. Leatherwood, Salisbury, said death was instantaneous.

He was born March 20, 1907 in Kansas City, the son of James N. and Bess McPherson Kennedy, but lived most of his life in Mendon. He and Maud McClellan were married February 13, 1931 in Colorado.

Mr. Kennedy attended Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg where he was an outstanding athlete, competing in football and track and field events. As a tackle for the Mules, he was a three-time All-MIAA selection. In track and field, he helped the Mules to four straight MIAA track and field titles, and set school records in the Javelin, shot put and discus. Capping his college years was a national title in the 1927 decathlon at the prestigious Penn Relays on Franklin Field in Philadelphia.

In 1951, Central Missouri State established the Vernon Kennedy Award, which is presented to the school's outstanding male athlete each year.

In 1954, CMSU renamed its football field, Vernon Kennedy Field. The school's annual heptathlon and decathlon, held in the spring, also is named for Kennedy. In February 1992, he was included in the first class of inductees into the Hall of Fame at CMSU.

He received the CMSU Distinguished Alumni Award and the American Legion Distinguished Citizen Award.

In 1955, he became the seventh person inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, in its fifth year.

After graduating from college Mr. Kennedy got his first job carrying bricks in Mendon where he pitched for the town baseball team on Sundays. Pittsburg offered him a contract in 1930, and he reported to Burlington, Iowa, in the Mississippi Valley League. That started his 24-year stint in professional baseball, 12 of which were in the major leagues and included a no-hit game and two All Star appearances.

After his retirement from the diamond, he taught and coached in Brookfield for 10 years, and more recently had competed annually in the Missouri's Senior Olympics and the Show-Me Games, where he was the oldest entrant and consistent medal winner. He held records in all age groups.
Surviving are his wife, Maud, of the home; a son, Patrick Lynn Kennedy, Lathrop; a daughter, Carole Lucille Kennedy, Columbia; three brothers, Ralph Kennedy, Brunswick, Bill Kennedy, Mendon, and Donald Kennedy, Marshall; a sister, Marjorie Morgan, Columbus, Georgia; three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents and an infant brother.
Services were held on Sunday, January 31, 1993, Northwestern R-I High School auditorium in Mendon.
Burial: Old Mendon Cemetery, Mendon, MO.

Born: March 20, 1907
Kansas City, Missouri
Died: January 28, 1993 (aged 85)
Mendon, Missouri
Batted: LeftThrew: Right 
MLB debut
September 18, 1934 for the Chicago White Sox
Last MLB appearance
September 27, 1945 for the Cincinnati Reds
Career statistics
Win-Loss Record    104-132
Earned run average    4.67
Strikeouts    691
Career highlights and awards
  • All star in 1936 and 1938

1936 All-Star Game
American League All-Star Squad
Luke ApplingChicago White SoxSS
Earl AverillCleveland IndiansOF
Tommy BridgesDetroit TigersPReplaced - Injury
Ben ChapmanWashington SenatorsOF
Frankie CrosettiNew York YankeesSS
Bill DickeyNew York YankeesC
Joe DiMaggioNew York YankeesOF
Rick FerrellBoston Red SoxC
Jimmie FoxxBoston Red Sox3B
Lou GehrigNew York Yankees1B
Charlie GehringerDetroit Tigers2B
New York YankeesPDid Not Pitch
Goose GoslinDetroit TigersOF
Boston Red SoxPStarting Pitcher
Cleveland IndiansP
Rollie HemsleySt. Louis BrownsCDid Not Play
Pinky HigginsPhiladelphia Athletics3B
Vern KennedyChicago White SoxPReplaced Bridges
Monte PearsonNew York YankeesPDid Not Pitch
Rip RadcliffChicago White SoxOF
Detroit TigersP
George SelkirkNew York YankeesOF
BOLD = Fan's / manager's choice to start the game.

Celebrated Athlete Set Winning Pace for Kennedy Family Legacy

Like a scene from an old motion picture, hundreds of people poured into the streets shouting in jubilation and carrying their local hero on their shoulders. It was no Hollywood production but spring 1927 and downtown Warrensburg. A celebration focused on an athlete from Central Missouri State Teachers College who had set the track world abuzz.
Vernon Kennedy is cheered upon returning from his 1927 decathalon championship at the Penn Relays.
1929 Central Missouri Track - Vernon Kennedy upper left. Bill Kennedy lower right.
Brothers Vernon (upper left) and Bill Kennedy (lower right) were formidible competitors and multi-sport athletes at Central Missouri.

After making a two-and a-half-day train trip from Pennsylvania with coach Tad Reid, Vernon Kennedy was welcomed home as winner of the 

Penn Relays Classic Decathlon. The lean, wiry young man from Mendon, MO, stunned the nation with track and field prowess that earned him the right to be called America's greatest all-around college athlete.

News about his record-setting achievement spread quickly with headlines cropping up in newspapers from coast to coast. The story was covered in The Kansas City Star, where one writer's words today seem almost prophetic: "Down the corridors of time, the name of Vernon Kennedy will echo across the campus and playing fields at Warrensburg until a legendary halo surrounds his name."

Although he died in 1993, Kennedy's legacy lives on at his alma mater, now the University of Central Missouri. His memory is preserved in a collection of articles and photographs at the Arthur F. McClure II Archives and University Museum, and through other ways he probably never imagined as a young man growing up working in the hayfields of north central Missouri.

Anyone who has ever attended a Mules football game or outdoor track meet on the UCM campus has been to Vernon Kennedy Field. The university honored Kennedy in 1954 by naming after him the same facility where he once played football with his younger brother, Bill.

"Vernon played offense, defense and did some punting. He never played football until he went down there (to college)," remembers his brother Ralph Kennedy, Brunswick, MO. "But that just shows you how good he was … He picked it up pretty quickly."

The two Kennedy brothers — who were more than a decade older than their three siblings — stayed close in college. Both loved sports. They had a reputation as fierce competitors.

"Vern and Bill played to win, only they might get a little more intense than most people," laughs their youngest brother, Don Kennedy of Sedalia, who was a year old when Vernon won the national decathlon.
College Records
Such intensity paid off during college. Before graduating in 1929 with a bachelor's degree in education and major in history, Vernon Kennedy made the MIAA all-conference team in football three times and in track four years, and was a 1927 All-American in track and field. He set conference records in the discus and javelin throws, set records at the Drake and Kansas relays, and held school records in the 220-yard low hurdles, discus, javelin, shot put, broad jump and pole vault. This is in addition to being a member of the record-setting one-mile relay team.

Vernon Kennedy - UCM '29 - National Collegiate Decathalon champion at the 1927 Penn Relays.
Vernon Kennedy
National Collegiate Decathalon champion of the 1927 Penn Relays.
Some symbols of this great era of athletic excellence, including Kennedy's accomplishments at the Penn Relays, are preserved in the trophy cases at the Multipurpose Building. People who venture to the Multi also will find Kennedy immortalized in the Central Missouri Athletics Hall of Fame, where he was honored as an inaugural inductee in 1992.
Intercollegiate Athletics not only recognizes his contributions to athletics but to quality education by annually presenting the Vernon Kennedy Award to the most outstanding senior male student athlete. Athleticism is only one consideration, says Shawn Jones, associate athletic director-external operations. The recipient has to do well academically, too.

Education Achievements

A scholarship established through the UCM Foundation offers some students a more tangible way to honor the university legend.
"Although he's best remembered for his athletic career, he was also interested in kids getting a good education," says Carole Kennedy, a career educator and former president of the 28,000-member National Association of Elementary School Principals. She and her brother, Lynn, are Vernon and Maud Kennedy's two children.
"When dad passed away, we asked for contributions in his memory to help set up the Vernon Kennedy Memorial Scholarship," she says. "Then, when mother passed away in November 2005, we added enough money to endow it."
The award is presented through the College of Education to a student who wants to become a teacher. Staying true to Kennedy's small-town roots, it's for students who come from school districts with fewer than 2,000 K-12 students. Students must meet specific academic standards and good character traits.
Although the scholarship honors the memory of Carole Kennedy's father, she says it is a tribute to other family members who have pursued education careers, including her mother, her uncle Bill Kennedy and his wife, Vesta, who all became teachers. Having always admired the educators in his family, Vernon Kennedy became certified to teach driver education after a long career as a professional athlete.

Professional Career

Vernon Kennedy - UCM '29 - Pitched a no-hitter as a Chicago White Sox rookie in 1935.
Kennedy achieved baseball immortality by pitching a no-hitter as a Chicago White Sox rookie in 1935.
Kennedy's college accomplishments are only part of the legend. His experiences in professional sports — like throwing a no-hitter for the Chicago White Sox — made him a hero, particularly among his younger family members and the many friends back in Mendon.
"It makes you pretty proud," says Vernon's only sister, Marjorie  Morgan of Box Springs, GA. "We used to listen to the ballgames on the radio a lot. Whenever he'd throw a strike, my mother would say, ‘He's  going to win today.'
Long before Kennedy was throwing to great batters like Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx and Ted Williams, he was honing his lively fastball with "burnout" sessions with his brother, Bill, back in Mendon. Carole Kennedy says most towns of that day had their own community ball teams, and her dad seized every opportunity to play in the local leagues. It paid off one hot summer in 1930. A scout from the Philadelphia A's who saw him strike out 16 batters while playing against a St. Louis team offered him a $150-a-month contract.
Shortly thereafter, he joined the Burlington, IA, Bees in the Mississippi Valley League, then moved on to Oklahoma City in the Texas League, where he won 18 games. He began his 12-year stay in the majors at the end of the 1934 season when the White Sox purchased his contract.
On Aug. 31, 1935, the hard-throwing, right-handed pitcher from Mendon became the first man to throw a no-hitter at Chicago's Comiskey Park, a 5-0 shutout over the Cleveland Indians. With 21 wins the following year, his most productive as a major leaguer, he went on to make the All-Star team. He was named All-Star again in 1938, the same year he joined the Detroit Tigers.
Unlike today's highly paid professional athletes, Vernon and Maud actually lived in a mobile home during the early years of his career as a big league pitcher.
Unlike today's highly paid professional athletes, Vernon and Maud actually lived in a mobile home during the early years of his career as a big league pitcher.
Trades were common in those days, and before Kennedy hung up his major league cleats, he played for teams that included the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds.
Those days were a far cry from the glitz and glamour of today's major league baseball. In an interview with The Kansas City Star's Gib Twyman, Kennedy explains what it was like playing for one struggling Missouri team:
"Just Sportsman's Park itself gives you an idea how it was on the Browns," Kennedy told Twyman. "They'd have circuses there when we weren't playing and, as far as we could tell, nobody ever bothered to clean up the field afterward. You'd come out the next day and there'd be wagon ruts and elephant tracks all across the infield."
Of course, elephant droppings, which were left for fertilizer, provided another interesting obstacle for the fielders.

Helping Attitude

Although they are proud of his sports career, the Kennedy family remembers Vernon's modesty and how he only talked about baseball or track if someone asked. Don Kennedy, who now laughs about the pet alligator that Vernon gave the younger family members, remembers his generosity and what he and his wife, Maud, did for others. It's a sentiment that is shared by the rest of his family.
As Carole Kennedy recollects, "Even though my dad certainly didn't get rich playing baseball, he and my mom worked hard and were wise in the way they used their money. But if somebody needed a loan, they got it from my dad. If somebody needed to go to the doctor, my mom and dad took them. If there was a fence that needed to be put in, my dad helped build it."
As the Kennedy family can attest, this – as much as no-hitters and great track awards – is what makes great heroes.
— Jeff Murphy '76 hs, '80, '95

Vernon Kennedy, Missouri