- C, LF, OF, RF, DH
- June 26, 1974
- 190 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 4-01-1996 with PIT
While his father Fred was a decent, .232 hitting catcher during his 12-year major league career, mostly with the Padres, his son Jason has been much more, as the 28-year old 3-time all-star has been a firm contributor to the Bucs since 1996, ending the 2002 season with his average sticking right at the .300 mark.
Kendall started out his baseball career as a middle infielder in High School, before taking over the reigns behind the plate when the team’s regular backstop went down with an injury; the rest is history. Jason went on to hit in 43 straight games, before being drafted number one by the club in the 1992 amateur draft.
The California native rose swiftly through the system, being named the MVP of the Southern League in 1995, before making the big jump from AA ball to the majors in 1996.
At 21 years old, Jim Leyland named him the starting catcher on opening day, making him the youngest player to start a game on opening day since Bill Mazeroski in 1957. Kendall responded with an outstanding rookie campaign, finishing at .300, despite hitting only .237 in September, and was named the Sporting News’ Rookie of the Year and to the Topps All-Rookie team. He also developed a special talent this season that hadn’t been seen in the majors since the great Ron Hunt, he had the ability to be hit by a pitch, being struck 15 times in 1996, breaking the team mark that Al Oliver set in 1970. It was a record he would double the next season when he was hit an unbelievable total of 31 times, the highest total ever recorded by a National league catcher.
Jason matched his mark he following season in 1998, when he was hit again 31 times, but he also established himself as one of the best offensive catchers in the league hitting .327 while being named to his second all-star squad. He also showed something that was rare for a catcher, speed, stealing a senior circuit record for backstops with 26.
There was one play in 1998 that people can look to when trying to describe the hustling nature of Jason. On April 20th, he was coming home trying to score against the Padres, when San Diego catcher Carlos Hernandez caught the ball, Kendall stopped dead in his tracks and dove around the bewildered catcher to score one of the most dramatic runs in team history.
As Kendall’s career was really taking off, he was having what was looking to be a really special season, hitting .332 with 22 steals when he took the field on Independence Day of 1999. It was that day that no Pirate fan will ever forget as the hustling catcher was trying to beat out a bunt when he tripped over first base, fracturing his leg as his foot lay dangling apart from the rest of his leg in of the most hideous scene’s in the history of the team. Although injured, Jason still finished second in the All-Star game balloting.
Determined to return to the show at the level of play he was accustomed to, Kendall returned with a vengeance in 2000, leading the majors in games played and plate appearances for a catcher while hitting .320 and not only playing in his third mid-summer classic, but got the chance to start when Mike Piazza came up injured. Jason proved he lost little speed with the injury as he stole 22 bases, marking the first time in major league history that a catcher stole 20 or more bases in a season three consecutive years.
The young backstop also did something unique on May 19th when he became the first Pirate ever to hit for the cycle at Three Rivers Stadium.
With the year coming to an end, the injury bug jumped up and got Kendall once again when he fractured his cheek while being hit with a ball in a pickoff attempt by the Astros on a game on September 14th.
As good as a campaign as 2000 was, 2001 was just the opposite as Jason would suffer his worst season ever in the majors. The main culprit was an injured thumb that plagued him all season. While he got off to a poor start, the San Diego native did hit .337 in August and .303 the last 43 games of the season.
2001 also proved to be a season when Pirate manager Lloyd McClendon played a game of what if, and started Kendall in the outfield on several occasions. The experiment was not exactly a booming success, especially in a game on June 20th against the Phils where he made two errors.
There had also been talk about Kendall moving to second, a la Craig Biggio, who made the successful move from catcher to second for the Astros. Shortly after the experiment, management made it very clear that Kendall would be their man behind the plate in 2002 and would play no other positions.
Although the team said Jason’s thumb had completely healed for the 2002 campaign, his average certainly didn’t as he was only hitting .227 as April had come to an end. He did eventually come alive raising his mark to .287 by the all-star game break, and except for a poor August, when he slumped to .225, Kendall was basically a .300 hitter the rest of the way including an impressive .320 the final month of the season.
In 2006, when he played for the Oakland Athletics, was his first year on a division-winning team. That year, Kendall became the first catcher to catch 140 games in a season 8 times. He returned to the playoffs in 2007, when he finished the season with the Chicago Cubs, but he missed the 140-game mark by 8, after having lost playing in the early part of the season when his batting average dipped to .226 with the Athletics. He signed with the Milwaukee Brewers after the season. In 2009, Kendall became the 8th player in MLB history to collect 2,000 hits while playing mostly catcher. He followed Ivan Rodriguez, Ted Simmons, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Gary Carter and Johnny Bench.
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- Jason Kendall