Introducing… Don Kessinger

A switch-hitting acrobat, Don was one of the top shortstops of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Kessinger spelled doom for all groundballs.  The longtime Cubs infielder was an elite defender who won a pair of Gold Glove Awards, was named to six All-Star teams and currently ranks 14th all-time in career assists among shortstops.  Don, who had more range than an airfield strip, was often among the leaders in putouts and assists.  He led the league in assists four times and in putouts three seasons. 

Don made his debut with the Cubs in the mid 1960s when pitching was the name of the game.  The switch-hitting shortstop only mustered a .201 batting average as a rookie but he turned the page offensively the following year.  Kessinger raised his batting average 73 points in 1966 but his scratch hitting limited him to an unflattering .302 slugging percentage.  Given his knack for making contact and his above-average speed, the Cubs bumped Don up to the top of the order and from 1967 to 1975 he had at least 600 plate appearances every year.

Named to his first All-Star team in 1968, Don led shortstops with 573 assists.  He would pace his peers in the assist department three consecutive seasons beginning in ’68.  At the top of his game in 1969, Don won his first Gold Glove Award and was named to his second All-Star team.  The scrappy shortstop, noted for his slick-fielding and slap-hitting, raised his slugging average to a career high that season thanks to his 38 doubles–a personal best.  Kessinger also established career highs in runs scored (109), base hits (181), RBI and total bases.  His best year with the stick came in ’69 but his leather work was elite as well.  Don turned 101 double plays and posted a .976 fielding percentage–thirteen points above league average. 

Don followed up his best season with another fine campaign in 1970.  He crossed the plate 100 times, established a career high with 14 triples (2nd in the NL) and won his second Gold Glove and made the All-Star team again.  Kessinger would make the NL All-Star team five years in a row, from 1968 to 1972.  Although he failed to make the All-Star team in 1973, he participated in a career high 109 double plays.  In ’74, Don posted his seventh straight year with 150 or more base hits and made his final All-Star team.  He finished second in triples in 1975 but since his batting average had steadily dropped over the past four seasons the Cubs traded Don to the Cardinals for Mike Garman.

Don spent a year and a half with St. Louis before he was dealt back to Chicago–but to the White Sox and not his old Cubs.  A terrific clubhouse presence for the White Sox, Don was a great team leader his first year with the Pale Hose.  The veteran shortstop showed enough rallying-the-troops talent that the White Sox made him player/manager in 1979.  The assignment didn’t work as Don hit a meager .200 and his Sox couldn’t win much with him at the helm.  As of this date, Kessinger remains the last American Leaguer to have owned the player/manager tag.

THE NUMBERS

G 2,078/R 899/H 1,931/2B 254/3B 80/HR 14/RBI 527/SB 100/BB 684/SO 759/BA .252/OBP .314/SA .312

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