In another throwback Thursday installment, we take a look back on Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Jason Kendall. Kendall played from 1996 to 2010, nine years of which were spent with the Pirates. Over those nine years with the Pirates, he averaged a .306 batting average, 471 RBI’s, 140 stolen bases, and 1,409 hits.
Jason Kendall, to some, is one of the most athletic catchers the Pittsburgh Pirates have ever produced. It was the little things he did; he would always hustle down the line and gave running catchers a good name with an unusual amount of speed in his game.
Kendall was drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1992 draft 23rd overall. Kendall made his Major League debut on April 1st, 1996, where he went 3-4 with 2 RBI’s. Kendall would go on to have a remarkable rookie year; batting an even .300. That tied for 2nd on the team to go along with 42 RBI’s and a .980 fielding percentage.
That 1996 year, Kendall would go on to his first all-star game; and to add on to his excellent rookie campaign, he would win the NL rookie of the year. You could already tell that Kendall was going to be a special player for years to come.
Over the next four years, Kendall would prove to be no fluke with great performances and extreme consistency. His sophomore year in 1997 saw his average dip a bit with a .294, but his other main categories saw a boost. His RBI’s went up by 7 with 49, and we saw his base-stealing abilities with 18. 1997 was also his best defensive year; throwing out steal attempts at a rate of 37%, 5% above league average.
1998 was one of his best years statistically, batting .327, 75 RBI’s, and a career-high 26 stolen bases. A .327 batting average placed him 5th in the NL, and his 26 stolen bases had him tied for 8th in the NL. Kendall would go on to represent the NL in his second all-star game appearance and cap off another great year from the Pirates star catcher.
1999 was a year of one of the most gruesome injuries my 4-year-old eyes have ever seen. Kendall sustained a severe ankle dislocation trying to beat out the throw to first base. I can remember seeing his bone poking through his stirrup socks, and my dad just gasping for air. Ironically, Kendall, in the 78 games played that year, swiped another 20-plus stolen base year.
In the year 2000, Kendall came back from his injury with a vengeance. He saw a career-high in hits at the time with 185, a .320 batting average, 58 RBI’s, and his last 20-plus stolen base season with 22. One of another underrated statistic he reached a career-high for was forced walks with 79.
Kendall would go on to have a very historic season; becoming the first Pirate to hit for the cycle in Three Rivers Stadiums history on May 19th of that year against St. Louis. Following that historic act, Kendall would get the final all-star game appearance of his career.
The last four years as a Pirate, Kendall did not average below .266, and he always maintained his 40-plus RBI run. One thing that did catch up to him was his speed and athleticism, with no season after that obtaining more than 8 stolen bases. Some say that his ankle injury and just getting those infamous “catchers knees” caught up to Kendall eventually.
Kendall would go on to spend another seven years in the Majors, where incredibly he stayed right around a .250 batting average and still got his share of RBI’s. His last game would occur in 2010 for the Kansas City Royals on August 30th, where he would go 0-3 in a losing effort against the Texas Rangers.
Kendall might not be the greatest catcher in Pirates history, but no one can deny the fact that he was one of the most underrated players in their history.
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