Friday, March 27, 2009
Ed Kenna, the Poet Pitcher
In 1905, the Louisville Colonels signed 27-year old Edward Benninghaus Kenna, a pitcher who started his professional career with the Toledo Mud Hens of the Interstate League in 1900. Kenna was an interesting figure in baseball's early days. He grew up in Charleston, West Virginia, the son of John Edward Kenna, a U.S. Congressional Representative and Senator (a sizable collection of his personal photographs may be viewed at the website for the West Virginia Historical Society through www.wvculture.org/history/wvmemory/photointro.html).
A most intriguing aspect of Kenna's life was his ability as a writer. He was known in baseball circles as the "poet pitcher," something I've known for some time. Not until I was researching my latest issue of the Almanac did I discover that he was actually a published poet. After his baseball career ended in 1907 he became an editor at the Charleston Gazette. He would succumb to a heart condition at the age of 34.
Kenna's baseball career wasn't notable for any particular reason, but he stood out for his literary talents. Amidst a rough and tumble throng of players who occupied mainly blue collar professions, Kenna was a sort of flower in the pasture. His poetry reflects a strong love of the outdoors, and is full of romantic verse which characterizes much of the poetry of the early 20th century. By today's standards it might seem superficial, but he was a prolific writer and was obviously dedicated to furthering his writing abilities.
While with Louisville in 1905 he established himself among the professional ranks with a record of 16-13. The following season he wasn't as successful from the mound, but he somehow managed to hit with grand authority, compiling a batting average of .325 while slugging .440, marks which distinguished him as an aggressive competitor in the American Association. Having suffered extensive injuries during a trolley car accident which took place at Kansas City in August, 1905, Kenna recovered miraculously after a dismal prognosis and he assembled a record of 12-21 with over 300 innings of work in 1906.
Prior to pitching for Louisville, Kenna played for Toledo before moving on to the Western Association's Wheeling Stogies in 1901. He was with the American League's Philadelphia Athletics for a short time in 1902; he spent the majority of that season with the Western League's Milwaukee Creams to which he would return in 1903. He was then signed by the Denver Grizzlies of the Western League in 1904. Finally, he wrapped up his career as a Louisville Colonel in 1907 when he won three, lost seven in 17 games, but he was unable to muster the batting strength which had highlighted his previous year's work.
Kenna's book of poetry, published posthumously in 1912, is entitled "Songs of the Open Air and Other Poems." I was recently able to acquire a near-perfect copy of this tribute to the poetic life of the former ballplayer. It was published through the efforts of his wife, Frances B. Kenna (nee Beardsley), and is dedicated, simply but poignantly, "To Our Boy." Among the selections included in this 138-page volume are such poems as "Awakened," "Ballad of the Maine," "Fall Time in the Country," "Father Tabb," "Huntin' Time is Comin'," "Inspiration," "I Want to go Afishing" "Real Raggedy Man (to James Whitcomb Riley)," "Supplication," and "Roses of Kanawha."
Here is one of his shorter poems:
To A Butterfly
Whence comest thou?
Art thou born of earth,
So fragile, fair and featly wrought?
Or hast thus in Love's brain found birth
A child of beauty and of thought?
Or art thou waft through summer skies
An earth blown bloom of paradise?
Edward Benninghaus Kenna died while attempting to recuperate from his illness at Grant, Florida, on March 22, 1912.