Inside Pitch: Kendall Happy To Join New Family

Fred Kendall made baseball the family business when he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1967 and played 12 years in the major leagues as a catcher. His sons, Mike and Jason, followed their father's paths. There was never any doubt what line of work they would get into.

Family Ties

"Baseball is pretty much my whole life," said Jason Kendall, whom the A's acquired last week for pitchers Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes. "Me and my brother were born into a baseball family. It's all I know how to do. It's all I want to know how to do. And I want to win."

Jason was drafted in the first round of the 1992 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school. He's never had a "real" job.

As Jason quickly rose through the minors, older brother Mike pitched at San Diego State. Mike's playing career ended after college, but not his time in baseball. He's scouted Southern California for the Pittsburgh Pirates for nearly a decade.

"I tried to get out of baseball," Mike said, smiling. "But I got sucked back in."

Like so many other second-generation major leaguers, Jason plays the game a different way. Words like "throwback" and "hard-nosed" are used often when describing his style of play.

"In scouting terms, he's a true gamer," Mike said. "That term is overused a lot. But, as you'll find out, he's as mentally tough as you will ever find. He's just a mentally tough kid, driven to win. He has an unbelievable pain threshold. Now that he's got a chance to win? They're going to have a tough time keeping him off the field. They found that out in Pittsburgh."

Working For A Living

When the Pirates came to Oakland in June, the A's were shocked to see Kendall was the only catcher on their roster.

"That was absolutely unheard of in the major leagues," A's general manager Billy Beane said. "It's a real testament to Jason's toughness, and his desire to be in the lineup and be a part of what's going on. We couldn't believe it when we saw one catcher on the roster."

It lasted nearly two months. Kendall caught 34 straight games from May 28 to July 2, sat out the second game of the doubleheader July 2, then caught 31 more in a row until August 7. He caught a league-high 147 games last year, and his career high is 157 games.

"I feel better now than I did when I was 21," the 30-year-old Jason said. "I've learned how to take care of myself. I love to play the game. I can't stand taking days off. I don't want any days off. That's the only bad part about catching. For some reason, they don't think you can catch 162 games -- which you probably can't really do."

Saying Goodbye To Old Friends

Kendall plans to get married this winter. However, he sounds like a man who had just gone through an amicable divorce.

Kendall, a three-time All-Star catcher, caught more games than anyone in Pirate history before being traded to Oakland.

"I think both sides needed a change of scenery," Kendall said. "I'm going to a team that is a contender and I'm going to have a chance to be playing baseball in October, so I'm happy. I know the Pirates have wanted to make this move because they are going in a different direction.

"Hopefully it works out well for both sides. I'm not bitter about anything and I hope the Pirates aren't either."

Oakland made the American League playoffs for four straight years from 2000-03 before finishing one game behind Anaheim in the West Division standings last season. Conversely, the Pirates haven't had a winning season since 1992 and went a combined 649-806 in Kendall's nine years in Pittsburgh.

Though the A's failed to make the playoffs last season, they made a strong impression on Kendall when they swept the Pirates in a three-game interleague series in Oakland last June.

"I really liked their team," Kendall said. "They looked to me like they were 25 guys all pulling together with one goal. They played hard and they seemed to be having fun. They looked like a team I'd like to a part of. Now, here I am and I couldn't be more excited."

Kendall has the right to veto any trade under the terms of his contract. However, he willingly waived that clause to play for Oakland.

Kendall, though, was quick to point out that his willingness to agree to a trade was not meant as a slap at Pittsburgh or the fans.

"This is all about baseball," said Kendall. "I have a lot of good feelings about the Pirates. They drafted me and gave me the chance to play in the major leagues. I'll always appreciate that.

"The fans have been great to me, too. The people there have been very supportive over the years. I'm going to miss a lot of people there, but there comes a time in your career when you want that chance to win and I'm getting it now.

"It got old every year trying to be a spoiler against the Cubs or Houston or some other team in September. I didn't get into this game to be a spoiler. I got into it to win a championship."

While Oakland again figures to be a contender in 2005, the Pirates seem headed for another rebuilding year. The Pirates haven't won since 1992, and Kendall refused to speculate when they might ever contend again.

"I don't want to sound like a jerk, but I'm an Oakland Athletic now," Kendall said. "The Pirates do have a lot of good guys over there and some good young players, but it's pretty self-explanatory that it's going to be awhile before they are ready to win. I wish them the best and I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Pirates."

Kendall‘s 1,409 hits rank 16th in club history. While Kendall didn't win any championships during his time with the Pirates, he did gain a big fan following over the years with his hustle and aggressive style of play.

"I gave it everything I had in Pittsburgh and I'm glad the people there appreciated it," Kendall said. "I was brought up to play the game the right way, and that's what I tried to do every single day in Pittsburgh. I gave it my best shot."


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