On April 22, 1957, John Irvin Kennedy becomes the first African-American player on the Philadelphia Phillies, fully integrating the National League 10 years after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier. In the eighth inning of a 5-1 loss to the Brooklyn Dodgers at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J., Kennedy enters the game as a pinch-runner.
In 1959, Elijah "Pumpsie" Green was the first Black player on the Boston Red Sox, the last Major League Baseball team to integrate.
After playing in the declining Negro Leagues, Kennedy signed with the Phillies in October 1956 and was invited to spring training in 1957. He received an endorsement from Phillies scout Bill Yancey, who compared Kennedy's swing to future Hall of Famer Ernie Banks's and predicted he would become one of baseball's better hitters.
In spring training, Kennedy sparkled, hitting .333 (second on the team) and making only one error at shortstop. But 10 days before the opener, the Phillies spent $75,000 to acquire Cuban shortstop Chico Fernandez from the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1957, Fernandez played in 149 games for the Phillies. Kennedy, 30, played in only five, getting two at-bats and no hits.
"I would not say they made a huge commitment to the development of John Kennedy," Chris Threston, author of The Integration of Baseball in Philadelphia, told BillyPenn.Com in 2017. "They just wanted to get it over with."
Kennedy never made it back to the majors after 1957. "I was up for a few weeks. Some... Negro League players never even got that," he told the Philadelphia Daily News in 1997.
Kennedy died on April 27, 1998.