Thursday, February 11, 2010
#21) ROD KANEHL
Rod Kanehl was drafted from the New York Yankees by the newly formed New York Mets on November 27, 1961 in the minor league draft. He made his major league debut with the Mets on April 15, 1962 becoming a member of the Original Mets. Casey Stengel had urged the Mets to sign the man he affectionately called, "my little scavenger" out of the Yankees system. Kanehl had an uncommonly close bond with Stengel, who constantly used him when he wanted to offer instruction on the game's finer points. "I was the only one who could understand him and demonstrate what he was saying," Rod said. "Everybody was wondering, 'Who the beep is this Kanehl guy, and where did he come from?" Kanehl was the only former Mets player that attended his funeral when Casey Stengel died in 1975.
Kanehl's energetic play earned him the nickname, "Hot Rod" among his teammates. A true fan favorite who finished his short career during the first year of Shea Stadium. Rod was aptly described as, "valued not for his ability but for his determination despite of it." The fact is that Kanehl was the first man in Mets' history to hit a grand slam and also scored the winning run in their first ever home victory. So when the 1964 season ended and Kanehl simply received a letter offering a minor league contract he was understandably upset. "I know the game from underneath. I know what goes on in the mind of a mediocre ballplayer. I know what it's like to be a bad hitter. I know what it's like to have to battle every time you go up to the plate." Rod would tell Sports Illustrated magazine in 1966. "I think that the Mets were stupid for not keeping me. And you know what hurt the most? They gave away my uniform number even before spring training started. They couldn't wait." Rod never returned a response to the team's letter and his time with the Mets was ended.
After his major league baseball career Kanehl further built his construction business in Springfield, Missouri. A trade in which he had worked during the off-seasons while playing professional ball. Rod also continued to play the game he loved for an idependent team called the Dreamliners out of Wichita, Kansas. (The club also featured former New York Met, Charlie Neal.) Later he would work for the Ollis Insurance Company, and become a caddy with the Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles and the Quarry Golf Club in Palm Dessert, California before retiring. With fewer than five years major league service he was never eligible for a baseball pension.
Rod suffered a great loss when the youngest of his four children, Tom Kanehl, died from AIDS in 1991. He was present throughout the long and sad process of his illness.
In 1996, during an interview reflecting on his time with the Mets, Kanehl would tell the New York Daily News, "I was kind of the toast of the town there for a little while. It was a great experience."
Rod Kanehl was stricken with a heart attack and passed away on December 14, 2004 in Palm Springs, California at the age of 70.
I created Rod Kanehl's card from an autographed index card given to me by my friend Wally on February 7, 2010.
PS: Please read the entire Sports Illustrated article (Leonard Shecter-August 8, 1966) at this link. It is one of the better things I have read in quite some time.