Jason Kendall hopes to bring his passion back if hired as Pirates manager
If the question ever comes up, this is how Jason Kendall played the game of baseball:
He once shattered an ankle trying to break up a no-hitter in the fifth inning with a bunt single for a Pittsburgh Pirates team going nowhere.
On that fateful Fourth of July 20 years ago, he ran so hard down the first-base line that when his foot hit the foul side of the bag, the bone snapped and protruded through his sock.
Then, when people told him he never would be the same player, he said, “Watch me.”
A year later, he caught a career-high 147 games and hit .320.
“That’s where the Pirates are (now),” he said.
With that same chip on his shoulder, he said he wants to “come home,” replace Clint Hurdle as manager and revive the Pirates the way he did his career after that horrific injury.
“But I don’t want anybody snapping their ankle,” he said.
Kendall, 45, first expressed interest in the job Sept. 29 — the day the Pirates fired Hurdle — but since then, he said he has not contacted or initiated contact with general manager Neal Huntington.
“I don’t know if I’ll call him. That’s never been the type of person I am,” Kendall said Monday from Kansas City, Mo., where he had just picked up one of his four children from school.
“I don’t know if Neal is going to call me or not, but I know what I could do for the team. You let the guys play, and you protect every single one of them.”
He said he almost feels like he wants to pay off a debt to Pittsburgh, whose fans supported the team in trying times. The Pirates never had a winning record in Kendall’s nine seasons with the team.
“Maybe I feel kind of guilty,” he said. “I want to watch 25 guys do something special and watch them in a city that has meant so much to me.”
Kendall played 15 seasons in the majors for five teams, including the first nine with the Pirates from 1996-2004 after he was their first-round draft choice in ’92. He crouched behind home plate in 2,025 games — 1,225 with the Pirates.
Kendall last played in 2010 with the Kansas City Royals, but two years later, he was trying to make a comeback with 18 screws in his shoulder from two surgeries. He said he has had several opportunities to return to the game in a variety of capacities, but he was content staying home, being a special assignments coach with the Royals from 2012-18 and a full-time dad.
It was more important to be with his second wife, Tricia, and children Ethan, 16, Kuyper, 15, Cole, 14, and Karoline, 12.
“If I’m going to be away from my kids,” he said, “it’s not going to be in the minor leagues.”
He said he knows about the Pirates’ clubhouse arguments and how the team lost 93 games this season.
But he thinks the outfield of Bryan Reynolds, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, if healthy, could be one of the best in baseball.
Kendall’s manager with the Pirates, Gene Lamont, once called him “the heart and soul of the team.”
He played the game passionately, and admits “some people loved me and some people hated me.”
With that type of following, if nothing else, “It would take some heat off Neal,” he said, laughing. “I hope he calls me.”
Asked what type of manager, he would be, Kendall said, without hesitation, “A great one.”
“I would be a really good manager, seriously,” he said. “It’s the way you treat people.”
The son of former catcher Fred Kendall, he has devoted his life to baseball.
“I can’t do my son’s honors geometry,” he said, “but I can tell you what I threw to Larry Walker on a 2-2 count 15 years ago. That’s what I know I can do.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .