Spirited, speedy Jason Kendall emerged in the late 1990s as one of the game’s top catchers. A high school football player, he relishes contact, and often ranks among the league leaders in hit-by-pitches. Kendall’s aggressive style of play and amiable personality has made him a popular player among his teammates and Pirates fans alike.
“Kid” Kendall batted an even .300 as a rookie for the Pirates in 1996, earning a berth on the All-Star Team and finishing third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He broke the Pirates’ record for hit-by-pitches with 15, only to shatter it the following year when he was plunked 31 times. He stole 18 bases in 1997, a record for Pirate catchers, and stole 26 bases the following year, breaking the NL record for catchers.
In his breakthrough season of 1998, Kendall batted .325 with 12 home runs and 95 runs scored, caught 40% of would-be base-stealers, and made the All-Star team for the second time. But it was his enthusiastic, tenacious style of play that earned him the admiration of players and coaches around the league. Affection for baseball ran in the family blood; his father was a catcher for the Padres in the 70s, and his mother used to hit him ground balls. “[Baseball]’s all I’ve known my whole life,” said Kendall. “Baseball, baseball, baseball, ever since I was a pup.”
Baseball may be Kendall’s true love, but he knows a thing or two about a few other sports. He spends nearly every day each offseason surfing in Manhattan Beach, California, where his home is two blocks away from the Pacific Ocean. If he hadn’t become a baseball player, he would have become a lifeguard. Kendall is also a big fan of professional wrestling fan– “a soap opera for men,” he says.
Kendall appeared to be headed for his best season yet in 1999, topping his career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging average. But on June 5, he endured a gruesome, season-ending injury. Trying to beat out a bunt, he caught his leg on the first-base bag and badly twisted his ankle. Kendall limped off the field with a bone jutting through his skin. Doctors were worried that he would never play again, let alone regain his speed.
Worries about Kendall’s health were put to rest in 2000, when he was readmitted into the tiny fraternity of fleet-footed backstops by reaching double-digits in stolen bases for the fourth straight season.