Donald Eulon Kessinger played major league baseball for sixteen years in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly for the Chicago Cubs. He is also the only Arkansan to have both played in and managed in the major leagues, leading the Chicago White Sox for more than half a season in 1979.
Don Kessinger was born in Forrest City (St. Francis County) on July 17, 1942, one of three children of Howard and Ida Kessinger. His father owned and operated Kessinger’s Grocery in Forrest City, and his mother owned a women’s clothing store called Kessinger’s. As a high school athlete in Forrest City, he excelled in four sports: baseball, basketball (in which he earned all-state honors three years), football (in which he was quarterback for the team and earned all-state and All American honors), and track (in which he was state champion for low hurdles and long jump in 1960). Graduating from Forrest City High School in 1960, he enrolled at the University of Mississippi, where he earned All-Conference honors in both baseball and basketball. Signed by the Chicago Cubs organization in 1964, he was assigned first to their minor league team in Fort Worth, Texas, but he appeared in four games for the Cubs in September 1964 and became a regular player on that team the following season.
Kessinger married Carolyn Crawley, who is also from Forrest City, in Florence, Alabama, in 1965. They have two sons, both of whom have also played professional baseball.
Like most middle infielders of his era, Kessinger was known more for his defensive skills than for his hitting. During sixteen seasons with three different teams, Kessinger compiled a batting average of .252 with a total of fourteen home runs. During those same seasons, Kessinger acquired a fielding average of .965. He began the 1969 season with a streak of fifty-four games played without an error, setting a record for his position that since has been broken. Kessinger played on six All-Star teams, four times starting as shortstop for the National League. He led the league in double plays for four seasons and compiled at least 500 assists for his team in six seasons.
Kessinger may be remembered most as a member of the 1969 Chicago Cubs team that led the East Division of the National League for most of the season, only to collapse in the last month of the summer.
After the 1975 season, the Cubs traded Kessinger to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he played for one and a half seasons before being traded again, this time to the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox named him manager of the team after the 1978 season had ended. While he continued to play for the team, Kessinger also managed the club until the end of July 1979, when he resigned both as manager and as player, being replaced as manager by Tony LaRussa.
Following his retirement from professional baseball, Kessinger returned to Oxford, Mississippi, where he operated businesses in both insurance and real estate. As of 2009, he serves as president of Kessinger Real Estate in Oxford. Kessinger also coached for the University of Mississippi baseball team, managing the team for six seasons, 1991 through 1996, during which time the team had a record of 185–153, and serving as a coach of the team until he retired from that position in September 2000.
For additional information:
“Don Kessinger.” Baseball-Reference.com. http://www.baseball-reference.com/k/kessido01.shtml#TRANS (accessed January 12, 2009).
Fires, Rich. “Shortstop Settles in for Long Haul.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. May 27, 2000, pp. 1C, 7C.
Heard, Kenneth. “Chicago Cubs Trace Roots of Curse to Cat, Arkansas.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. October 12, 2003, pp. 1B, 10B.
Mitchell, Fred. Cubs: Where Have You Gone? Champaign, IL: Sports Publishing, 2004.
Traub, Todd. “Old Cub Kessinger Enjoying the Role.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. October 4, 2003, p. 6C.
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture