Remembering “Killer” And The Summer Of 1975

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

There are certain moments in everyone’s childhood summers which stand the test of time, and help shape the rest of our lives. Most stem from the family unit – a father and mother playing catch with a son or daughter, fishing at the lake or simply long chats at the campfire.

As a kid growing up in London, I was fortunate to have three ‘family’ units: my immediate family; my golf buddies at Fanshawe Golf Club, where head golf professional Mike Olizarevitch helped my father, Ken, teach me the finer points of the game; and my baseball family.

The author (top row, last player far right) and 1975 EBBA Pee Wee Orioles.

Most of my time as a pre-teen and teenager was spent playing baseball in the Eager Beaver Baseball Association, and watching the London Majors play baseball at Labatt Park – my second home. I would eventually spend 33 years with the London Majors and the Intercounty Baseball League, but one year stands out: 1975 – the last year the Majors won the IBL championship.

The biggest cog in that Majors machine of ’75 was left-handed pitcher, Mike Kilkenny, who sadly died this past Thursday at age 73. He is survived by his wife Edie; brother, Peter; son, Rory daughter, Dawn, and stepson, Danny; and many grandchildren.

A celebration of Kilkenny’s life will be held at St. Thomas Golf and Country Club on Sunday, July 22 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Kilkenny was one of my childhood local baseball heroes. The other was long-time Majors owner/GM/player Arden Eddie. For me, it was a dream come true when, in 2001, Eddie signed me to a player’s contract and took over as manager of the ballclub. As 3B coach that season, it was surreal coaching with him, and coaching a team I had idolized as a Little Leaguer.

The summer of ’75 was a special one for me, as I captured the Pee Wee Orioles MVP trophy, going undefeated as a right-handed pitcher, and batted over .700. Alas, my mother had scheduled a tonsillectomy for me during the playoffs, and the Orioles fell short to the Tom Newman-led West Lions Yankees in the championship final.

But during that entire summer, I wore a path between McMahen Park and Labatt Park. If I wasn’t playing on the sandlot, then I was watching my beloved Majors win the IBL pennant with a 20-8 record. I ate enough hot dogs at Labatt Park that summer to make the city of Chicago proud. The ballclub took a semifinal from the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games, before disposing of the Guelph Forums in the final, 4-2.

Mike Kilkenny (top row, third from left) and 1975 London Majors. Photo: Victor Aziz/London Majors.

I have endless memories of Labatt Park, where I had helped run the old wooden scoreboard for 25 cents, a soda and a hot dog each game, and had chased foul balls in the stands for 10 cents each. But when Kilkenny, nicknamed “Killer,” was on the mound in 1975, I sat in my seat and studied his every move.

That summer, the native of Bradford, Ontario went 9-0 with a 1.31 ERA over 96 innings pitched in 12 games. The former big-leaguer surrendered 57 hits, allowing 29 runs (14 earned), with 129 strikeouts and only 46 walks. He was named the league MVP. In the playoffs, Killer went 2-2 with a 2.31 ERA to bring the IBL championship back to London.

When the 1975 Majors were inducted into the London Sports Hall of Fame, Killer remembered, “It was an easy season. It went pretty easy. I had a lot of fun. And they were great guys to play with.”

The team’s shortstop, Dave Byers, an all-time Majors great amongst my list of the top Majors of all time (read it here), said of Kilkenny’s season, ““Killer was awesome. He still had lots of stuff from his major league days, especially his curveball, and he used it to perfection.”

“He came here – as we all knew, he played in the major leagues – and he was intense,” recalled Eddie. “And you couldn’t help but follow that. Everybody did their part. But Mike obviously would stand out.”

In 1969, one year after Detroit burned in the riots of 1968, Kilkenny was named the Tigers’ rookie of the year. The Tigers signed the 6’3”, 175-pound southpaw for $15,000 in 1964 – then a record signing bonus for a Canadian ballplayer. After impressing in the minor leagues over five seasons, Kilkenny made his major league debut from the bullpen on April 11, 1969 at Tiger Stadium, pitching two-thirds of a scoreless inning in relief. He finished the campaign 8-6 with a 3.37 ERA and 1.262 WHIP. That rookie season included four complete-game shutouts.

In 1972, the first year of the Oakland Athletics’ run of three-consecutive World Series victories, Kilkenny finished his career as a Tiger with a four-year total of 19-17 and 4.47 ERA. He was traded on May 9, 1972 for first baseman Reggie Sanders. Oddly enough, just eight days later A’s owner Charlie Finley shipped Killer off to San Diego. And just a month later, he was again traded, this time to Cleveland where he tossed his last big-league game for the Indians in May 1973.

It was an unlikely big-league career for the youngster born on April 11, 1945 who would later impress on the sandlots of Toronto as a 15-year-old pitcher who dominated hitters so much that 19 big-league clubs offered him a contract. When it was all over, he had amassed a big-league record of 23-18 with a 4.43 ERA and 301 strikeouts over 401.1 innings, making 130 appearances in total.

Like me, Kilkenny had found another sports passion in golf, and eventually played to scratch while becoming one of the area’s most sought-after instructors, managing the pro shop at Llyndinshire Golf and Country Club after his big-league baseball days were over. After a short stint in sales, Kilkenny took the reigns as golf professional at Fairway Golf Practice Facility until 2010.

Wintering in Ocala, Florida, he befriended and became a mentor to Ocala native and two-time PGA Tour winner Ted Potter Jr. who recently captured the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. I spent some time chatting at the RBC Canadian Open with Potter Jr. about his friendship with Kilkenny, who he called “a great friend and a great influence on my golf game.”

Tommy White uniform retirement ceremony. Photo: Jeffrey Reed.

When I was in uniform with the Majors in 2000 and 2001, I lockered beneath the No. 17 jersey of pitching legend Tommy White, a member of the Majors 1948 World Sandlot Champions. I had always worn No. 17, but Eddie retired White’s uni in the late-1990s. So, I did the next best thing and, wearing No. 10, I chose the locker beneath White’s shrine.

Kilkenny, too, wore No. 17. He was one of the reasons why chose to wear that number as a Little League ballplayer. His uni was retired by current owners Roop Chanderdat and Scott Dart.

One statistic that often goes unnoticed from Kilkenny’s career is his comeback in 1983 – eight years removed from his last season on the mound, now that golf was his main sporting passion. He finished 3-1 with a 1.40 ERA. The next year, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins would join the Majors pitching staff.

Kilkenny, who most recently lived in Belmont, also had a passion for harness racing, and had become owner of some successful horses over the years.

I was saddened to learn that in recent years one of my childhood idols had battled numerous health problems, including a stroke.

Without a doubt, he is now spending his time watching the races, driving at the first tee and toeing the rubber in a much better place.

In the late-1990s, and again in the early-2000s, I had assembled small groups of Majors alumni to be recognized at home plate at Labatt Park. It was a big thrill for me to spend time chatting with Killer in the Roy McKay Clubhouse.

Today, as the London Majors Alumni Association under former player Barry Boughner prepares to honour its legendary members before the Majors host Barrie at 6:05 p.m., the alumni will no doubt have a heavy heart now that Killer has left us.

But for me, the summer of 1975 will always remain a big part of my life.

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Jeffrey Reed has been a member of the London sports media since 1980. Over the years, he worked the wooden scoreboard and chased foul balls for the London Majors, later coaching third base and pitching from the bullpen in 2001 and 2001. In between, he called play-by-play of the Majors for Rogers TV, acted as the team’s official photographer, alumni organizer and PA announcer, founded the Intercounty Baseball League media relations office in 1994 (and operated it for three seasons 1995-97), and also worked as the club’s media relations officer in 1998-99 and 2004. He is the author of EBBA 40 Years of Baseball, available for purchase here. Reach Jeffrey at jeff@londonontariosports.com.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

One Response to “Remembering “Killer” And The Summer Of 1975”

  1. Barry Boughner says:

    A fantastic article about a fantastic person. All of his teammates will miss him dearly.For me personally the 1975 London Majors Intercounty Championship team was the best team I ever played on. The two biggest sports thrills of my life were,playing in the NHLand playing third base when Mike Kilkenny was pitching for the 1975 London Majors.