Ken Retzer: John F. Kennedy’s Batterymate

Many people catch the President, on TV, even at a rally.

Ken Retzer caught John F. Kennedy at a ballpark in 1963.

Retzer, starting catcher for the Washington Senators, received the 1963 season’s ceremonial first pitch from JFK.

The Illinois-born receiver enjoyed another milestone that year. Behind the plate for baseball’s 100,000th-ever game, Retzer handled the historic ball that would be displayed in Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame.

I was fascinated to see Retzer’s success in hitting knuckleballers like Hall of Famer Early Wynn. He wrote me:

“I was a line drive hitter,few strikeouts. Just 31 in 1961. So that helps to hit all pitchers. Knuckleballers were hard to catch, almost like catching a butterfly.”

He seemed to wear a different uniform number yearly. Why?

“Any time I veteran player would join the team, I gave up my uniform. The last was #14 for Gil Hodges the manager.”

Twins fans should know that Retzer played a role in the team’s 1965 American League championship. When catchers Earl Battey and Jerry Zimmerman held out, owner Calvin Griffith called Retzer as a bargaining chip. Signing Retzer, who performed admirably throughout spring training, convinced the other two catchers to ink new contracts. Unfortunately, Retzer was cut a day before the season began.

Retzer deserved a World Series. He’s a World Champion autograph signer, giving all-star treatment to every fan who writes. Ask any Senators fan.

Minnesota misses slugger Dan Dobbek

Once touted as the second coming of slugger Bob Allison, Dan Dobbek’s stock rose and fell quickly.

The product of Western Michigan University, he’s remembered for being a grinning member of “The Sporting News Rookie Stars of 1959” subset in that year’s Topps set. Sure enough, he uncorked 23 home runs for the Chattanooga Lookouts, earning a September debut with the Washington Senators.

Before the 1960 season, manager Cookie Lavagetto told reporters, “He is a very extraordinary rookie. He is the best fielding outfielder on the club.”

Dobbek managed 10 home runs in 110 games. He remembered one game especially, writing:

“In 1960 against K.C., I had 2 home runs the last time at bat in the first game of a doubleheader and another one the first time up in the second game. I got walked the next three times.”

When the Senators morphed into the Minnesota Twins in 1961, Dobbek greeted Metropolitan Stadium fans with a May 19 grand slam. His third-inning grand salami before home fans became the first in Twins history.

Facing the Athletics in Kansas City, Dobbek’s career faced a crossroads.

“My career ended because I ran into a concrete wall in K.C. catching a fly ball,” he added without prompting.

Just four homers and a .168 average in 72 games of part-time action foreshadowed Dobbek’s decline. Swapped to Cincinnati in the off-season for catcher Jerry Zimmerman, Dobbek would appear with the Reds only on baseball cards. He’d be out of baseball in two years.