Growing up in St. Paul, MN, there was scarcely a day I did not dream of being a Major League baseball player. My loving, hard-working father, Harold, who found the money to provide gloves, bats, and baseballs for my two younger brothers and me, fueled the love for the game. Often the broken bats were nailed back together and the ragged balls bound up with black friction tape. Dad worked two jobs while we were in school; our dear Mom was ill with Multiple Sclerosis. My Father taught me responsibility, perseverance, Godly faith and how to give tender, loving care to my Mother. But one particular lesson he taught remains fixed in my memory as Dad’s shining moment.
I earned a partial athletic scholarship to play both baseball and basketball at the University of Minnesota. I lived at home, studied hard to stay eligible, and earned enough playing semi-pro baseball in the summers to buy an old car. Mom and Dad were my biggest encouragement. Our Minnesota Gopher baseball team prospered under legendary coach Dick Siebert, and the pro scouts began to follow a number of our players—including a tall skinny shortstop named Kindall. My dream was beginning to come true!
Following my sophomore year in 1955, I was invited by a Major League team to work out with them before a three-game series at their home park. At that time, any major league team could attempt to sign a prospect any time during the year. However, if that team gave the prospect more than $4,000 signing bonus, the player had to spend his first two years on the big league club and count against the Major League 25-man limit before going to the minor leagues, where 99% of professional players begin their careers.
Many of the (at the time) 16 Major League teams were signing one or two prospects for much more than $4,000 (several for as much as $100,000) and placing them directly on the 25-man roster—hence the term “Bonus Baby.” Some teams circumvented this rule by paying the prospect $4,000 and giving illegal “under the table” money and gifts to sweeten the pot.
Somehow, my Dad got three days off from his jobs and we flew to that Major League city, checked into a plush hotel, and I reported to pre-game batting and infield practice dressed out in the uniform of the home team. What a thrill!
When the game started, Dad and I were escorted to the owner’s private box to join the General Manager and several other front office officials to watch the game. More Big League thrills! I felt I held my own in the pre-game practice in spite of my nervousness. This was validated after the third game when the owner and the GM ushered Dad and me into the owner’s office and offered me a contract. I was ready to leap from my chair and sign immediately! But Dad wisely asked for the details. The offer was for $4,000 and to join their minor league AA team.
Dad paused for what seemed along time, and I mentally recalled my promise to my parents to finish college and receive my degree. The owner and GM informed us that they knew the amount of the heavy mortgage my parents held. They knew Dad’s car was a wreck and my jalopy was worthless. They also were aware of the mounting medical bills for Mother’s treatment. They confidently assured us that “these items will be taken care of along with the $4,000 signing bonus.” But Dad was still silent. Finally, he responded, “It seems to me your offer, although generous, I illegal. Is that right?”
One of them answered that parts of the offer were a bit questionable but, “many teams are doing this” and no one needed to know. At this point, there was no hesitation in my Father’s response. “Gentlemen, I have tried to teach my boys to do the right thing and live honestly before the Lord. We are a Christian family and try to live by Biblical principles, and that is why we must not entertain your offer. Thank you for the enjoyable weekend, and good day.” And we left the office.
On the way to the airport I asked if he was sure he knew what he was doing, and Dad assured me that he had no doubt in his mind. It made no difference to him that other teams were doing the same thing; it was still wrong. I wonder to this day, did my Dad ever count up the cost of the mortgage, medical bills, and a new car when he left the owner’s office that day. He taught me one of the greatest lessons of both of our lives and left me a legacy that I have tried to leave with my children and grandchildren. Thanks, Dad!
By the way, a year later I did sign a professional contract with the Chicago Cubs for substantially more than $4,000, enough to free Dad and Mom from most of their debts. And Dad got his new car!
Jerry Kindall retired after 24 years at Arizona as the school’s all-time winningest coach (861 victories) in 1996. During Kindall’s tenure, the Wildcats won three national titles (1976, 1980, 1986) and made five trips to the College World Series in Omaha.
During his coaching career, Kindall was also heavily involved with Team U.S.A., serving as its head coach in the 1979 Pan American Games (Puerto Rico). He was also an assistant for the U.S. in the 1991 Pan-Am Games (Cuba) and with the 1999 USA National Team.
An avid writer in his free time, Kindall authored Sports Illustrated Baseball along with numerous magazine articles, and has had editing roles in the Science of Baseball and The Baseball Coaching Bible.
A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Kindall earned two varsity letters in both baseball and basketball before signing a professional contract with the Chicago Cubs, going on to play eight seasons in the major leagues.
He got his coaching start at Minnesota as a basketball assistant in 1966, assuming double duties as a baseball assistant coach in 1968 before leaving for the head job at Arizona in 1972.
Kindall is an ABCA Hall of Famer and in 2004, the University of Arizona renamed its playing field after him. He is currently serving as Senior Advisor for USA Baseball and broadcasts college baseball for Fox Sports Net, ESPN, CBS and the Big Ten Network.