Belmont, Ont., resident and former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mike Kilkenny passed away on Thursday at the age of 73.
Born in Bradford, Ont., on April 11, 1945, Kilkenny was an unlikely major leaguer. His high school didn’t have a baseball team and he grew up at a time when Canadians were not eligible for the major league draft.
But the talented left-hander would make a name for himself as a 15-year-old in the Toronto area when he began overpowering players that were as many as six years older than him. His performance attracted the interest of big league scouts who paid scant attention to Canadians during that era.
According to Kilkenny’s SABR bio, 19 of 20 major league teams made contract offers to him before he opted to sign with the Detroit Tigers in 1964. He was awarded a $15,000 signing bonus, a record for a Canadian at the time.
The Canuck southpaw would toe the rubber for parts of five seasons in the Tigers’ minor league system before winning a spot on the big league staff out of spring training in 1969. That season would prove to be his best in the majors. In all, he’d compete in 39 games and make 15 starts, and by the end of that campaign, he was one of the Tigers’ top starters, hurling four-complete game shutouts in his final nine appearances.
On September 17, 1969, he struck out 13 batters while tossing a five-hit shutout against the Cleveland Indians. At 24 years and 159 days old, he was (and continues to be) the youngest Canadian pitcher to strike out as many as 13 batters in a major league game. He finished that campaign with an 8-6 record and a 3.37 ERA.
Kilkenny would serve as a swingman for the Tigers for the next four seasons before he was dealt to the Oakland A’s on May 9, 1972. Eight days later – after making just one appearance for the A’s – he was swapped to the San Diego Padres who used him in five contests before flipping him to the Cleveland Indians. In just over a month, Kilkenny pitched for four different teams.
The versatile southpaw regained his form in Cleveland, posting a 3.41 ERA in 22 games and he took the mound for five games with the Tribe in 1973 before walking away from the professional ranks.
Kilkenny then returned to Canada to manage the pro shop of the Llyndinshire Golf Club near London, Ont. He also became a successful harness race horse owner.
In 1975, he agreed to pitch for the semi-pro Intercounty League’s London Majors and proceeded to register a 9-0 record and a 2.31 ERA to lead the Majors to their last league title. For his efforts, he was also named league MVP.
Around that time, the outspoken lefty proved to be equally talented on the links and he provided golf lessons and started his own golf business in London, Ont.
Remarkably, after an eight-year absence from pitching, he returned to the Intercounty League’s London Majors in 1983 to post another 9-0 record.
When his golf business closed, he worked in sales, before returning to the golf world as a pro at Fairview Golf Practice Facility until 2010. Kilkenny also found time to coach and mentor Ted Potter Jr., who has played on the PGA Tour since 2011.
In recent years, Kilkenny’s No. 17 was retired by the London Majors and he and his, wife Edie, had divided their time between homes in Belmont, Ont., and Ocala, Fla.
Kilkenny is survived by his wife, his son, Rory, daughter, Dawn, stepson, Danny, his brother Peter and seven grandchildren.
You can read his full obituary here.