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Right on Q: JFK and the White Sox

Remembering the time John F. Kennedy got an earful from Jim Rivera

President Kennedy with Al Lopez, Opening Day 1961
President Kennedy with Al Lopez, Opening Day 1961
JFK Library

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Jack Kennedy and the White Sox did cross paths.

Sen. John F. Kennedy, when he was running for the Democratic nomination for President in 1960, needed the support of the Party's power brokers, and that meant Mayor Richard J. Daley. Daley, an Irish Catholic from Bridgeport, was thrilled at the possibility of one of his own winning the White House. Kennedy and Daley took in a game of the 1959 World Series at Comiskey Park.

On April 10, 1961, the White Sox opened the baseball season at Griffith Stadium to take on the expansion Washington Senators (the original Senators decamped to Minnesota the previous year to become the Twins). Newly sworn-in President Kennedy continued the tradition of throwing out the first pitch of the baseball season. Before the game, Kennedy spoke to Vince Lloyd of WGN-TV, which was broadcasting the game back in Chicago.

Three years later, after Dallas, Jim Rivera told Dave Condon of the Tribune about the Presidential autograph he received before that game.

According to tradition, the President threw out two balls. The first ball went to the player who caught it. The second ball went back to the White House as a souvenir of the occasion. Outfielder Jim Rivera happened to catch the first ball.

Rivera ran over to the Presidential Box, where Kennedy signed the baseball. JFK was known for many things, but handwriting wasn't one of them. "John F. Kennedy" was scrawled on the baseball in what amounted to Chicken Scratch.

According to White Sox trainer Ed Froelich, Rivera turned to Kennedy and said "What kind of garbage college is that Harvard, where they don't even teach you how to write? What kind of garbage writing is this? What is this garbage autograph? Do you think I can go into any tavern on Chicago's south side and really say the President of the United States signed this baseball for me? I'd be run off!"

Rivera shoved the baseball back in Kennedy's direction.

"Take this thing back and give me something other than your garbage autograph!"

Froelich says Kennedy was laughing hysterically. The President took the baseball back, writing JOHN F. KENNEDY in big block letters.

Rivera looked at the baseball and said "Yuh know, you're all right."

Froelich said Kennedy kept his eye on Rivera throughout the game. Rivera spent the entire time in the dugout. After the White Sox made a spectacular play, Kennedy waved at Rivera.

He responded by dancing a jig.