Ken Berry Born: May 10, 1941 (Kansas City, MO)
Graduated: Washburn Rural High School, 1959
Attended: Wichita State University, 1960
Gold: the color of champions.
The Kansas Sports Hall of Fame is home of champions of all sports. From Olympic gold medalists, to NCAA National Champions, to state high school champions. Yet, for all the gold won by the inductees that grace the walls of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, none compares to the gold won by Ken Berry, the only Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee to win a Major League Baseball Gold Glove Award. And, in fact, Berry won two…
Berry was an accomplished athlete from an early age. As a high school student, he dazzled Topeka area crowds by leading the city in scoring in football and basketball as a high school senior. Berry was so skilled on the gridiron that he received a football scholarship from the University of Wichita, now known as Wichita State University, to play wide receiver after graduating from Washburn Rural High School.
Berry had a knack for catching, a skill he honed through playing wide receiver in football and shagging golf balls on the driving range of Topeka area golf courses. Those skills also translated to the baseball diamond and despite not having a baseball team at the University of Wichita at that time, Berry was signed to a professional contract with the Chicago White Sox during the summer of 1960 while playing for the Liberal Bee Jays.
A defensive specialist in a time when spectacular defensive catches were rare, Berry made his Major League debut in 1962 at the age of 21. For the next fourteen seasons, Berry made highlight catch after highlight catch, earning his nickname “The Bandit,” on the biggest stage in baseball.
The numbers are staggering. For his career, Berry compiled a field percentage of .989 in over 1,300 games played. Included in those statistics were two entire seasons where Berry put up a perfect fielding percentage in 1969 and 1972. He led the American League in fielding percentage three times in 1969, 1972, and 1973; led the league in putouts in 1965; and led the league in outfield assists in 1972. Berry was awarded the ultimate prize for fielding prowess in 1970 and 1972 when he was awarded with his Gold Gloves as the best defensive player at his position.
Berry wasn’t only about defense though and could swing the bat as well, as illustrated by his lifetime .255 batting average with 58 career home runs and over 1,000 career hits.
In 1967, Berry was named to the American League All-Star team when he hit .241 and combined that with a .992 fielding percentage. However, perhaps his best years statistically were in 1972 and 1973 when Berry hit .289 and .284 to go along with fielding percentages of 1.000 and .997, respectively.
In total, Berry played for four Major League organizations during his fourteen year career with the White Sox, the California Angels, the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Cleveland Indians.
Following his playing career, Berry stayed involved in the game through managing and coaching at various levels, including the minor leagues of professional baseball where he influenced generations of baseball greats like Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas, and more recently, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. Berry was honored by his hometown of Topeka while still a player as the namesake of the Ken Berry Baseball League, which began in 1969 and currently serves over 2,000 area youth each season.
There is no doubt that Berry is one of the most accomplished baseball players to originate from the Sunflower State. Joining the likes of Walter Johnson, Joe Carter, and Elden Auker, Berry is one of the few baseball players who would fit right in. Except, of course, for his two gold gloves…