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J Michael Kenyon (1943-2017)

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of The Grand Salami.

One of the most interesting characters in Seattle sports history never took the field for one of its sports teams. Writer and historian J Michael Kenyon was not only the Seattle Post-Intelligencer beat writer for the first Seattle SuperSonics team in 1967, he was also the P-I’s beat writer for the first four seasons of the expansion Seattle Mariners (1977 to 1980).

Of course, the mercurial Kenyon didn’t spend the entire time from 1967 to 1980 with the P-I. In fact, he didn’t even remain in the employ of the newspaper for the entire 1967-68 NBA season. On a Sonics road trip in Baltimore, he met a former stripper at a local watering hole (she soon became his second wife) and abandoned the job to remain in Baltimore, where he was soon writing for the daily paper there, The Baltimore Sun.

Born in Seattle in 1943, he ditched his original name, Michael Glover, because his new wife thought it was boring. After driving past the Kenyon Printing Company on Highway 99 one day, he soon changed his legal name to J Michael Ken­yon (no period after the “J” because then his byline wouldn’t have fit on one line of a newspaper column).

As his former colleague at the P-I Dan Raley wrote in a 2007 feature, “[Ken­yon] was driven by a newspaper deadline and few other boundaries. Excess always was part of his adventure.” Ken­yon told Raley at the time, “As soon as I discovered after-hours joints, there was no chance for a real family life. Now I could be gone 24 hours a day, working 12 hours at the paper and spending 12 hours at the bar. I used to run across so many fascinating characters and I was easily influenced.”

Raley added, “He changed jobs, wives, and watering holes so frequently it was hard to keep track of him. He was loveable and despicable, all in one. He was talented and self-destructive. He was the city’s own Hunter S. Thompson, the sports edition.”

Kenyon (right) and Bill Wilmot tour Safeco Field during the ballpark’s construction

While Kenyon was a top-notch baseball writer and had a way with the written word, he had other interests that he explored more fully after leaving Seattle’s newspaper scene, including thoroughbred horse racing, auto racing, hydroplane racing, croquet, and professional wrestling. His love for wrestling—he’s considered in some circles “the father of pro wrestling historians”—actually predated his journalism career, as he was promoting wrestling matches even before being hired by the P-I (the first time) to cover the Sonics at age 23.

In an odd twist, the “Where Are They Now” article Raley wrote in the P-I in ’07 about Kenyon was intended as a farewell of sorts, as Raley discussed Ken­yon’s diagnosis of congestive heart failure and throat cancer and mentioned Kenyon “traveling to California to see friends for the last time.”

Not only did Kenyon outlive the P-I, which folded two years after Raley’s article appeared, he did so by 98 months(!), somehow hanging on until May 3rd this year. He also reached his goal of outliving basketball Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain, who passed away at the age of 63, also of congenital heart failure, in 1999. As Kenyon told Raley, “[Chamberlain] was the most amazing human being I’ve ever seen. God, he was big. I could lick his belt buckle.”

Shortly before he death, Kenyon told a friend that he’d had “enough fun and good times for ten lifetimes.” While that’s undoubtedly true, I’m sure by now the “Old Fall Guy” has already become reacquainted with Darrell Johnson, Lou Gorman, and his favorite barkeep from Vito’s.

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