MORRICE — John “Jack” Kinney, a Morrice native who played professional baseball before heading Michigan State University’s Alumni Association for 20 years, died July 2 at his retirement home in Arizona at the age of 92.
Kinney was Michigan State’s first All-American in baseball and played four seasons in the low minors before taking a job at Michigan State University in 1953, where he would remain until 1980. He moved to the University of California at Santa Barbara for another decade before retiring to Arizona in 1990.
He and his wife Jill, who died in 2018, married in 1951 and had seven children.
“He was a busy dad,” said his fourth child, Nancy, who lives in Haslett. “He tried to sneak in some golf whenever he could.”
Kinney excelled at that too, she said, becoming a scratch golfer.
His friends were a who’s-who of Michigan State athletics.
“When I got married, Jack Breslin (for whom MSU’s Breslin Center is named) came to the wedding, Nancy Twichell said. “He was good friends with administrators and coaches. It was a tight group in the 1960s and 70s.”
There were perks, too, among them a ringside seat for Magic Johnson’s basketball career with the Spartans.
“He had four tickets to every game,” she said. “My sister Kathy, my parents and I went to all of the games, including the national championship game.”
His tenure at Michigan State ended after a standoff with then-president Cecil Mackey, who wanted to end the alumni association’s independence from the university and make it an arm of the school.
Kinney grew up on a farm just north of what is now I-69 on Morrice Road, living with his parents, Winifred and Thomas P. Kinney, and a brother, Thomas R. Kinney.
He worked on the farm, but his parents pushed him into academics and athletics as a youngster.
Kinney was an athletic standout at Morrice High School, leading the Orioles to their first district basketball championship in 1945 as his team’s leading scorer. He earned a total of 13 letters in sports, and was a mainstay of a Morrice baseball team that lost only one game in his three seasons.
He spent two years in the Army after high school, then attended Michigan State University, where he played football as a freshman before turning his attention to baseball.
A slugging outfielder, Kinney was MSU’s first all-American, earning second-team honors as a junior in 1949.
He drove in 35 runs and hit six home runs, both school records at the time, during MSU’s 28-game schedule that season, setting a school record that stood for several years.
Kinney married his wife, Jill, in 1951, and retired from baseball with a wife and two children after the 1953 season.
He came back to MSU, where then-president John Hannah gave him a job with the alumni association. Seven years later, he was its president.
Kinney never forgot his Morrice roots, visiting his brother, Tom, on the farm before it was sold and his parents graves afterward.
He was inducted into the Morrice High School athletic hall of fame in its second year of existence.
“I didn’t know about Jack Kinney when we started it,” former athletic director Andy Flynn said. “He wrote me a letter, telling me who he was, and he was inducted the following year. He came out from Arizona for the ceremony.”
For years, Kinney sponsored a $500 scholarship for a Morrice graduate.
“He was a super nice guy,” Flynn said. “He was a fun guy to be around.”
A memorial service will be held Aug. 24. Memorial contributions can be made to the Society of St. Vincent DePaul of Arizona.