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Jeff Kunkel

Sport: Baseball

Born: March 25, 1961

Town: Leonardo

Jeffrey William Kunkel was born March 25, 1961 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Jeff’s father, Bill—a Hoboken native—had been claimed from the Dodgers by the Kansas City A’s over the winter and Jeff was born during spring training. The family moved to Leonardo in the mid-60s when Bill traded his resin bag for a referee’s whistle and an umpire’s mask, becoming a pro basketball ref and a big-league umpire. Jeff’s mom taught science at the local high school. Jeff spent his summer days fishing and playing baseball, and became an All-Shore and All-County pitcher and shortstop for Middletown South.

Jeff was recruited by several top programs including Seton Hall as a pitcher, but accepted a scholarship from Rider with the understanding that he could continue to play the infield. After booting the first five balls hit his way as a collegian, Jeff pulled himself together and was named All-State as a freshman. Although he could still get the ball to the plate in the mid-90s, he became a full-time position player as a junior in 1983 and developed into a five-tool talent. The Texas Rangers selected Jeff in the draft that spring with the #3 overall pick.

Adjusting to pro baseball was a simple process for Jeff, who had been around his share of major league fields thanks to his dad. Sadly, at this point, Bill Kunkel was fighting a losing battle with colon cancer, and would pass away in 1985 at the age of 48. However, Bill not only got to see Jeff become the family’s second major leaguer when he was promoted to the Rangers in July of 1984, he had been working on the third-base line during a Spring Training game earlier that year while Jeff was at shortstop. Jeff went 3-for-4 in his major league debut and batted .204 in 50 games for Texas as a rookie.

Jeff spent all but a few games in the minors in 1985, and was clearly impacted by his father’s death that May. Late in the year, he saw action in Texas but injured his knee in a collision with a teammate and needed off-season surgery. Jeff was back to 100% by 1987, but injured his shoulder going after a ball in the outfield. Finally, in 1989, Jeff became a starter for Texas and batted .270 with 21 doubles and 8 homers in just over100 games. Unfortunately, Jeff’s bat failed him in 1990 and he lost the job. In 1991, he suffered another knee injury and was released after the season.

Jeff played in the Brewers and Cubs organizations in 1992 and got his last taste of major-league action in Chicago that summer. He played in the minors for the Indians in 1993 and Tigers in 1994 before calling it a career at 33. Always good with numbers, Jeff moved easily into a second career with an energy company in Texas as an accounting executive.


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