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Just because: That time Jungle Jim Rivera got JFK's autograph

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

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Friday is, of course, the 50th anniversary of the President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Solemn remembrances aren't hard to find, but in this space let us lighten the tone with the help of longtime White Sox outfielder "Jungle" Jim Rivera.

It was Opening Day 1961, and Rivera's White Sox were in Washington to take on the second incarnation of the Senators (this, it should be noted, was the year after the original Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins -- these '61 Senators are the ones that would eventually move to Texas and become the Rangers). President Kennedy was on hand to heave the ceremonial first pitch.

At this point, let's let Mr. Rivera and his dulcet tones tell you his side of the story, which comes to us live (note: not live at all) from his post-baseball place of business, Jungle Jim's Saloon in Angola, Indiana ...

It so happens that we have extant, action-news footage of the first pitch in question. Take it away, Internet ...

As you can see, Kennedy heaves the ball toward the back of the scrum, just as Rivera said, and there's also a brief glimpse of JBJ inking a ball -- possibly the ball in question!

Anyhow, getting back to the autograph of interest, here, courtesy of the History Gallery, is JFK's signature from later that same year:

So, yes, it would seem that Mr. Rivera was correct in his characterizations of President Kennedy's crude scrawl.

But wait: That's not all!

Not long after President Kennedy's death, David Condon in the Dec. 27, 1963 edition of the Chicago Tribune recounted Jungle Jim's tale of autograph-hounding and added a most compelling flourish. It goes a little something like this ...

It is entirely possible that this world-championship detail, which Rivera, for reasons sufficient unto himself, chose not to recount on that fine day at Jungle Jim's Saloon in Angola, Indiana, is thoroughly apocryphal. However, after due consideration, I choose not to live in a world in which Jungle Jim Rivera didn't tell JFK that his autograph was stinky garbage.

So let's all agree that this is true in the truest sense of being true.

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