Johnny Kling, of the Chicago Cubs, at West Side Park.
- C, 1B, OF, SS, 3B
- November 13, 1875
- 5' 9"
- 160 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-11-1900 with CHN
Johnny Kling Biography
The catcher of Frank Chance's great Cub teams of 1906-10, Kling was the NL's premier defensive catcher and a capable hitter. Batterymate Ed Reulbach called him "one of the greatest catchers who ever wore a mask." In the years 1902-08, Kling led the league in fielding four times, putouts six, assists twice, and double plays once. On June(e-h)h)h)21, 1907, he threw out all four Cardinal runners who attempted to steal second base. In the WS that fall, Kling nabbed seven Tigers in 14 tries, with Ty Cobb unable to steal a single base. In the winter of 1908-09, Kling won the world pocket billiard championship and decided to forsake the baseball diamond for the pool table. Defeated in his attempt to retain the title, he rejoined the Cubs in 1910 but was a part-timer thereafter. His brother Bill pitched briefly in the NL during the 1890s.
In the major leagues
After playing amateur and semi-pro baseball, Kling finally made his major league debut on September 11, 1900, playing for the Chicago Orphans of theNational League. He got three hits, and made a positive impression as a catcher and as a hitter. For the remainder of the season, he caught fifteen games, and had a batting average of .294 Kling also acquired the nickname "Noisy John," because he kept up a constant chatter while on the field; some baseball historians have noted this was part of his skill in using "psychological warfare" on his opponents By all accounts, Kling was an exceptional defensive catcher, praised for his skill in throwing out runners who tried to steal a base. He was also a reliable hitter, and a pivotal member of the team that became known as theChicago Cubs, an integral part of the dynasty which included infielders Joe Tinker,Johnny Evers, andFrank Chance. Between 1906 and 1910, the Cubs won fourNational Leaguepennants and twoWorld Seriestitles, and Kling was said to be one of the reasons why. And unlike many ballplayers of his day, he did not smoke or drink, nor did he chew tobacco. Keeping in such good shape was said to contribute to his baseball success.
Over all, he played 1260 major league games; hebatted.271 with 20 home runs and 513 RBIs all-time. He had 1151 hits in 4241 at bats. In August 1902, Kling put together aMajor League Baseballrecord streak of 12 consecutive hits, a feat that wasn't uncovered until 2009. Walt Dropo later tied the mark in 1952.
Pool vs. Baseball
But while he loved baseball, Kling never lost his devotion to the game of pool. In 1902, for example, one reporter remarked that he was the best pool player of any current baseball player. He often played for purses as high as $300, a sizable amount in that era. During this time, Kling also ran his own billiard room in Kansas City. During the early 1900s, Kling's pool-playing career was regarded positively by sports reporters—in one article, he was praised as a baseball player who was not idle during the off-season; he was said to have "double his diamond income" by being an accomplished pool player. Kling's skill at pool also served him well when it came time to negotiate his baseball salary. In 1906, he announced that he would not sign a new contract unless Chicago offered him a raise in pay, and if the raise was not forthcoming, he would stay home and play pool. This angered his manager, Frank Chance, who said that everyone else but Kling had come to terms with the club. Subsequently, Kling did decide to play, raise or not. He had another impressive season, catching ninety-six games and hitting over .300.
But in 1907, he also told Cubs' management he was considering giving up baseball for pool; once again, he returned to play baseball. Then, in early 1909, after several more solid years with Chicago, Kling had another dispute with the management over salary, and he decided to spend some time away from the club. During that time, he won the world billiards championship; he also played semi-pro baseball with a Kansas City team, and he continued to compete in pool. He did not return to the Cubs during the 1909 season, and in early October, he competed against Charles "Cowboy" Weston and won the World's Pool Championship. When Kling decided to come back to baseball in early 1910, and asked to be reinstated, a debate ensued as to whether he should be permitted to return, since he had not honored his contract during the 1909 season. National League President Thomas J. Lynch wanted him fined or possibly traded; in the end, Kling was assessed a penalty of $700 and allowed to return to the game. His love for both pool and billiards led him to not only play competitively, but to organize a league which was called the National Amateur Three-Cushion League. It had teams from eight cities, Kansas City, Chicago andSt. Louisamong them. Kling said to reporters that when his baseball career was over, he would devote himself to pool and billiards full-time. And despite his often-divided loyalties, baseball writers agreed that Kling was among the best players of his era; in fact, his obituary described him as "one of the greatest catchers the Chicago Cubs ever had".
After a decade of success with the Cubs, Kling was traded to theBoston Braves, where he spent the 1911 and 1912 seasons; at one point, he managed the Braves, but his managerial efforts were not successful, as the team had a losing record He was said to be unhappy with the way the Braves' owners made him run the team, and it led to his being traded in 1913. His final year in the majors was spent with theCincinnati Reds. He spent the remainder of his life in a number of pursuits. He owned the Dixon Hotel in Kansas City, where his billiard parlor won him national recognition; during his baseball career, he had begun mentoring his nephew, Bennie Allen, and as the years passed, Bennie went on to become a champion too. In 1933, he purchased the Kansas City Blues of theAmerican Associationand was able to generate more interest in the team and increase their attendance within a year of taking over. One of his innovations was to desegregate the ballpark, allowing both black and white fans to attend the games. Kling sold the Blues in 1937.
Though never a major name among Hall of Famerooters, Kling garnered his share of support for Cooperstown. He received votes from the BBWAA in eight elections, earning as much as 10% of the vote (in 1937).
In late January 1947, Kling was returning from Miami to Kansas City. He suffered a heart attack (some sources say a cerebral hemorrhage) and died in the hospital, at the age of 71. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.
Was Kling Jewish?
Speculation about whether Kling was Jewish has persisted over the years. One source says he used the name "Kline" early in his career, a surname that is sometimes (but not always) Jewish. And although he was married to a Jewish woman in a ceremony conducted by a Reform Jewish rabbi, there are questions that have never been fully resolved. Among those who believe he was Jewish is Dr. Gil Bogen, who wrote a book about Kling's life. But some researchers dispute this, and years after his death, his widow Lillian seemed to deny that her husband was ever Jewish. In a 1976Esquiremagazine article, sportswriter Harry Stein published an "All Time All-Star Argument Starter," consisting of five ethnic baseball teams. Kling was the catcher on Stein's Jewish team. (A reader, however, wrote in and pointed out that Kling was not Jewish but his wife was; and suggestedHarry Danninginstead.)
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