Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Archer’

Pool Shark

September 1, 2010

Johnny Kling (note the old style mitt)

From 1906 through 1908 the Chicago Cubs won the National League pennant every year. In 1910 they won it again. The loss in 1909 is attributable more to a great season by Pittsburgh than to a falling off by Chicago. But it’s also true that the Cubs lost a stalwart in 1909 and that he came back in 1910. His name was Johnny Kling, he was the catcher, and the reason for his leaving the team in 1909 is, as far as I can tell, absolutely unique.

Kling was born in Kansas City in 1875, the son of a baker. In the mid-1890s he managed and pitched for a local semi-pro team. He did well enough that the minor leagues picked him up. He bounced from one team to another and one position to another until he settled in at catcher for the Western League team in St. Joseph. The Cubs spotted him and brought him to the Major Leagues in 1900. By 1902 he was the fulltime catcher and remained so through 1908. His hitting numbers were nothing grand, but they weren’t bad either. But Kling’s specialty was catching. He is widely acknowledged as the finest defensive catcher of the period in either league. As a member of the Cubs he participated in the 116 win season of 1906 and in the subsequent loss to the White Sox in the World Series. In 1907 and 1908 the Cubs went back to the Series, winning both. He was the catcher in the famous “Merkle Game” of 1908 and the replay of that game that ultimately sent the Cubs to the World Series.

Kling was also something of a pool shark. He honed his skills in the off-season back home in Kansas City. In 1909 he won the world pocket billiards championship. He set up a pool hall in Kansas City (not River City)  and decided to quit baseball so he could tour the country as world champion giving exhibitions, playing matches, and making more money than he could make behind the plate. It lasted a year, he did pretty well financially, but lost the championship in 1910. So it was back to baseball for him.

In 1909 the Cubs lost the National League pennant for the first time in four years. Some people claimed it was because they missed Johnny Kling. I’d like to say that’s true, and it probably is to some extent. But in 1908 the Cubs went 99-55 and won the World Series. In 1909 they went 104-49 and lost the pennant to a Pittsburgh team that ran off 110 wins. In 1910 with Kling back they went 104-50 and got back to the Series. It’s true Kling hit better than Jimmy Archer, his 1909 replacement, and was a better catcher, but he wasn’t responsible for Pittsburgh winning 110 games in 1909.

Back with the Cubs, Kling had a decent 1910 (and a terrible World Series), then got off to an awful start in 1911. In June he was traded to the NL team in Boston where his numbers got a little better. In 1912 he was appointed manager at Boston. The team finished last at 52-101, 52 games out of first. Kling lost his job to George Stallings who became the “Miracle Man” of 1914. Kling was traded to Cincinnati and retired after the 1913 season. For his career he hit .271 with a .357 slugging percentage, 1149 hits, 513 RBIs, 474 runs scored in 1260 games and two rings.

After retirement, Kling went back to Kansas City and opened a restaurant called the Pennant Cafe (which had a pool room in the back, of course). He did well, made a lot of money, went into real estate and did even better.  In 1935 he bought the minor league Kansas City Blues and immediately eliminated segregated seating at the team’s home ballpark. He sold the team in 1937 for a lot of money to Colonel Jacob Ruppert of the Yankees (who reinstituted segregated seating).  Kling died in January 1947.

King is an integral member of the Cubs team that dominated the National League from 1906-1910. But he is also an excellent example of a player who is so underpaid that he is willing to leave the sport to pursue other interests that make more money. The new salary structure in baseball means we don’t see players like him very often. It’s also interesting to note that he does well after retirement. In researching for these posts, I’ve noticed that an inordinate number of catchers seem to do very well after retirement. I haven’t researched it well enough to determine if they really do better than other position players, but it looks to me is if it may be true. I’m not sure why, maybe they’re just brighter. Anyway, Kling is one of those. He’s unique in that it was his skill with a pool stick that opened up the door for his success after baseball and made it worthwhile to sit out a year.

Opening Day, 1910: Chicago (NL)

April 7, 2010

King Cole

The 1909 Cubs were three time defending National League champion and two time World Champion when the season began. With basicially the same team, they finished 6.5 games behind Pittsburgh. Injured manager-first baseman Frank Chance played only 93 games in ’09 and catcher Johnny Kling, considered the finest defensive catcher of the era, left the team and it plummeted. By 1910 Chance was healthy again. Kling was also back. He had won the world pocket billards championship in 1908 and used the season to earn money at pool (no idea if he played in River City), but lost the title in the following tournament. So he was back with the Cubs, although minus a $700 fine for leaving the team.

The team that finished first, first, first, and second in the previous four seasons made, as you would expect, few changes. Chance stayed on as manager, first baseman, and clean up hitter. Johnny Evers still led off and held down second base. Joe Tinker was at short and hit seventh. Third base was Harry Steinfeldt country. He hit fifth. The outfield was the same as the previous season; Jimmy Sheckard in left and hitting second, Solly Hofman in center and moved to third in the order, and Wildfire Schulte in right and dropped from third to Hofman’s old sixth spot. Kling was back catching and hitting eighth. The bench saw Heinie Zimmerman as the backup infielder. Jimmy Archer, last year’s starting catcher, was now the backup, replacing Pat Moran (now with the Phillies. Ginger Beaumont came over from Boston to take the backup outfield slot. As it turned out, it was Beaumont’s final season.

There were some changes on the mound. Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was still the ace, coming off a 27-9 season, and Orvai Overall was back after leading the NL in strikeouts with 205. Ed Reulbach and Jack Pfiester were still there, but  two new pitchers were added to the mix. King Cole was a 24 year old rookie who had pitched one game for the Cubs the previous year and Harry McIntire had been acquired from Brooklyn. The addition of these two was to prove fortuitous.

For the Cubs things looked good when 1910 started. Their three time pennant winning team was intact, with all major components healthy. Age again should have been a bit of a concern. The hitters were tied with Philadelphia as the oldest team in average age at 29, and the pitching staff was the second oldest (to Pittsburgh) in the league. But everyone was healthy, Kling was back after a year off, Cole was only 24, and they knew how to win.

Tomorrow: McGraw’s Giants