Bill Klem, the father of baseball umpires, in 1914
February 22, 1874|
Rochester, New York
|Died: September 16, 1951
|Election Method||Veterans Committee|
William Joseph Klem, born William Joseph Klimm (February 22, 1874 – September 16, 1951), known as the "Old Arbitrator" and the "father of baseball umpires", was a National League (NL) umpire in Major League Baseball from 1905 to 1941. He worked 18 World Series, which is a major league record. Klem was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953.
Klem was born in Rochester, New York on February 22, 1874. His umpiring career began in the Connecticut State League in 1902. He worked in the New York State League the following year. Klem spent the 1904 season in the American Association before joining the NL in 1905.
He worked a record 18 World Series: 1908, 1909, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1917, 1918, 1920, 1922, 1924, 1926, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1934 and 1940. No other umpire has worked in more than ten Series. Of the 16 major league teams in existence during his career, all but one—the St. Louis Browns, who would not win a pennant until 1944—appeared in a World Series that he officiated; the only other teams which did not win a championship with Klem on the field were the Brooklyn Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies (neither of which won a title during Klem's lifetime) and the Detroit Tigers. He was also one of the umpires for the first All-Star Game in 1933, and worked behind the plate for the second half of the game; he later umpired in the 1938 All-Star Game as well.
He called balls and strikes in five no-hitters, an NL record later tied by Harry Wendelstedt. He was also the home plate umpire on September 16, 1924, when Jim Bottomley of the St. Louis Cardinals had a record 12 runs batted in. Klem had a number of nicknames amongst the players: his favorite was "The Old Arbitrator", but his jowly appearance also led to some players calling him "Catfish". Klem despised the latter name, and was notorious for ejecting players whom he caught using it. One particular incident involved a player whom Klem ejected after he caught the player drawing a picture of a catfish with his foot in the infield dirt.
Klem also dismissed catcher Al Lopez from a game after Lopez pasted a newspaper clipping onto home plate which showed Klem clearly in error calling a play involving Lopez. The catcher had covered the photo with dirt and waited for Klem to brush off home plate.
He had the longest career of any major league umpire (37 years) before Bruce Froemming tied that mark in 2007, and was also the oldest umpire in history at age 67 until Froemming surpassed that mark as well. Klem was widely respected for bringing dignity and professionalism to umpiring, as well as for his high skill and good judgment. Klem was also an innovative umpire; he was the first major league umpire to use arm signals while working behind home plate, and was one of the first to wear a modern, somewhat pliable chest protector inside his shirt, a move which he successfully campaigned to have adopted throughout the NL. He was the first to straddle foul lines and stand to the catcher's side for better perspective. Finally, he was the last umpire to work the plate exclusively (traditionally the crew chief always worked the plate; today umpire crews rotate base/plate assignments).
Klem died on September 16, 1951, at age 77, at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, Florida. He and Tom Connolly were the first two umpires inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953. They are also the only umpires to have worked in five different decades.
- "Bill Klem, 77, Dies. Dean of Umpires. 'Old Arbitrator,' Who Served National League 35 Years, Worked 17 World Series A 'Likely Young Man' Always 'On Top' of Play In Seventeen World Series. Honored by Writers". New York Times. September 17, 1951. Retrieved 2013-12-27. "William J. Klem, dean of major league baseball umpires, died here early today in Doctors Hospital of a heart ailment, with which he became afflicted two years ago when his eyesight also began to fail."
- SABR biography accessed 18 December 2007
- "Bill Klem". New York Historical Society. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
- Bill Klem at Baseball Hall of Fame accessed 18 December 2007
- "Umpire Ejection Fantasy League Polls: He Gone". Close Call Sports. August 1, 2011.
- Baseball's Greatest Managers, 1961.
- Bill Klem at the Baseball Hall of Fame
- BaseballLibrary.com - biography and career highlights
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