February 25, 1875|
Kansas City, Missouri
|Died: January 31, 1947
Kansas City, Missouri
|September 11, 1900, for the Chicago Orphans|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 21, 1913, for the Cincinnati Reds|
|Runs batted in||515|
John Gransfield Kling (February 25, 1875 – January 31, 1947) was an American catcher in Major League Baseball for the Chicago Cubs (the Chicago Orphans until 1902), Boston Rustlers and Braves, and Cincinnati Reds.
Kling was the Cubs' starting catcher in the final game of the 1908 World Series, their last championship to date.
Kling was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of John (a German American baker) and Caroline Kling. It was expected that he would work in the bakery business, as his brother Charles seems to have done, but Johnny fell in love with baseball. By the age of fifteen, he was playing amateur ball. He also had an interest in pool, and began playing competitively even as he pursued a baseball career ("Match Game of Pool", 1897, 3). In late January 1904, Kling married Lillian May Gradwohl. While Kling was not born Jewish, his wife was, and they were married by a Kansas City Rabbi Harry H. Mayer, of Temple B'Nai Jehudah, a Reform congregation.
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 the National League. He got three hits, and made a positive impression both as a catcher and as a hitter. For what was left of the season, he caught fifteen games and had a batting average of .294 He also acquired the nickname "Noisy John", because he kept up a constant chatter on the field; some baseball historians have noted this was part of his skill in waging "psychological warfare" on his opponents. By all accounts he was an exceptional defensive catcher, praised for his skill in throwing out runners who were caught stealing. He was also a reliable hitter, and a pivotal member of the team that became known as the Chicago Cubs, an integral part of the dynasty which included Hall of Fame infielders Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. Between 1906 and 1910, the Cubs won four National League pennants and two World Series titles, and Kling was said to be one of the reasons why. And unlike many ballplayers of his day, he didn't smoke, drink or chew tobacco. Staying in good shape as a result was said to contribute to his baseball success.
Overall, he played 1260 major league games, hit .271 with 20 home runs and 513 RBIs careerwise. He made 1151 hits in 4241 at bats. In August 1902, he amassed a Major League Baseball record streak of 12 consecutive hits. Walt Dropo later tied the mark in 1952. He caught 115 shutouts during his career, ranking him 16th all-time among major league catchers.
Pool vs. Baseball
But while he loved baseball, Kling never lost his devotion to the game of pool. In 1902, for example, one reporter called him the best pool player of any active baseball player. He often played for purses as high as $300, a sizable amount in that era. During this time, he also ran his own billiard room in his native Kansas City. During the early 1900s, his 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[d] his diamond income" by being an accomplished pool player. His skill at pool also served him well when it came time to negotiate his baseball salary. Before the 1906 season 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 snapped that everyone else but Kling had come to terms with the club. He subsequently did decide to play, raise or not. He had another impressive season, catching 96 games and hitting over .300 for the record 116-36 pennant winners.
Although he once again told Cubs' management he was considering giving up baseball for pool before the 1907 season, he once again returned to play for the Cubs, who won the World Series in both 1907 & 1908. Then, in early 1909, after several solid years with Chicago, he engaged in another dispute with the management over salary and this time decided to spend some time away from the club. During that time he continued to compete in pool, winning the world billiards championship, and played semi-pro baseball with a Kansas City team. He sat out the entire 1909 season, and in early October competed against Charles "Cowboy" Weston and won the world's championship of pool. When he 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, he was fined $700 and allowed to return. 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 and St. Louis among them. He told 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 the lowly Boston Braves, where he spent the 1911 and 1912 seasons. At one point he even managed the Braves, but his managerial efforts were not successful and the team had a losing record He was said to be unhappy with the way the Braves' owners made him run the team, and this led to his being traded in 1913. His final year in the majors was spent with the Cincinnati Reds. He devoted the rest of his life to several important pursuits. He owned the Dixon Hotel in Kansas City, where his billiard parlor gained 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 the American Association and 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 together. Kling sold the Blues in 1937.
Though never a major name among Hall of Fame rooters, 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, while returning from Miami to Kansas City, he suffered either a heart attack or a cerebral hemorrhage and died in hospital at age 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. Interestingly, the major Jewish newspapers never questioned Kling's Jewishness: writers and reporters frequently referred to him as Jewish, in articles from the 1920s through the 1970s. The Boston Jewish Advocate was among those that asserted his real name was John Kline, and said he had even played baseball under that name; one writer said he was "the first of the Jewish [baseball] pioneers" (Harold U. Ribalow, "Johnny Kling Showed the Way", Jewish Advocate, 12 April 1951, p. 22). But even earlier, the story of Kling's Jewishness was given a vote of confidence by New York Giants owner-manager John McGraw, who knew Kling and referred to him as a Jewish ballplayer in a 1923 article, "Jewish Baseball Players Wanted" (American Israelite, 9 August 1923, p. 6). Among contemporary authors 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, who was definitely Jewish, seemed to deny that her husband was ever Jewish. In a 1976 Esquire magazine 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 suggested Harry Danning instead.)
- Johnny Kling at the SABR Bio Project, by Gil Bogen and David Anderson, retrieved November 15, 2013
- "Ancestry.com". Search.ancestry.com. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
- "Johnny Kling Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
- Simon, 2004, 95
- "Brought Kling Back", 1910, S3
- "Record: 12 Consecutive Plate Appearances with a Hit". bleacherreport.com. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
- "The Encyclopedia of Catchers - Trivia December 2010 - Career Shutouts Caught". The Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
- "Baseball Notes", 1902, 36
- "Crack John Kling Will Play Walsh", 1903, 12
- "Baseball Gossip", 1904, E1
- "Catcher Kling Refuses to Sign", 1906, 10
- Spink, 1911, 104
- "Kling Sticks to Billiards", 1907, 10
- "Given Leave of Absence", 1909, 5
- "Johnny Kling, Pool Champion", 1909, 10
- "Kling Readmitted to Fold", 1910, 8
- "Billiard League Organized by Kling", 1910, D6
- "Baseball as Business Training", 1911, M4
- "Johnny Kling Dead", 1947, 15
- Stalker, Doggie (December 16, 2006). "The Top 100 Cubs Of All Time – #65 Johnny Kling". Bleed Cubbie Blue. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
- "J. Kling May Quit Bostons", 1912, 6
- "How Johnny Kling Found Out His Nephew Was a Coming Champion", 1908, 3S
- "Kansas City lumber – wholesale, contractor – Schutte Lumber Company". Schuttelumber.com. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
- "Kling Wearing Happy Grin as Turnstyles Move", 1935, 16
- "Ex-Cub Catcher Dead", 1947, 14
- "John Kling Dead, Ex-Catcher for Cubs", 1947, p. 15
- "Birthday Greetings", 1912, 12
- "Book seeks to restore Cub great's Jewish heritage". KC Jewish Chronicle. April 7, 2006. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
- Al Yellon, http://www.bleedcubbieblue.com/2006/12/16/55453/749
- "Baseball as Business Training", Washington Post, January 22, 1911, p. M4.
- "Baseball Gossip", Washington Post, January 3, 1904, p. E12.
- "Baseball Notes", Washington Post, December 7, 1902, p. 36.
- "Billiard League Organized by Kling", Atlanta Constitution, July 24, 1910, p. D6.
- "Birthday Greetings", Philadelphia Inquirer, November 13, 1912, p. 12.
- Bogen, Gil. Johnny Kling: A Baseball Biography. McFarland & Company, 2006.
- "Brought Kling Back", Washington Post, April 10, 1910, p. S3.
- "Catcher Kling Refuses to Sign", Chicago Tribune, March 23, 1906, p. 10.
- "Crack John Kling Will Play Walsh", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 11, 1903, p. 12.
- "Ex-Cub Catcher Dead", New Orleans Times-Picayune, February 1, 1947, p. 14.
- "Given Leave of Absence", Boston Globe, April 29, 1909, p. 5.
- "How Johnny Kling Found Out His Nephew Was a Coming Champion", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 27, 1908, p. 3S.
- "J. Kling May Quit Bostons", Chicago Defender, July 13, 1912, p. 6.
- "John Kling Dead, Ex-Catcher for Cubs", New York Times, February 1, 1947, p. 15.
- "Johnny Kling, Pool Champion", Baltimore Sun, October 4, 1909, p. 10.
- "Kling Readmitted to Fold", New York Tribune, March 31, 1910, p. 8.
- "Kling Wearing Happy Grin as Turnstyles Move", Hartford Courant, September 6, 1935, p. 16.
- "Kling Sticks to Billiards", Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1907, p. 10.
- "Match Game of Pool", Omaha World Herald, October 21, 1897, p. 3.
- Simon, Thomas P., editor. Deadball Stars of the National League, SABR, 2004.
- Spink, Alfred H. The National Game, St. Louis: National Game Publications, 1911 (reissued 2000), p. 104
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference
- Johnny Kling at the SABR Bio Project, by Gil Bogen and David Anderson, retrieved November 15, 2013
-  Top 100 Cubs
-  Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
- Spink Sports Stories, 1921, photo of Kling on p.56