The Top 100 Cubs Of All Time - #65 Johnny Kling

I found three excellent photos of Johnny Kling and couldn't decide among the three of them -- so here they all are:


Excellent example of the early use of the current style Cubs logo


Posed? Or not? Is there a ball in that glove?


Now THAT is a bat!

Photos all appear to have been taken in 1910, as that is the only uniform style that precisely matches the photos. That's also the road uniform, according to that link.

Profile by BCB reader Ross

One thing is certain regarding Cubs catcher Johnny Kling. That is that he was one of the best catchers of the dead ball era and perhaps the entire 20th century. But Kling is at the center of another great debate. Was he, or was he not the first great Jewish baseball player?

Kling made his debut on September 11, 1900 as a 24-year old, going 3-for-4 in the second game of a double-header with the New York Giants that was tied after nine innings at 3-3. He made an impact the next day when he was involved in a home plate collision with Giants pitcher Win Mercer, with Mercer being carried off of the field unconscious.

Nicknamed "Noisy" for his constant chatter and known for his outstanding defense and throwing ability behind the plate, he was a key component of the Cubs' pennant winning squads in 1906, 1907, 1908 and 1910. He helped the Cubs to the World Championship in '07 and '08 as the Cubs toppled the Tigers. In his career he batted .271 with a .318 on base percentage and .357 slugging percentage. He hit 20 career home runs, a respectable number for the era. His career total of 1,546 assists in his career has never been equaled. Teammate Ed Reulbach called him "One of the greatest catchers who ever wore a mask."

Offensively he wasn't much in the postseason, batting just .185 in World Series games. However, his defense was critical in the 1907 Fall Classic, as he had a 50% success rate in throwing out runners against the Tigers, completely shutting down Ty Cobb who had led the league in stolen bases.

Kling missed the 1909 season, but the reason is in dispute. Some say he sat out the year in a salary holdout, while others say he missed the year with permission of the Cubs because in the winter of 1908 he won the World Pocket Billiard Championship and chose to defend that title and oversee the management of his billiards hall. In the meantime, he played for a semi-pro team. Regardless of the reason for his absence, he returned to the Cubs in 1910, having been fined $700 by the National Baseball Commission (the forerunner to the commissioner's office) and was forced to play the season at his 1908 salary of $4,500. He was widely considered baseball's first holdout.

He also saw his playing time diminished, splitting time with Jimmy Archer. By 1911 he was a reserve and on June 10, 1911 he was traded along with P Orlie Weaver, P Hank Griffin and OF Al Kaiser to the Boston Rustlers for C Peaches Graham, P Cliff Curtis, P Wilbur "Lefty" Good and OF Bill Collins.

Kling got a shot as player-manager with then renamed Braves in 1912, but didn't have much success as the team posted a pitiful 52-101 record. He suffered perhaps the worst indignation in May of 1913, when he was dealt by the Boston Braves to the Cincinnati Reds for utilityman Tex McDonald. He was out of the majors by the end of the season.

He settled down in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, and made headlines in 1933 when he purchased the Kansas City Monarchs and immediately acted to desegregate the ballpark. For the first time in the United States, blacks and whites were permitted to sit next to one another at the ballpark.

The debate over Kling's ethnic heritage continues to this day. In his biography of Hank Greenberg, Ira Berkow, wrote "Johnny Kling . . . was of part Jewish blood and for many years was placed at the top of the list by Hebrew fans. Were Johnny of full Jewish blood, I would rank him next to Greenberg among the foremost Jewish players of all time. . . . He was a . . . great catcher."

A 2006 biography of the man, "Johnny Kling: A Baseball Biography" written by SABR member Gil Bogen with the assistance of Kling's grandson John, details that Kling was thought to be Jewish throughout his career, but that his wife, Lillian, went to great lengths to refute that idea that after his death on January 31, 1947. She wrote to baseball historian Lee Allen on two separate occasions saying in 1948 that Kling was baptized as Baptist, then writing in 1969 that he was baptized as a Lutheran. Bogen's reasoning for this action is that Lillian Kling feared that anti-Semitism would keep her husband out of the Hall of Fame. Bogen and the younger Kling have appealed to current Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to have the aforementioned Baseball Commission's decision overturned, which they hope will pave the way for him to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Still another group of researchers in Kansas City are using genealogical research to look in to whether or not Kling was Jewish. Despite having interviews with family members and a great deal of historical research, their missives seem disjointed and often contradict themselves. This group does also theorize that Kling's absence from the Hall of Fame could be, in part, due to alleged business dealings with gamblers and the mob during his post-baseball career.

Regardless of how he might or might not have worshipped, it is clear that Kling was one of the top backstops of his era, and that a reasonable case can be made that he deserves a long look for enshrinement at Cooperstown.

Johnny Kling's career stats at baseball-reference.com

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