Thursday, March 6, 2008

Kiljoy Klem

Born William Joseph Klimm on 2/22/1874. Died on 9/16/1951.

Known as "Father of Baseball umpires," as he was a major league umpire in the National League from 1905-1941. He had the longest career of any major league umpire at 37 years until Bruce Froemming, lead Attitude-in-need-of-adjustment of the current major leauge umpries, tied him. Klemm was also the oldest man to umpire until Froemming surpassed that as well. Froemming must have modeled his career after the zero tolerance, no-nonsense, sense of humor lacking Klem, as the similarities from this fan's perspective are frightening.

But Klem didn't rub many people-aside from the players- wrong, as he was widely respected for bringing dignity and professionalism to umpiring, as well as his high skill and good judgment. Klem was also an innovative umpire as he used arm signals while working behind the plate and was one of the first umpires to wear a modern, somewhat pliable chest protector inside his shirt- a move which he successfully campaigned to have adopted throughout the National League. (Jack Sheridan was the crossword answer, in the USA Today/Sports Weekly, for inventor of inside protector and yet he got no credit from Wikipedia and yet Klem gets some acclaim. What gives?)

Klem was the last umpire to routinely work the plate in all games. (Traditionally the crew chief always worked the plate; today, umpire crews rotate from home-to third, to second then first.) Klem called balls and strikes in 5 no-hitters, a National League record that was later tied by Harry Wendelstedt (Hunter's dad). (Of course, Giants' fans remember Wendelstedt as the umpire who declared that Dick Dietz had not made an attempt to get out of the way of a Don Drysdale pitch, thus extending Drysdale's consecutive scoreless innings streak. Nowadays, many batters look to make no effort to get out of the way and yet are awarded first base. Which makes the Wendelstedt call the worst in baseball history.)

Klem was the home plate umpire on September 16, 1924, when Jim Bottomley, of the St. Louis Cardinals, had a record 12 runs batted in.

He had a number of nicknames (some probably not fit for print) but his favorite was "the Old Arbitrator."
His jowly appearance also led some players to call him "Catfish." Klem despised the latter name and was notorious for ejecting players whom he caught using it. One particular incident involved a player who Klem ejected after he caught the player drawing a picture of a catfish with his foot in the infield dirt. (Now, to me, that sounds hillarious but the uptight Klem saw this as a reason to dismiss the character whose foot etched what he thought was a likeness of Klem.)

Bill Klemm also dismissed catcher Al Lopez from a game after Lopez pasted a photo he clipped from a newspaper onto home plate, which showed Klem clearly blowing a call involving Lopez. The catcher had covered the plate with dirt and waited for Klem to dust off the dish before he got the heave ho. (Again, funny stuff, but not to kiljoy Klemm.)

Kevin Marquez