A century after he was a standout major league baseball catcher, Johnny Kling has been bypassed by the national pastime.
When the Veterans Committee of baseball’s Hall of Fame made its last choices for long-retired players, in 2001, Kling did not make the cut. When Jewish Major Leaguers issued its initial set of Jewish baseball cards in 2003, and an updated version earlier this year, Kling wasn’t there.
Was it because Kling, who died at 71 in 1947, was too Jewish, or not Jewish enough?
Gil Bogen says it’s both.
Bogen, a retired Chicago psychiatrist, is the author of the recently published “Johnny Kling: A Baseball Biography” (McFarland & Company). A lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, Bogen maintains that Kling, the hub of the 1906-10 Cubs, “deserves to be recognized as the first Jewish baseball star. Not Greenberg.”
Greenberg, of course, is Hank Greenberg, home run-hitting star of the Detroit Tigers who made the Hall in 1956.On the eve of the 2006 All-Star Game, to be played Tuesday in Pittsburgh, the thoughts of sports fans turn to baseball — and in the case of Jewish fans, to players’ ethnic background.Kling, a Kansas City native whose nickname to teammates was “the Jew,” was recognized as a Jewish player, identified in newspaper stories as speaking Yiddish and being married in a synagogue, Bogen says. “No record was found showing that Kling ever denied any of this,” he writes.
But over the last 30 years Kling, who did not play in 1909 because of an alleged salary dispute, has disappeared from the Jewish radar screen. Bogen says it’s because Kling’s widow, the late Lillian, fearing that anti-Semitism may have cost her late husband’s Hall of Fame votes, started claiming that Kling had become a baptized Christian.
Lillian Kling tried to rewrite history, Bogen says. Her claims have raised doubts among some experts, including the folks at Jewish Major Leaguers (jewishmajorleaguers.org).
According to a Hall of Fame spokesman, Kling is on a long list of 200 names to be considered when the Veterans Committee votes on new inductees next year.
But there is immediate good news for Jewish fans. Hank Greenberg is among four former players to be honored on “Baseball Sluggers” stamps to be issued July 15 by the U.S. Postal Service.