July 20 – Happy Birthday Red Kleinow
When Hall of Famer Bill Dickey began his sixth consecutive season as the Yankees’ starting catcher in 1934 he broke the 25-year-old record for most consecutive years starting for New York at that position, which was set by today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. John Peter Kleinow, better known as Red, was born in Milwaukee on this date in 1877. He played baseball in college and then the minor leagues before signing with the Highlanders in 1904. During his first season in New York, he was the team’s back-up backstop to Deacon McGuire. He took over as starter the following year and maintained that status through the 1909 season.
Never a good hitter, Kleinow was instead considered to be an excellent defensive catcher. His lifetime percentage for throwing out base runners attempting to steal was an impressive 44%. But it was a pitch that got over Kleinow’s head in his rookie season that cost New York a shot at the franchise’s first pennant in 1904. Trailing Boston by a game and a half with just two to play, New York’s 41-game winner, Jack Chesbro was pitching against the first place team in the eighth inning of a 2-2 tie game. Chesbro threw one of the dirtiest baseballs in the game and in the later innings, when the sun was low in the sky and shadows covered the Hilltopper Park pitching mound, it was next to impossible for a hitter or catcher to pick up the flight of a “Happy Jack” doctored baseball. With a runner on third, Chesbro let loose a spitball that the hitter never saw. Unfortunately, neither did Kleinow. As the ball sailed over the catcher’s head, the runner on third scampered safely home and Boston won the game and clinched the pennant.
In 1910, Red became a Red Sox when Boston purchased his contract from New York. But by then, the wear and tear on Kleinow’s legs from all those years of catching had caught up with him and he was out of the big leagues after 1911. His batting average during his seven years with New York was only .219 and he drove in an average of just 17 runs per season. He must have been a defensive wizard!
Red shares his July 20th birthday with this pitcher the Yankees acquired in a trade for Dave Winfield. Today is also the 43rd anniversary of Man’s first steps on the Moon which also means it is my oldest brother’s birthday. Happy birthday Big J.