Nearly every baseball fan knows the fabled double play triumvirate of Tinker to Evers to Chance, but how many know who the catcher for the Chicago Cubs during their reign was? For most of the games that shortstop Tinker, second baseman Evers, and first baseman Chance were together as Cubs, their catcher was a man named Johnny Kling.
Kling’s first full year as catcher for the Cubs, then known as the Orphans, was 1902. In the previous year, 1901, he split time with Mike Kahoe who had come over from the Reds.
Once the job was all his, Kling demonstrated his value behind the plate by posting a WAR over 2.0 six times in his 11-year Cubs career and better than 4.0 in four of those years. Remarkably durable, he caught an average of 95 games a year as a Cub. In 1903 he caught 132 of the team’s 139 games.
Slightly built at 5’ 9 1/2” and 160 pounds, Kling probably took a beating behind the dish and yet he routinely led the league in put-outs, assists and a critical stat: ‘runners thrown out trying to steal’. Back in the ‘dead ball’ era, runners attempted a lot more steals than they do today. While we don’t have exact stats, it is estimated that Kling threw out 113 runners in 1902. Most years he averaged more than 50 percent of the would-be felons thrown out, putting him among the league’s best.
Chicago Cubs: Johnny Kling was more than just a ball player
A talented athlete, Kling also won a national billiards championship and left baseball for one year to become a professional billiards player in 1909. Unfortunately, he lost the championship and returned to catch for the Cubs in 1910.
Kling was traded from the Cubs to Boston in 1911. He played two more years and retired after 1913 at the age of 37.
He was a solid presence behind the plate for several very successful Cubs teams and deserves recognition as a great Cubs catcher.