A 20-game-winning, power-hitting pitcher in the National League at the end of the nineteenth century who starred on a pennant winner, Fred Klobedanz had a brief but impactful major-league career bookended by sensational stints with several New England League squads.
A newspaper profile published near the end of his time in the majors provides a balanced portrayal of his pitching: “He does not at first impress one as being … very wonderful … but his delivery is more deceptive than it appears, and his effectiveness is due to his excellent command and his curve ball. He is … a fair … easy going sort of pitcher, and he has a knack of getting away … without being too severely punished.”1
Born on June 13, 1871, to Siegmund and Charlotte (Klinzman) Klobedanz2 and raised in Waterbury, Connecticut Klobedanz attended public school and played semipro ball from 1889 to 1891 before debuting with Portland of the New England League in 1892.3 He got off to a fast start with his Maine team with shutouts on May 274 and June 2, the latter by a remarkable 31-0 score.5
In 1893 Klobedanz wanted more. More run support? No. Klobedanz and three teammates wanted their salaries paid up front rather than in arrears. If the players did not get paid, then they would not travel to their next game. An investigation ensued, Portland’s management deemed Klobedanz the lead conspirator, “and it was decided to make an example of him by imposing a fine and suspension.”6
This imbroglio ended Klobedanz’s two years in Portland. He stayed in Maine, pitched one game for Lewiston of the New England League, and remained with that team for a brief time without pitching again because of the suspension imposed by Portland.7 Moving south, Klobedanz spent the remainder of the season with Dover, New Hampshire, to complete an 1893 campaign in which he hurled for half of the New England League’s six squads.
Home in Waterbury in 1894, Klobedanz faced his future team, the Boston Beaneaters, in a preseason game. He filled the box score. Klobedanz gave up 10 hits, walked 11, and threw four wild pitches. Batting fifth, he doubled and tripled. Ten Waterbury errors meant that Klobedanz yielded only four earned runs in a 17-6 defeat.8
The New England League expanded to eight teams in 1894, and Klobedanz joined a Massachusetts entry for the first time by playing for the Fall River Indians, where he swung a hot bat with a .325 average and 12 homers by mid-August.9
Klobedanz expanded his Fall River family in 1895. Brother William, a fellow pitcher, tried out for the Indians,10 and Fred married Annie L. Durfee of Fall River on June 24.11 Klobedanz enjoyed another stellar season. “In 1895 Klobedanz pitched against the St. Louis team at Fall River, and his work so impressed [St. Louis first baseman] Roger Connor that he offered a round figure for his release, but Fred refused to leave the city.”12 Late in the season before a game in which Klobedanz played first base and hit cleanup, he received “a handsome ebony bat, mounted with silver, by the Butchers and Grocers’ Association … for leading the batting list.”13 Klobedanz finished 1895 with a 28-9 record and a .377 batting average.14
Ten games into the 1896 NL season, Klobedanz again faced Boston. This time, his pitching impressed the Beaneaters. Klobedanz gave up three runs (two earned) in the second inning as Fall River won 4-3. “The big left hand twirler’s great speed, curves and nice command, allowed the hard hitters of the National League only six hits, three being made in the first three innings,” the Boston Globe noted.15 Future Hall of Famers Billy Hamilton and Hugh Duffy graced the Boston outfield that day; with Nap Lajoie, Fall River had a future Cooperstown immortal in the lineup as well.
Klobedanz again performed at a high level for Fall River in 1896. On the hill, he went 25-6, a record boosted by a 14-game winning streak.16 He batted .353 and slugged .600. Boston bought Klobedanz for $1,200, an impressive price considering that a fortnight earlier Lajoie and another player had gone to Philadelphia for $1,500.17
Klobedanz had a promising rookie year, both hitting and pitching. On September 2 he had five hits and gave up only six as Boston battered St. Louis 18-3 in the first game of a doubleheader.18 On September 12 he became the first pitcher ever to yield a grand slam and then hit a go-ahead homer in the following half-inning, a feat matched as of 2018 only by Hal Jeffcoat and Madison Bumgarner.19 Playing in 11 games with the Beaneaters, Klobedanz went 6-4 with a 3.01 ERA. He homered twice and slugged .488, a figure that, although achieved in limited action, topped the team.
Klobedanz had his biggest year in 1897, when he went 26-7. His .788 winning percentage led the National League. Boston went 93-39 to finish first. Kid Nichols, Jimmy Collins, Hamilton, and Duffy led the team in Wins Above Replacement, no surprise given that all four went on to the Hall of Fame. Klobedanz finished fifth in his first full big-league season, a campaign that started bumpily both on and off the field, but finished triumphantly.
The Globe’s baseball writer Tim Murnane had great fun with the wild “Kloby” in 1897. In April Murnane recounted, “Klobedanz was not in his best form and found more trouble in locating the rubber plate at times than a woman has in fixing her first baby for a photograph.”20 In May Murnane reported, “‘Kloby’ was of no more account than a muzzled telephone. The home plate was charmed and the Boston pitcher worked like a song and dance man to get the ball over now and then, but it wouldn’t go. Think of nine base on balls and two men hit with pitched balls in less than six innings; this was ‘Kloby’s’ record.”21 Indeed, Klobedanz walked 125 in 1897, tied with fellow Beaneater Ted Lewis for the sixth most in the NL. Kloby hit 23 batters, the fourth most in the league.
Playing a weak hand poorly, Klobedanz after the nine-walk game went on strike for the second time in his young professional career. Facing an arduous road trip to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Louisville, and Cincinnati, Klobedanz declined to go. “It so happened that he needed $75 in addition to what he had already drawn, and the club would not give it. … ‘Kloby’ felt that he was justified in asking for the money, as he had signed for a very small figure – $200 per month.”22
In response, Boston President Arthur Soden stated, “We have treated Klobedanz liberally, and propose to continue to do so. It may be that he will think better of his determination. Of course, this sulking and refusing to go on the trip … is a very serious matter. … I expect him to think it over and cool off, and see that he has made a mistake.”23
Soden’s supposition proved correct. Klobedanz rejoined the team in Pittsburgh, asking “to be put in at once in order that he could show … that he was a pitcher, even if he did sulk on a question of salary once in awhile,”24 and threw a four-hitter as the Beaneaters won 3-1.
Klobedanz spurred the Boston stretch drive. In August against New York, he “pitched one of the best games of his career,” according to Murnane. “He was steady, giving but one base on balls and holding the hard-hitting visitors down to two single hits.”25 On September 30, with Boston holding a 1½-game lead over Baltimore with two games to go, Klobedanz pitched the clincher in a 12-3 win over Brooklyn.26
Just two months after his greatest year, Klobedanz again faced financial woes. “It was hoped by Kloby’s friends that he would be in shape to hold out for a fair salary this season, but it looks like the same old story – short of funds and a hurry for advance money by taking a salary that he would kick at when the performance was under way next season,” Sporting Life noted.27
Weeks later, Klobedanz, working at a Fall River bowling alley, signed a contract for the 1898 season that contained “a substantial raise,”28 an anonymous characterization that could have come from Soden.
Klobedanz had better numbers nearly across the board in 1898 than he did in 1897 and finished his second and final full major-league season with a still good but less standout 19-10 record. His four-hitter at New York on July 5 failed to impress a denizen of the press box, who wrote that Klobedanz “did not seem to have … too much speed, nor did his curves appear very deceptive. From a seat behind the plate, the ball looked easy enough to hit.”29
In 1899 Klobedanz won just one game in five starts before the Beaneaters dropped him. “Kloby was pitching fairly good ball, but was slow in fielding his position, and found much trouble in keeping in condition,” the Globe wrote.30 In a profile of Klobedanz, SABR member Bob Richardson wrote, “[He] was clumsy afield; his slow delivery made him easy prey for base stealers and tighter enforcement of the balk rule cramped his style.”31 Klobedanz also had an injury. “The player said he would probably go to Fall River and rest for a week or 10 days, and have a doctor treat his arm. He had a talk with manager [John] McGraw, and may consider an offer from Baltimore,” the Globe said.32
Other teams talked up Klobedanz. In spite of reports that he would join Hartford of the Eastern League33 or Chicago of the National League,34 or find a place in the future American League,35 none of these possibilities came true, perhaps because Klobedanz had run “afoul a labor union while working as a scene shifter, during the offseason, at the Park Theater [in Boston]. He acquired a reputation as a strikebreaker and was literally hounded from the field.”36 For whatever reason, Klobedanz drifted to Worcester of the Eastern League, where he went 55-40 from 1899 through 1901.
Returning to the New England League in 1902, Klobedanz began the first of three seasons with Lawrence, where he went 55-46 from 1902 through 1904. Pitching against inferior competition, Klobedanz had statistics surprisingly similar to those of his breakout Boston season:
Klobedanz attracted the attention of his former team while pitching in Lawrence, a city about 30 miles north of Boston. The 1902 Beaneaters had a top-heavy staff. Vic Willis, who would end up in Cooperstown, went 27-20 and threw 410 innings. Togie Pittinger also won 27, pitching 389⅓ innings. No other pitcher had a winning record for Boston save for an old-timer who made a cameo after more than one month of rumors about his return.37
On September 5 Klobedanz returned to Boston to face Pittsburgh, by far the best team in the 1902 National League, in the second half of a doubleheader. In a darkness-shortened game that got so out of hand that Honus Wagner made the second and final pitching appearance of his career, Klobedanz led the Beaneaters to a 12-1 rout. Besides giving up just one run, he went 1-for-2 with a double and a walk. Murnane praised Klobedanz for “making chicken feed out of the league champions”38 in his final major-league game.
Klobedanz should have pitched for Boston again. After the doubleheader on September 5, the Beaneaters had twin bills against the Cardinals on September 10 and 11. Pegged to pitch against St. Louis, “he failed to show up.”39
For the third time, Klobedanz joined a minor-league team for three seasons, pitching for New Bedford from 1905 to 1907, when he went 30-18. After his first year, Klobedanz made front-page news after a fireman rescued him and three others from a burning New Bedford hotel.40
In 1906 Klobedanz again had a contract snafu. Baseball’s top echelons fined New Bedford $500 and discounted the results of a game against Lowell for playing Kloby in spite of a suspension against him for having played with an independent team.41 The suspension seems to have lasted about 10 days, and Klobedanz resumed play pending an appeal.42
Klobedanz joined his seventh and final New England League team in 1908, when he went 0-3 with Brockton before the club released him on June 15.43
Kloby’s legend outlasted his career. According to Sporting Life, “Klobedanz received a letter the other day which was written by Christy Mathewson, in which the famous pitcher asked if the records were true that once Larry Lajoie, king of the batters, was struck out four times in a nine-inning game by Klobedanz. ‘It was when I was a member of the Bostons,’ said Klobedanz when he finished reading the letter. ‘Larry was then playing on the Philadelphia Nationals, together with Ed Delahanty. I was working in good shape that day and fanned Lajoie four times. … Every strikeout was the result of three healthy swings at the ball.’”44
A longer-lasting tale concerns a homer Klobedanz hit in an exhibition game, a story that made the Boston papers in both 1922 and 1937, long after his playing days had concluded. Not surprisingly, the second version, in the Globe, spins the more colorful yarn: “Gene Moore’s … home run … the other day reminds the writer of a hit Fred Klobedanz made at the South End grounds in the late ’90s. Fred lifted the ball so high and so far over the 25-cent seats in right field that the Boston and Providence players … dropped upon the ground in much amazement.”45
At the age of 68 in 1940, Klobedanz died of cancer in Waterbury, his birthplace, where he had worked as a hotel clerk.46 His tale serves as a microcosm of players from his era as opposed to today. Pitchers could hit, play other positions, and bat in spots other than last in the order. Neither clubs nor players regarded contracts as sacrosanct. The differences between the majors and minors, in terms of both pay and prestige, did not seem as wide as they do today. Kloby played a boy’s game like a boy, following his whims up and down the professional ladder and back again rather than proceeding in a conventionally responsible fashion. Not the most reliable teammate, Fred Klobedanz stayed true to his own sense of priorities in carving out a uniquely interesting baseball career.
1 “Frederick A. Klobedanz,” New York Clipper, May 20, 1899.
2 The 1880 US Census reveals that the Klobedanz family came from Germany, where the father, Siegmund, was born in 1841, Charlotte in 1842, and their son Siegmund in 1866. Fred’s father worked in cigar manufacturing. Fred’s younger siblings (Willie, Charlie, and Emma), like him, were all born in Connecticut.
3 Joseph Anderson, Sara Johnson Prichard, and Anna Lydia Ward, The Town and City of Waterbury, Connecticut, Volume 3 (New Haven: Price & Lee Company, 1896), 1106. Baseball Reference does not have data for Klobedanz prior to 1893 although the Boston Globe has game stories and box scores featuring him.
4 “McGuire’s Wildness,” Boston Globe, May 28, 1892: 5.
5 “Charge It to Smith,” Boston Globe, June 3, 1892: 5.
6 “Big July 4 Attendance,” Boston Globe, July 6, 1893: 5.
7 “Base-Ball Notes,” Boston Globe, July 18, 1893: 2.
8 “Lampe Was Hit Freely,” Boston Globe, April 10, 1894: 2.
9 “New England League Stars,” Boston Globe, August 20, 1894: 2.
10 “Fall River Facts,” Sporting Life, March 16, 1895: 8. Klobedanz’s Charles pitched for the Waterbury Rough Riders in 1899, and for Derby in 1899 and 1900. “Connecticut League,” Sporting Life, August 26, 1899: 9. Fred’s sister had an unfortunate baseball connection involving George Prentiss, a Waterbury teammate of Charles. In 1899 Prentiss “was charged with bastardy – impregnating a woman out of wedlock – and [sought to get] out of the trouble [by marrying] the local woman involved: Boston Beaneaters pitcher Fred Klobedanz’s 20-year-old sister, Emma. It appears … Emma had been a baseball fan … but it is unclear whether the two had met before … the season opener. As the Bridgeport Herald put it, ‘It was after the first game that the alleged act making her a mother took place.’ After consulting … a saloon keeper and co-owner of the Waterbury team, Prentiss decided to consent to the forced marriage, despite his being engaged to a woman back in Wilmington. … The husband and wife then went their separate ways: Prentiss back to his room downtown and she back to her parents’ home on James Street. Emma filed divorce papers the following week.” David Forrester, “George Prentiss,” sabr.org/bioproj/person/a3bd6618 (accessed August 2, 2017).
11 Anderson, Prichard, and Ward, 1107.
12 George V. Tuohey, A History of the Boston Baseball Club (Boston: Miller Press, 1897), 166.
13 “Fall River Wins Again,” Boston Globe, September 25, 1895: 3.
14 “Klobedanz Signed by Boston,” Boston Globe, August 16, 1896: 4.
15 “That Stop over,” Boston Globe, April 30, 1896: 5.
16 “The Deal Made,” The Sporting News, August 22, 1896: 1.
17 “Hub Happenings,” Sporting Life, August 22, 1896: 10. A more recent source asserts that Boston actually paid only $1,000 for Klobedanz. David L. Fleitz, Napoleon Lajoie: King of Ballplayers (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2013), 15. The August 16 Globe article on his signing said Boston offered $1,000 but the Fall River manager held out for $1,200.
18 T.H. Murnane, “Full of Batting,” Boston Globe, September 3, 1896: 3.
19 “San Francisco Giants 2016 Game Notes,” sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/documents/9/9/8/196503998/8.19.16_vs._NYM_bdhibyq8.pdf (accessed August 2, 2017).
20 T.H. Murnane, “First Victory,” Boston Globe, April 29, 1897: 3.
21 T.H. Murnane, “Klobedanz Wild,” Boston Globe, May 9, 1897: 6.
22 “Hub Happenings,” Sporting Life, May 22, 1897: 9.
23 “Boston Player on a Strike,” New York Times, May 11, 1897.
24 “Sulks No More,” Boston Globe, May 13, 1897: 4.
25 T.H. Murnane, “Single Score,” Boston Globe, August 11, 1897: 1.
26 “Bostons Win the Pennant,” New York Times, October 1, 1897.
27 “Shiftless Klobedanz,” Sporting Life, December 11, 1897: 4.
28 “Two Have Signed,” Boston Globe, December 25, 1897: 3. Klobedanz had interesting offseason jobs. After the 1900 campaign, he worked for his father-in-law’s draying business in Fall River. Draying involves driving a cart to haul goods. “Hub Happenings,” Sporting Life, January 5, 1901: 6. He also refereed roller polo, a forerunner of roller hockey, after the 1903 season. “Roller Polo Notes,” Boston Globe, December 4, 1903: 8. A recent account also says he did “winter carpentry for the teams he played for.” William A. Moniz, “How a City Found Passion on Diamond,” southcoasttoday.com/article/20150803/SPECIAL/150809992 (accessed August 2, 2017).
29 “On the Baseball Field,” New York Times, July 6, 1898.
30 “Killen to Pitch for Boston,” Boston Globe, May 12, 1899: 5.
31 Bob Richardson, “Frederick Augustus Klobedanz,” in Nineteenth Century Stars (Kansas City, Missouri: Society for American Baseball Research, 1989), 73.
32 “Baseball Notes,” Boston Globe, May 13, 1899: 4.
33 “Eastern League Results,” Boston Globe, May 21, 1899: 4.
34 “Klobedanz to Chicago,” Boston Globe, August 3, 1899: 7. Klobedanz signed a contract with Chicago but failed to report to the team. “Chicago Signs a New Pitcher,” Boston Globe, August 7, 1899: 5.
35 “Rival Looms Up,” Boston Globe, November 12, 1899: 22.
36 Harold Kaese, The Boston Braves, 1871-1953 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004), 98.
37 “Echoes of the Game,” Boston Globe, August 1, 1902: 8.
38 T.H. Murnane, “Lose and Win,” Boston Globe, September 6, 1902: 5.
39 Jacob C. Morse, “Boston Briefs,” Sporting Life, September 20, 1902: 4.
40 “Klobedanz Is Rescued,” Boston Globe, November 22, 1905: 1.
41 “Game Thrown out,” Boston Globe, April 29, 1906: 13.
42 “‘Kloby’ Gets His Chance,” Boston Globe, May 9, 1906: 4. Tim Murnane, the president of the New England League who allowed Klobedanz to resume playing, performed dual roles in both covering baseball in Boston and likely penning these unbylined articles on the case (see also “Klobedanz May Play,” Boston Globe, May 9, 1906: 4).
43 “Pitcher Klobedanz Released,” Boston Globe, June 16, 1908: 4.
44 “Klobedanz’s Feat,” Sporting Life, July 13, 1907: 9. Although the author believed this anecdote appeared apocryphal, the fact-checker of this article, SABR member Bob LeMoine, found an account of such a game in T.H. Murnane, “Two Victories Each,” Boston Globe, May 5, 1897: 5. Thanks to LeMoine for the tip.
45 Sportsman, “Live Tips and Topics,” Boston Globe, September 10, 1937: 26.
46 David Nemec, Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 1: The Ballplayers Who Built the Game (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), 110.