Bill Klem

Bill Klem is believed to be the “The Father of Modern Baseball Umpires”. William Joseph Klimm was born February 22, 1874 in Rochester, New York. His name was changed to Klem later in his life.

The year was 1902 and Bill Klem, 28 years old, began his professional umpiring career in the Connecticut State League. In 1903 he found himself in the New York State League. Klem worked for the American Association umpiring the 1904 baseball season. In 1905 he was hired by the National League (MLB). 

Bill worked the most World Series of any umpire in his era, a record 18 from 1908 to 1940. At that time no other umpire worked more than 10 World Series. In those days there were only 8 teams in each of the MLB leagues. Of the sixteen teams all but one team did not appear in the World Series. (St. Louis Browns) The Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies were the only teams that did not win a World Title while Klem officiated. During his lifetime the Detroit Tigers did not win either. He was picked to officiate the 1933 and 1938 All Star Games. In his career as a MLB umpire he ejected 251 participants, which is a record. He worked the plate for 5 no-hitters, which is a NL record tied now by Harry Wendelstedt. In September 1924 he was the umpire-in-chief when the St. Louis Cardinals had a record 12 runs batted in (RBI’s) by Cards Jim Bottomley. The “Old Arbitrator” was one of his nicknames, which was his favorite from the players. His appearance had some players calling him “Catfish”, which he did not like at all and ejected players for using it. One player drew a picture of a catfish in the dirt. When caught by Klem, the player was ejected. One day as he dusted off the plate, he found a picture of a catfish under the dirt placed there by catcher, Al Lopez. The picture showed a play that Lopez was called out which Klem had missed. Of course, Lopez was ejected.   

Bill Klem, the father of baseball umpires, had a record career of 37 years of service. Bruce Froemming tied the record in 2007. Klem umpired to the age of 67 and that was broken by Froemming also. He was known for his good judgment on the field, great skills, professionalism and bringing dignity to the umpire profession. He was a much respected umpire. Bill was the first umpire to use hand signals and arm signals when working the plate. The first inside the shirt chest protector that is the standard for umpires today was initiated by him. He worked hard to have the inside chest protector for umpires accepted by the National League. Bill was the first umpire to stand in the slot position which is to the left or right of the catcher, depending on the batter’s position. He was the last of the true umpires-in-chief to work only the plate every game. In the early years it was a tradition that the umpire-in-chief worked the plate for all games. Today the umpire crews rotate around the bases and plate and have an assigned umpire-in-chief or crew leader.

In 1953 William Klem was inducted into The Baseball Hall of Fame. Bill was elected to the Hall by the Veterans Committee. He and umpire Tom Connolly were inducted that year. Both umpires worked in five different decades. Bill Klem passed away on September 16, 1951 at age 77 in Miami, Florida.



Famous Quotes by Bill Klem

1.  Pointing to his heart “I never missed one in here.”

2.  “An angry player can’t argue with the back of an umpire walking away.”

3.  “Baseball is more than a game to me, it’s a religion.”

4.  “Fix your eye on the ball from the moment the pitcher holds it in his glove. Follow it as he throws to the plate and stay with it until the play is completed. Action takes place only where the ball goes.”

5.  After being showed a picture of a blown call – “Gentlemen, he was out because I said he was out.”

6.  “It ain’t nothing till I call it.”

7. “That guy in a twenty-five cent bleacher seat is as much entitled to know a call as the guy in the boxes. He can see my arm signal even if he can’t hear my voice.”

8.  “The best umpired game is the game in which the fans cannot recall the umpires who worked it.”

9.  “The most cowardly thing in the word is blaming mistakes upon the umpires. Too many managers strut around on the field trying to manage the umpires instead of their teams.

10.  “There are one-hundred fifty-four games in a season and you can find one-hundred fifty-four reasons why your team should have won every one of them.”

11.  “Your job is to umpire the ballgame, not the players.”



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