Happy Birthday, Billy Klusman!

Billy Klusman was a powerfully built second baseman whose arm troubles cost him a major league career.

William Klusman was born 24 March 1865 in Cincinnati, OH to Henry and Maria Klusman.  Henry was a laborer born in Prussia while Maria was from Hanover, Germany.  William was the oldest of five kids, though not long after 1880, he and his brother Henry took on labor jobs as his father came down with tuberculosis.  (The younger Henry died at an even younger age, passing away at home in 1889 – just 22 years old.)

“Voss was pounded for a total of twenty-four bases, and nothing but the brilliant fielding of Klusman kept the score that low.”

“Leadville Left”, Topeka Weekly Capital and Farmer’s Journal, 05 August 1886, Page 5.

Billy was first listed as a semi-professional player in 1884 playing for the Buckeyes, Shamrocks, and a team from Dayton, where he played the 1885 season as a second baseman.  In 1886 he took a professional position with a team in Leadville, Colorado.  That team, however, ran out of money and for some reason failed to liquidate whatever assets they had, stranding players on a road trip with no paid salary after September 1.

“…Klusman will be one of the league’s great basemen in time. He not only fielded accurately, but was the only man who slugged the ball.”

“Shut Out.”, New Orleans Daily Picayune, 19 April 1887, Page 8.

In 1887,  Klusman headed south to Mobile and later New Orleans in the Southern League before heading back north to play for a very good minor league team in Manchester, NH.  There, Klusman earned notice when he hit a game-winning home run to beat the Boston National League team in an April, 1888 exhibition game.  This put Klusman on Boston’s radar and when June rolled around and they needed a new second baseman, Klusman was signed and given a chance to play.  Nervous on his first day, 21 June 1888, Boston earned a win over the New York Giants.  The Globe summarized his first game this way:

“He is a clean-cut looking fellow, about 5 feet 8 inches tall, and weighs perhaps 170 pounds. He is built well and looks like a game, determined boy, who would not desert a sinking ship if his services were needed on deck. He did nothing wonderful in yesterday’s game. He was apparently nervous and acted as though a bit afraid of the fast company which he is in. This nervous feeling certainly excuses the poor showing which he made at the bat. Considering everything, he did good, honest work in the field. Nothing better of him can be said than what Mike Kelly expressed at the conclusion of the game. He said: ‘Klusman was nervous going in and certainly had a reason to be. He had a very bad thumb and was therefore unfit for good ball. He handles a ball quickly, and picks it up in first class shape. His running catch proved that he may be a fine fly catcher. The only time that he hit the ball he ran hard to first without turning to see where it went. That is commendable. In this run he showed lots of speed and grit. I like his playing personally, and judging from today’s game he will get along.'”

“Giants Lose.”, Boston Globe, 22 June 1888, Page 3.

It took a few weeks, but his hitting finally came around, including a two homer game in a loss to Detroit.  And while he was a bit error prone, Klusman was likely going to stay when he first injured his throwing arm – and it was significant enough that Klusman was released in August.

Klusman first played for St. Joseph in the Western Association in 1889 but weeks into the season he was sold to Milwaukee.  Before long, however, his arm failed a second time.  Quickly, he signed to play second base for Denver in the Western Association, and a month later he was playing for a third Western Association team: Des Moines.  That team, like Leadville, ran out of money and for the second straight August, he was released.

In 1890, he got a tryout with St. Louis of the American Association, who had lost a number of players to the Players League.  There, Klusman hit pretty well (.277 with power and 11 RBI in 15 games) – and then his arm gave out again.  He was released and signed by Mansfield in the Tri-State League.  Now, no longer a second baseman, he was playing first base – which would be his home for the rest of his minor league nomadic career.

And he was a nomad.  After Mansfield, he played in Birmingham and then Savannah in the Southern League.  When the 1893 season ended, he was home in Cincinnati when he was asked to umpire the last National League game of the season between Washington and Cincinnati.  Washington never showed up for the game, so Klusman declared the game a forfeit in favor of his hometown city.

For the next three seasons, Bill Klusman became Big Bill Klusman, the captain and first baseman of Kansas City’s team in the Western Association because, well, Bill was no longer 185 pounds.  He had a rough finish in 1896 and was released.  When he returned to the Western Association, playing for St. Joseph, in 1897, the Kansas City writers noticed that Klusman looked different.

“‘Bill’ Klusman never looked in finer fettle in his life than he does to-day. He has lost about twenty pounds in weight since last season.”

“Baseball Notes.”, Kansas City Journal, 26 March 1897, Page 5.

His career appears to have ended a year later when he crashed into a bleacher fence and injured his shoulder while playing in Lancaster, PA.

Returning home, Klusman opened a saloon.  He lived in Cincinnati with his wife, Minnie Nierman, who, like Billy, had parents who hailed from Hanover.  They had two daughters, Minnie and Hazel.  However, his post-baseball days didn’t last long.

“An old time National League player passed away in (Cincinnati) on June 24 when consumption claimed Billy Klusman, who played with Boston away back in 1888 and 1889. He was regarded as one of the best second basemen that ever wore a uniform. After quitting the major league Billy went to Kansas City where he managed the Blues for several years…”

“Veteran Dead.”, Sporting Life, 06 July 1907, Page 1.

Sources:

1870 US Census
1880 US Census
1900 US Census
Ohio Marriage Records
FindaGrave.com
Baseball-Reference.com

“Base-Ball: Notes.”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 27 April 1884, Page 10.

“Defeated Shamrocks”, Nashville Tennessean, 07 September 1884, Page 1.

“Leadville Left”, Topeka Weekly Capital and Farmer’s Journal, 05 August 1886, Page 5.

“Ball Players in Hard Luck.”, Nebraska State Journal, 13 October 1886, Page 8.

“Shut Out.”, New Orleans Daily Picayune, 19 April 1887, Page 8.  (Plus  other daily box scores)

“Black Eye Number One”, Boston Globe, 11 April 1888, Page 3.

“Boston’s New Player.”, Boston Globe, 21 June 1888, Page 5.

“Giants Lose.”, Boston Globe, 22 June 1888, Page 3.

Box Score – Chicago Tribune, 18 July 1888, Page 3.

“Another Victory.”, Washington Evening Star, 10 August 1888, Page 4.

“Lined Out.”, Boston Globe, 05 May 1889, Page 4.

“Flashes From the Diamond”, Omaha Daily Bee, 16 June 1889, Page 9.

Henry Klusman Obituary, Cincy Enquirer, 03 July 1889, Page 5.

“Flashes from the Diamond.”, Omaha Daily Bee, 11 August 1889, Page 9.

“Base-Ball Notes.”, Indianapolis Journal, 02 February 1890, Page 5.

“Notes”, Wilmington Daily Republican, 10 May 1890, Page 3.

Box Scores – Atlanta Constitution (1892, 1893)

Box Score – St. Paul Globe, 01 October 1893, Page 6

“Unique in Baseball History”, New York Sun, 23 June 1907, Page 37.

Box Scores – Kansas City Journal and St. Paul Globe (1894 to 1896).

“Baseball Notes.”, Kansas City Journal, 26 March 1897, Page 5.

“Baseball Notes”, Nebraska State Journal, 20 June 1898, Page 2.

“Veteran Dead.”, Sporting Life, 06 July 1907, Page 1.

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1 thought on “Happy Birthday, Billy Klusman!

  1. Pingback: Baseball History on March 24 | Mighty Casey Baseball

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