Wednesday, December 18, 2013
#299 Billy Klaus
Billy Klaus didn't look like such an angry tough-guy hard ass on all of his baseball cards, just the hat-less ones. But I will grant you that on this one he appears to be a guy I'd avoid trifling with.Maybe he just hated being asked to remove his cap.
Klaus originally signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1946 at age 17 and spent a year at their class D affiliate before it was discovered that his signing was illegal (before his high school eligibility was up?) and the contract was voided. He then signed with the Cubs and spent three very productive minor league seasons moving up their ladder.
In 1950 he was drafted by the Dallas club in the Texas League and played for Charlie Grimm. When Grimm moved on to the Braves organization the next year he had them sign Klaus and over the next three seasons he played at their AAA level club getting quick looks at the big leagues on a couple of occasions.
The Braves traded Klaus to the Giants for the '54 season but it wasn't until he was traded again a year later, this time to the Red Sox, that he truly found a baseball home. He won the regular shortstop job in June and his addition to the lineup is one reason the Sox surged over the second half of the season. That's according to Ted Williams and a nice Sport Illustrated story summarizes the Boston turn-around that year.
Klaus finished behind Herb Score in the Rookie of the Year voting (and ahead of fellow Red Sox infielder Norm Zauchin whose card will be shown here next) by hitting .283 and driving in 60 runs. That's pretty impressive for a guy who wasn't even a regular for the first 2 months of the season. He also got some MVP votes that year.
Klaus remained the Sox' starter at short for two more seasons although his numbers steadily declined. His continued fielding issues and back problems he incurred in 1957 led to him finding himself out of a steady job in 1958. He mostly pinch hit in Boston that year and wasn't very good at it and the Sox shipped him to the Orioles that winter.
He played in over 100 games for the Birds in 1959 and briefly played well enough to relegate Brooks Robinson to the minors but was used sparingly in 1960, hit just over .200 and was drafted away by the expansion Senators. One year there, one year plus a bit in Philadelphia and then Klaus took his glove and bat to Japan for what remained of 1963. He wasn't happy with the experience and returned to his home in Florida, opened a paint store, watched his younger brother Bobby play baseball and eventually got back into uniform as a minor league manager.
He managed (and played a bit, too) for the Senators and A's organizations and retired to his paint company for good in 1970. Klaus died in 2007. His story is best told in his SABR bio.
Billy Klaus doesn't always look like a German tank commander (that my original opening line for this entry). And for proof take a look at some of his other cards including my other Billy Klaus, the 1960 Topps: