If you believe Roger Bresnahan to be the best catcher of the Deadball Era then you have read too many New York biased stories. The man who caught for the Cubs, Noisy Johnny Kling, was superior to Roger and was also an everyday catcher. The catching duties were sometimes just a blotch on Bresnahan’s resume while Kling was an everyday receiver. Kling is best known for catching the greatest pitching staff in baseball history: the Deadball Era Cubs.
The Chicago Cubs brought the Kansas City born Kling to the Major Leagues in 1900 and he played briefly as a reserve for the Cubbies of skipper Tom Loftus. Johnny’s playing time increased in 1901 but by 1902 he was the everyday catcher. Kling was in a league all to himself. He paced National League catchers in nearly every offensive category: batting average, runs, hits, doubles, RBI, walks, stolen bases and slugging average. But Noisy was more than just a heavy-hitting catcher–he was also a top flight defender and field general. The Cubs staff had an NL best 2.12 ERA tossing to Kling.
An ironman catcher when catching paraphernalia was quite crude, Kling paced Major League catchers with 132 games caught in 1903. Squatting behind the plate with little protection didn’t send Noisy screaming to the doctor’s office. He took the bruises while continuing to rake with the lumber. Kling was clearly the best backstop in baseball, indicated by him leading Major League receivers in runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBI, stolen bases, batting average and slugging average. He led in most categories by a wide margin.
Although Kling’s RBI total dropped by 22 from 1903 to 1904, he still managed to lead Major League catchers in driving in runs. In 1905, Noisy was the only Major League catcher to reach 50 RBI. After the 1905 season the Cubs established themselves as baseball’s top team. Kling led the club to three straight NL flags from 1906 to 1908. In the Cubs first NL pennant winning season, 1906, Johnny was the only Major League catcher to hit over .300 and slug over .400. He caught baseball’s greatest pitching staff as the Cubs were the lone team to post a team ERA under 2.00; they fashioned an amazing 1.76.
The Cubs trimmed their staff ERA to 1.73 in 1907 as they romped to their second straight National League pennant. They again were the only Major League staff with an ERA below 2.00. Kling, the top slugging catcher in baseball that season, led the Cubs over the Tigers in the World Series. The 1908 World Series had the same cast and the same outcome. Kling, the top RBI man among catchers in 1908, hit .250 in the World Series with a pair of runs batted in.
The Cubs failed to make it to the World Series four years in a row due in large part to Kling holding out the entire 1909 season. A billiards player on par with Paul Newman’s character in The Hustler, Kling sat out the entire 1909 season and played pool in his Kansas City pool hall. Rumors circulated that Kling sat out because he was chums with a wealthy businessman looking to establish a third Major League, and that chum was using Kling as a recruiter to bring in disgruntled players. But nothing materialized and Kling rejoined the Cubs in 1910. As one might imagine, his return to Chicago pushed the Cubs back into first place.
Kling hit .269 during the 1910 season and led the Cubs pitchers back to the Fall Classic. His bat was kept cold by the fine pitching of Connie Mack’s Athletics. The 1910 World Series, his fourth Fall Classic in five years, would be his last taste of October play. After a shaky start in 1911, Noisy was traded to the Boston Braves for spare parts. The Braves named Kling their player/manager in 1912 and Johnny hit a lusty .317 (he and Chief Meyers were the only two .300 hitting catchers) but Johnny had little support outside an aging John Titus and Art Devlin. He ended his career the following year playing under former Cubs teammate Joe Tinker with the Reds.
G 1,260/R 474/H 1,149/2B 176/3B 64/HR 20/RBI 513/SB 121/BA .271/SA .357