Shabbat Parasha Chukat

Take Me Out to the Ball Game A couple of new Jews arrived in town from Boston this year, and they hold the promise to make winners out of Chicagoland’s professional baseball teams.  The first of course is Theo Nathan Epstein, formerly of the Boston Red Sox and now of the beloved Chicago Cubs.  Theo’s father, Leslie Epstein, is a well known novelist. In 1979 the senior Epstein wrote a critically acclaimed novel about the Holocaust called “King of the Jews.” It is about the liquidation of a fictional ghetto in Poland and the terrible moral choices that confronted the leadership of the community.  Theo Epstein’s grandfather, Philip Epstein, and his great uncle, Julius Epstein, were Hollywood writers who won an Academy Award for the screenplay Casablanca!  We all know the success that Theo had in Boston as GM of the Red Sox. Cubs fans are hoping he can bring that franchise its first World Series victory since 1908. The other Jewish person who came to town came last week, also from Boston. Kevin Youkliss, a third baseman, was traded from the Red Sox to the White Sox, and was greeted with much enthusiasm.  He joins a surprising White Sox team that is in first place in their division.  Youkliss’s great-great-great grandfather fled Romania to Greece to avoid forced conscription by the anti-semitic Cossacks.  In Greece he abandoned his surname, “Weiner” and adopted the Greek sounding name “Youkliss”. The family immigrated to America in the thirties and settled in Cincinnati.  Kevin Youkliss’ father was a jewelry wholesaler.  His mother converted to Judaism, and Kevin was raised in a Conservative Jewish household. Youkliss credits Judaism with having instilled in him an appreciation of the importance of discipline, both on and off the field. He has a charity called “Hits for Kids”.  He attributes his philanthropic pursuits to his Judaism. “In the Jewish religion,” he says, “one of the biggest things that I learned is that giving is a mitzvah.”[1] Kevin has two World Series rings with the Red Sox and hopes to help the White Sox to the World Series Championships this year.   We can only hope that these two additions to the Jewish community will meet with the success of one of baseball’s forgotten Jewish heroes.  Jonah Kline was born in Kansas City in 1875.  Before coming to the Chicago Cubs in 1901 he changed his name to Johnny Kling.  The first season, he alternated with catcher Frank Chance, who later switched to first base to become part of the famous “Tinker to Evers to Chance” combo.  He was the first catcher in the major leagues to throw runners out from a crouching position.  At that time, catchers used to stand some distance away from the batter unless the batter had two strikes on him – Kline, or Kling, was the first catcher to crouch directly behind the batter at all times.  With Kling as their catcher, the Cubs won the NL pennant in 1906 and 1910 and the World Series in 1907 and in 1908.  He was called the “guiding spirit” of the Cub championship teams by the media of the time.  Kling was the dominant defensive catcher during the first ten years of the twentieth century. From 1902 through 1908 he led the National League in fielding percentage four times, putouts six, assists twice and double plays once.  Honus Wagner rated him the best catcher ever.  Walter Johnson chose two best catchers of all time: Johnny Kling or Bill Dickey. In a June, 1907 game he threw out all four Cardinal runners who tried to steal second, and in the World Series he gunned down 7 of 14 Tiger runners, holding base stealing champion Ty Cobb to no stolen bases.[2] He was good with the bat too. He had a career batting average of .272. Unlike many ball-players of this era, Kling was a mentsch off the field.  He did not smoke, drink, or chew tobacco.  He planned carefully, as well, for a career after baseball.  When he retired from the game, he returned to Kansas City and became very successful in real estate.  He was remembered by his grandchildren as a family man who had a compassionate side and who was quick to make out a check to a friend in need.  In 1933 he bought the Kansas City Blues Baseball Team and promptly eliminated segregated seating at the Blue’s stadium.  Johnny Kling, however, is not in the Hall of Fame.  Anti-semitism may have had some role in keeping him out. His wife, Lillian, was Jewish. However, after his death, Lillian, perhaps in an attempt to help his candidacy for the Hall of Fame, claimed that he had been a Christian. Once, she claimed he was a Baptist, and years later she claimed he was a Lutheran. [3] Kling’s grandson, however, also named John Kling, recently stated that his grandfather was definitely Jewish.  Membership records at Bnai Yehuda Temple in Kansas City Missouri, of close family members support this claim.  May the memory of Johnny Kling/Jonah Kline, be a blessing. And may the latest additions to the Chicagoland Jewish Community bring as much success to their respective teams, and as much pride to our Jewish community, as Johnny Kling did to his. Shabbat Shalom

[1] Slater, Robert  Great Jews in Sports Jonathan David Publishers, 2010  pp 288-290
[2] Bogen, Gil and David Anderson “Johnny Kling”
[3] The Best Team Ever, a Novel of America, Chicago and the 1907 Cubs  at