Bill Klem

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Bill klem.jpg

William Klem

  • Bats Unknown, Throws Unknown
  • Height 5' 5½", Weight 157 lb.

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1953

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"To me, baseball is not a game, but a religion." - Bill Klem

Bill Klem, perhaps the most famous of umpires, was a colorful National League umpire from 1905 to 1941 and then was chief of league umpires. He was one of the first to use arm signals to indicate his calls. He was also the first ump to wear an inside chest protector and held the record for most career games umpired until 2021.

Klem was nicknamed "The Old Arbitrator", which he liked, and was also called "Catfish", which he hated:

"All you had to do was call him Catfish and out of the game you'd go. Maybe it was because he had rather prominent lips . . . - Chief Meyers

Early days[edit]

He wanted to be a catcher in the Canadian League in 1896, but had arm problems. He played semi-pro ball for a few years and worked in construction.

He umpired his first game in 1901 in a contest involving the New York Cuban Giants. He umped in the Connecticut League in 1902 and then the New York State League in 1903.

He was introduced in 1904 to president Harry Pulliam of the National League by umpire Hank O'Day, later to be famous as the umpire faced with the Merkle Bonehead Play.

National League umpire[edit]

He was acknowledged as a great caller of the balls and the strikes, which was quite useful in his early umpiring days when he might often be the only umpire on the field.

He was an umpire in 18 different World Series, from 1908 to 1940. He also worked the first All-Star Game, in 1933, and agreed to officiate at a race around the bases between Hans Lobert and a race horse in 1914. His total of 5,375 games umpired was the all-time record from the time he retired until he was passed by Joe West in 2021; he still holds the record for most games as the home plate umpire, with 3,548, a record that is absolutely untouchable in these days of four-man umpiring crews. He had also held the record for most seasons as a major league umpire, with 37, but that was broken long before his games record was, as West was in his 44th season when he passed him. Bruce Froemming had tied his mark in his final season as an active umpire, in 2007, and West passed both men in 2015.

His home was in Yonkers, NY but he wintered from 1925 on in Florida.

Highlight games[edit]

  • In 1905, Klem fined some Pittsburgh Pirates players for mocking his calls, and incurred the wrath of gamblers who went looking for him. Klem is said to have hidden in the ladies room.
  • When the normally gentlemanly Christy Mathewson threw a tantrum while struggling to pitch on June 4, 1906, Klem threw him out.
  • On opening day in New York, with the Giants losing, heavy snow was falling and unhappy fans began pelting the visiting players and then flooded onto the field. There being no police on duty, Klem forfeited the game against the Giants.
  • Klem had lots of problems with fiery Roger Bresnahan. When Bresnahan was tossed out on September 22, 1907, it took permission from the league president for Bresnahan to play again. Later, in 1911, when Bresnahan argued a call in lengthy manner, Klem ended up hitting him and was fined $50 for doing so.
  • Klem was offered $2500 dollars by Joseph Creamer, the New York Giants trainer, to make calls in favor of New York in a game against the Chicago Cubs in 1908.
  • On October 1, 1914, in response to name-calling from the New York Giants bench, he threw out everyone on the bench - 24 players.


"It ain't nothin' till I call it."

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

"Gentleman, he was out because I said he was out."

"Son, when you pitch a strike, Mr. Hornsby will let you know." - said to a rookie pitcher questioning a pitch that Klem called as a ball

"I Never Missed One in My Heart" - title of an article Klem wrote for Collier's magazine, 1951

Records Held[edit]

  • Most games as home plate umpire, 3.548
  • World Series, as umpire, 18
  • World Series games, as umpire, 108

Further reading[edit]

Related Sites[edit]