Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Card #148: Mickey Klutts

Who Can It Be Now?
Gene Ellis Klutts was born on September 20, 1954, in Montebello, California.  The New York Yankees selected him in the fourth round of the 1972 June Draft straight out of El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, California.  

Klutts signed immediately and, as a 17-year-old, played for Johnson City in the Appalachian League.  Even as a young player, though, Klutts was destined to be a utilityman.  The Yankees played him at 2B, shortstop, and 3B as he worked his way up through the system. 

He played more short than third, but he never really seemed to be the Yankee's top choice for either position.  With Graig Nettles at third, of course, shortstop became where he would be more likely to play.  His opportunity appeared to be coming in 1977, though. He had debuted in New York at 21 in 1976, and incumbent Fred Stanley did not appear to be an impediment to Klutts stepping into the starting role.  Then, on a play at second in the spring of 1976, Klutts made a tag at second and pulled his hand away in pain. 

The Yankees told reporters that Klutts had a "jammed-sprain."  The reality was that he had a broken finger, but the Yankees apparently were not convinced Klutts could be a starter and were negotiating to trade for Bucky Dent with the White Sox.  They feared the price for Dent would increase if the White Sox were aware of Klutts's injury, so out came that Yankee version of news-speak.  Dent became the Yankees' starting shortstop and broke Red Sox hearts in 1978; Klutts went on to be the co-MVP of the International League in 1976.

As it turned out, Klutts never got the chance to play in New York -- coming to bat just 24 times over three seasons before being traded at the trade deadline in 1978 to the Oakland A's for Gary Thomasson.  

Injuries hampered his career as well, lending credence to nominative determinism (the theory that a person's name can have a significant role in determining key aspects of job, profession, or even character).  According to Baseball Library, Klutts was disabled "at least ten times" and "suffered one injury when he ran into a tarp." One article in 1978 mentioned that he went on the DL when he broke his left thumb "while warming up relief pitcher Ken Clay in the bullpen . . . ."  The title of that article? "What a Klutts!"

Klutts spent most of four seasons with the A's before they too decided at the end of the 1982 season that Klutts was not the answer to their third-base needs.  In fairness, Klutts was never the starter -- he only kept the position warm for real players like Carney Lansford. After 1982, Klutts signed with the Toronto Blue Jays.  He received 45 plate appearances there before his major league career ended.

Mustache Check:  Yes, indeed.  Gene has a mustache.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Other than his incredibly memorable name and all the jokes that went with it, I knew and thought very little of Mickey Klutts as a kid.  I mean, look at his stats -- does that appear to be the stat line of a guy who made an impression on opposing teams' fans? Not particularly, I'd say.  

I found an old blog that may or may not have a basis in reality about how Gene Klutts got to be known as Mickey.  The theory here was that the Yankees touted him as Mickey in order to draw parallels to Mickey Mantle. They wanted to teach Klutts to switch hit, supposedly, and then become the center fielder.  Now, I don't know how much credence to put into this story, but I have no other information as to how "Gene Ellis" became "Mickey".  

I also haven't the foggiest idea what Klutts has done since retirement. He apparently is a pretty good TTM signer, since I've seen a number of autographs of his online. He lives in Lake Isabella, California, according to "Contact Any" (and, not to be too disparaging, but if Klutts is on that site, they may not be kidding by saying you can contact ANY celebrity).  And, despite featuring for just 20 at bats in New York over three seasons, he still comes back and is invited back to the Bronx for those Yankee Old-Timers games.

Anyone else have anything to share?

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I have one to share. He also appeared on a 1978 "Topps Rookie Shortstops" baseball card that included Paul Molitor, Alan Trammell, U. L. Washington.......and "The Klutts". Would have been a great "which of these doesn't belong?" I. Q. test for kids.