Obituary: Fred Klages (1943-2023)

RIP to Fred Klages, a star Pennsylvania athlete who pitched for the White Sox for parts of two seasons. He died on March 30 at the age of 79, according to social media posts made by family and friends. Klages played for the Chicago White Sox in 1966 and ’67.

Frederick Albert Antony Klages was born in Ambridge, Pa., on October 31, 1943. He was a three-sport athlete at Ambridge High School (basketball, football and baseball) and was good at all of them. In fact, he was named one of the best high school ends in Pennsylvania in 1961, but he was just as successful as a quarterback and a running back.

Klages, good as he was, was not the best football player in Pennsylvania at the time. That honor would probably go to Beaver Falls High School quarterback Joe Namath. Beaver Falls and Ambridge were rivals, with Namath leading his school to the Western Pennsylvania championship over Ambridge in his senior year. Off the field, the two were friends, and Klages told Daily News columnist Dick Young a few stories when he reached the majors. “You name it. Baseball, football, basketball, pool. There was nothing Joe Namath couldn’t do, and do better than anybody else. He could walk into a pool hall and run a rack, then walk down the block to the gym and shoot 20 straight foul shots.”

Klages showed his potential in baseball, both in high school and in the American Legion ball. In one tournament game in August of 1961, Klages struck out 16 in a win over Shannock Valley. Klages had 16 straight victories in the regular season and led the Ambridge team to the state Legion title that year. By the time he was a senior, he was heavily pursued by universities for their football programs and scouts for their baseball teams. He signed with the University of Tennessee in April of 1962 to play football, but then the Chicago White Sox came to him with a reported five-figure bonus offer. He signed that contract and joined the team’s Appalachian League affiliate, the Harlan Smokies, toward the end of the season. He made it into 12 games, including 9 starts, and he was knocked around for an 8.68 ERA.

The transformation of Klages from an over-his-head 18-year-old in 1962 to a rising prospect in ’63 was a dramatic one. He pitched well enough in spring training to be assigned to the Class-A Clinton C-Sox of the Midwest League, and he lowered his ERA to 3.59 with a 9-7 record. He gave up fewer hits, allowed fewer walks and struck out 153 batters in 158 innings. His control wouldn’t always be as sharp, and his strikeouts totals wouldn’t always be as gaudy, but he continued to perform well as he moved throughout the White Sox organization. He won 10 games, with 16 defeats, while pitching for Tidewater and Sarasota in 1964, and he had a 13-5 record by August of 1965 for Double-A Lynchburg, which gave him an outside chance at 20 wins in the Southern League. Klages lost his remaining 5 decisions on the season, but he still finished the year with a 2.85 ERA and 123 strikeouts. He also spent his winters pitching in the Florida Instructional League and in places like Venezuela. After the 1965 season, the White Sox added Klages to their roster.

Source: Chicago Tribune, March 22, 1968.

The White Sox promoted Klages to Triple-A Indianapolis for 1966, and for the first half of the season, he was one of the best pitchers in the Pacific Coast League. As late as June 15, he was leading the PCL with 9 wins, 98 innings pitched and 1.93 ERA. He again cooled off as the season wore on, winning just one more game over the final months of the season. Still, his early-season success was enough that the White Sox brought the 22-year-old righthander to the majors that September.

The 1966 White Sox finished with an 83-79-1 record but were distantly in fourth place when Klages debuted against the Washington Senators on September 11. The Senators, who were a hapless, second-division team, were mystified by Klages. Over 5 innings, Washington managed just 2 hits and a single run against the rookie. Klages walked 5 but earned the win in a 5-1 Chicago victory. He also kicked off the White Sox offense when the team scored 4 runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. After Ken Berry had walked and Marv Staehle singled him to third base, Klages hit an RBI single off Senators starter Jim Hannan to score the first run of the day. Klages later scored on a single by Don Buford. The baserunning may have tired the pitcher out, because he allowed a bunt single to Bob Saverine and a walk to Fred Valentine before he was taken out of the game. Saverine later scored on a Willie Kirkland sacrifice fly, but reliever Dennis Higgins worked the final 4 innings for the save.

Klages made two more starts for the White Sox and pitched into the sixth inning against the Senators and Yankees in late September. He got no-decisions but pitched well. In his 3 starts, he had a 1.72 ERA and allowed 9 hits and 7 walks in 15-2/3 innings. He also fanned 6 batters. That impressive debut didn’t guarantee him a spot on the White Sox roster in 1967; instead, he started the season in Triple-A Indianapolis before being brought back to the majors in June for a start against the Red Sox on June 14. He gave up a couple of runs in 5 innings and took the loss. Klages returned to the minors for a little over a month, before the White Sox brought him back up at the end of July.

The 1967 White Sox were destined to finish in fourth place again, but they were first in the American League for much of the season before faltering in August. Even then, they were in a tight, four-way race for the AL pennant with Boston, Detroit and Minnesota. Manager Eddie Stanky leaned heavily on his aces, Gary Peters, Joe Horlen and Tommy John, as well as relievers Hoyt Wilhelm, Don McMahon and Bob Locker. By the time August rolled around, he needed an influx of youngsters to help carry the load. Klages was a part of the reinforcements, along with Steve Jones and Cisco Carlos. Klages made 5 starts during that critical month of August and had a 3-2 record and 2.67 ERA. After the Sox dropped off the top of the standings for the first time in two months with a loss on August 13, Klages beat the Kansas City A’s on the 15th to pull the Sox to within a half-game of first place. He outpitched the Yankees 5-2 on August 23 to move Chicago out of a first-place tie. His final win of the month came against Washington on August 30. By then, though, the team had fallen into fourth place.

Klages called his win over New York his best performance in the majors. He credited Indianapolis coach Ray Berres and Sox coach Marv Grissom with helping him develop a good curveball. “My whole problem in the past as I bounced around in the minors was that I only had a fastball and a slider. I knew I couldn’t stick in a big leagues unless I developed a curve,” he said. “About all I did was practice throwing curves and now I think I’ve got it down to where I want it.”

Klages won just one more game. It came on September 6 against the California Angels. The game was still scoreless after 9 innings, and both teams scored twice in the 11th inning. Klages entered the game in the top of the 12th inning and threw 2 scoreless frames, striking out 2 Angels. Ken Berry ended the game in the bottom of the 13th with an RBI double to move the White Sox into a four-way first place tie. Klages made his final start on September 11 against Baltimore and took the loss, giving up 3 runs in 3 innings. His final pitch was a run-scoring single by Davey Johnson. Unfortunately, Klages had begun suffering shoulder pain, and the problem hadn’t improved by the spring of 1968. He was considered as a possible fourth starter in the White Sox rotation but was sent to the minors after two rough outings in spring training. He pitched poorly in the minors in 1968, with an ERA over 5, but at least he did it with the Hawaii Islanders. “This is some kind of place,” he said toward the end of the season. “I never thought I’d fall in love with a rock — Oahu.” He pitched for the White Sox and Senators organizations in 1969, as well as a couple of games for Reynosa in the Mexican League. He retired after getting cut by the Senators in spring training in 1970.

Klages appeared in a total of 14 games for the White Sox in parts of 2 seasons, including 12 starts. He had a 5-4 record and 3.28 ERA. He walked and struck out 23 batters each in 60-1/3 innings. He gave up 6 home runs in 1967, but 3 of them were to Hall of Famers — Al Kaline, Carl Yastrzemski and Frank Robinson.

After baseball, Klages became part owner and president of Titan Plastic Pipe International in Conroe, Texas. He was inducted into the Beaver County (Pa.) Sports Hall of Fame in 1985. He is survived by three children, and there is a baseball connection in the family. His daughter, Kim Klages Johns, is the Senior Director of Sales and Retail for the Missoula PaddleHeads and was named the 2021 Executive of the Year Award in the Pioneer League.

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