Wednesday, February 1, 2012

#324 - Steve Kline

Like the subject of the last post, Steve Kline's '73 was a marked discount to his '72 season. Significant elbow problems had him on the disabled list for two months and then killed his season in early August. Until that year Steve was making real nice progress in the rotation upping his win total every year. His high point of the season may have been teaming up with Gene Michael to pull the hidden ball trick on poor Vic Harris. At least he gets a nice-looking action card at Yankee Stadium. And look at that mound. It's barely higher than the rest of the infield. Maybe that was part of the problem.

Steve Kline captained his basketball and baseball teams in Washington and was an all-state pitcher as well as top scorer in the state hoops tournament his senior year. That year - 1966 - he signed a letter of intent for Washington State and also was drafted by the Yankees. While he attended the school he never played ball there and that summer he played both Rookie and A ball, showing awfully good control at both levels. The next three seasons he would miss some time for his military service but put up generally good numbers throughout the NY system, almost all as a starter. After a big performance discount in his first stab at Triple A in an abbreviated '69 he was going pretty good guns in '70 when he was called up to NY in July and immediately jumped into the rotation, out-performing more high profile young pitchers John Cumberland and Bill Burbach. In '71 the Yankees won eleven fewer games and Steve, despite a losing record, had generally very good numbers. '72 was even better as his 16 wins would be a career high and he and his team-best 2.40 ERA moved up to third man in the rotation. Prior to '73 spring training many were predicting a 20-win season for Steve that season. That was not to be and after a better start to the '74 season he was sent to Cleveland in the wildly unpopular trade - at the time - that brought Chris Chambliss and Dick Tidrow to NY.

After pitching well and winning his first start for the Indians, Kline suffered six straight losses as the elbow pain returned and kept him on the disabled list for all of July and the last month-and-a-half of the season. He then missed all of '75 and had a tough '76 - 9-10 with a 5.04 ERA - rehabbing in Triple A. That December he was sold to Atlanta and after a couple pretty good starts for the Braves in Triple A returned to the majors, pitching out of the pen and getting a save. But with an ERA over 6.00 he was released that July, ending his time in baseball. Steve retired with a 43-45 record, a 3.26 ERA, six shutouts, that save, and 34 complete games. After playing he returned to the Pacific Northwest where for a long time he was involved in the lumber business and recently has returned to his high school as an assistant baseball coach.

Steve only gets one star bullet regarding his first game as a Yankee. The Mayor's Trophy Game is an annual affair - usually on an off day for both teams in June - that became pretty high profile in '78 when as the Yankees were falling apart a bunch of players refused to play, contributing to Billy Martin's later firing. This cartoon is a crack-up and I commented once on a Night Owl blog about the definition of "most." Did it mean something anatomical (too R-rated for the kids); was it ride-related (maybe Steve had a jacked-up Camaro); line-related (most books I have read from that era do not confirm ball players as being particularly smooth)? Either you were single and eligible or you weren't. Steve was actually a pretty busy guy back then, and his pursuit of a math degree took him cross-country from Washington State to the University of Miami to Cal Polytechnic. He got it but I am unsure as to which college he matriculated.

Steve and Richie were both Indians, but years apart, so there is probably a better route:

1. Kline and Lindy McDaniel '70 to '73 Yankees;
2. McDaniel and Amos Otis '74 to '75 Royals;
3. Otis and Riche Scheinblum '72 and '74 Royals.

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