Friday, August 3, 2012

Whatever happened to Baby Lou?

    Other than Mickey Mantle, my favorite baseball player when I was a kid was an infielder named Lou Klimchock.
    Guys my age from Shreveport will know him. He was "Baby Lou" Klimchock when he first played for the Sports in 1959.
    "Baby Lou" because he was only 19 years old that year when he was perhaps the best prospect in the Kansas City Athletics' farm system and one of the Texas League's best hitters. He had a big  season -- a .315 batting average, 44 doubles, 19 home runs and 85 RBIs.
     He also made 36 errors at second base, a hefty number which foretold his future.
     The nickname was given him, most likely, by Sports radio announcer Irv Zeidman and picked up by the rest of the media. He was a good-looking kid, and I would say he was the team's most popular player with the kids in Shreveport-Bossier.
      I know he was at my house. He batted left-handed; so did I. He wore jersey No. 4; so did I. He held his bat high above his head; I tried that (didn't work). He could flat-out hit; I could hit, in my dreams.
       We all thought he was going to be a major-league star. It didn't work out. But over a 13-year period, he was in the big leagues for all or parts (mostly parts) of 12 seasons; it is perhaps a tipoff to his career that he played 11 years in Triple A, and that he was a major-league regular only one time -- in 1969 with Cleveland. By the end of the next season, he never got back to the majors.
        But I guarantee you that, other than the Yankees' box score and Mantle's line, the second thing I looked for in the box scores was Lou Klimchock's name.
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       In this spirit of the "whatever happened to ..." series our sports staff did at the Shreveport Journal in the early to mid-1980s, about a dozen years ago I decided to find Lou. It was early in my Internet life, so it was easy to find him.
        He lived in Tempe, Ariz.,and was the president of the Arizona Major League Baseball Alumni and was involved with youth baseball in that area. All those things are still true today. Baby Lou is 72, and has a grandson, Mitch Nay, who was Arizona's Gatorade Player of the Year at Hamilton High in Chandler, a third baseman drafted 58th overall in June by the Toronto Blue Jays. Only an injury has kept him from starting his pro career.
        And Lou is the hitting coach for an independent pro team playing in Peoria, Ariz.
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        His major-league numbers: 318 games, 669 at-bats, 155 hits, a .232 average, 21 doubles, 13 home runs, 69 RBIs, a .264 on-base percentage. OK, it isn't much.
        It was a long way from when he was 18 and hit .389 with 25 home runs at Pocatello, Idaho, in the Pioneer League, and then was our guy the next year in Shreveport.
        In researching his career, I've seen him described as a "light-hitting" infielder and an "indifferent fielder." He came up as a second baseman, but also played some third base and some outfield, and even was a catcher one game for Cleveland in 1969.
       We never expected to see him back in Shreveport after '59, but he was only so-so with Dallas-Fort Worth in Triple-A in 1960 (.270 in 72 games), then came back to the Sports for 11 games near the end of the season.
         One problem, as I recall, was a mysterious ailment in which one of his legs fell asleep repeatedly during games ... a nerve condition. So he was back in Shreveport again in 1961, but only played 44 games and hit .248. At the end of the season, Kansas City gave up on him and traded him to the Braves' organization.
        And so his travels began -- Braves, Senators (and back to the Braves; he was the player to be named in a trade for himself), Mets, then Indians. Mostly, he kept landing in Triple-A, where he had some impressive seasons. After his minimal success in Cleveland in '69, he wound up back in Denver for two final Triple-A seasons.
         Then he retired as a player. But he really never has left baseball. Check the attached story for the good he has helped create for ex-major league players and for kids and charities in Arizona.
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        I had a folder of Klimchock clippings, baseball cards, photos out of the newspaper. Kept it in a box that included other material from my early interests in sports up in the attic.
        My mother threw the box away. That's right ... she threw it out. Garbage. Gone.
        I know the Klimchock cards didn't have monetary value. I valued them for the memories.
        When I told Lou this story in 1999, he asked for my address. A few days later, I received a nice note, and an autographed photo and baseball card. It's framed, and you can see it above.
         He was, I imagine, a nice young man way back then, and it was a pleasure to talk to him again and know that he has a family he cherishes and a continuing role in baseball. Baby Lou is still someone's hero.              
 http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/local/mesa/article_23f4ae82-5e8e-11e1-9849-001871e3ce6c.html?mode=print

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