A true ballplayer: In spite of injuries, Kluttz had solid baseball career
Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 29, 2016
In recognition of Memorial Day weekend, the following is the third of a three-part article about the late Alvin Kluttz, who was heroic on the battlefield and baseball diamond.
By Mike London
The 1945 Baseball Guide lists Kluttz as a lefty hitter, while the 1947 Baseball Guide declares that he’s a right-handed hitter. That’s a fact that has perplexed baseball historians, but that crippling wound to his left arm obviously forced Kluttz to make a left-to-right switch.
So both guides are accurate.
Kluttz made a stirring comeback on the ball field. In 1946, the Cardinals assigned him to Lynchburg, the same place he’d been three years earlier. He needed more arm surgeries and barely hit .200, but he was the best fielding catcher in the league.
In 1947, Kluttz played for three teams in the Cardinals farm system, making stops in Omaha, Houston and Carthage, Mo. He played in five Double A games for the Houston Buffaloes, the highest level he reached in the minor leagues. He was managed there by future St. Louis and New York Yankees manager Johnny Keane.
It was late in the 1947 season at Carthage that Kluttz took his first shot at being a player/manager. He was 25.
In 1948, Kluttz served as the player/manager at Carthage for the whole season and piloted the team to second place in the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League. He also made a nice comeback as a hitter, batting .296 in 45 games.
Kluttz must have been encouraged by his work with the bat because he was exclusively a player as a 27-year-old in 1949. He competed for two teams in the New York Giants organization — the Kingsport Cherokees and the Richmond Colts. He hit .294 in 73 games with the Cherokees in Class D ball and even made his pro pitching debut, recording a 2-2 record in 13 appearances.
In 1950, Kluttz had an opportunity to to work in eastern North Carolina as a player/manager for the Clinton-Sampson Blues. He had the finest offensive season of his pro career, batting .373 in 61 games in the Tobacco State League, and he also pitched in 11 games. But the footloose youngsters on that team soured him on managing. After several late-night calls from the local police department informing him that players were in jail, he relinquished that segment of his job.
Kluttz became a father for the first time in 1950, and the 1951 season would be Kluttz’s last in baseball.
It was a good one. He batted .287 in 54 games for the High Point-Thomasville Hi-Toms, a Boston Red Sox farm club. But Kluttz was 29 and some of his most successful teammates — Tom Brewer, Neil Chrisley and Gene Stephens — were teenagers on the way to the big leagues.
It was time to move on. So Kluttz said goodbye to the game and took a job with the Salisbury sanitation department.
While the sanitation department provided a living (he would head the department from 1956-67), Kluttz’s passion was officiating basketball games, and he’d work 50 or 60 games a year. He’d referee a high school game one night, an Atlantic Coast Conference game the next. He rose in the college officiating ranks, working the Carousel Tournament in Charlotte and the Dixie Classic in Raleigh. He got punched in the face during a heated Southern Conference game when he tried to defuse a fight between Furman and West Virginia players.
It was during a 1957 game at VMI that Kluttz felt a sharp pain in his left leg. The diagnosis was a blocked artery, and the leg plagued him for years.
After an artery transplant failed in Houston in 1963, his leg was amputated. The St. Louis Cardinals were in Houston, and Musial, who was in his final year as a player, came to the hospital to visit Kluttz.
After he lost the leg, Kluttz did his best to stay involved in local sports. He was the P.A. announcer for Salisbury High and Catawba. He worked as a broadcaster for WSTP radio, providing color commentary and advice for young play-by-play man Marty Brennaman, who would move on to big things as the voice of the Cincinnati Reds.
In 1978, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel came to Salisbury’s Harold B. Jarrett Legion Post to pin a Bronze Star on Kluttz for his World War II service. It was 33 years late, but Kluttz accepted the decoration proudly.
Kluttz lost a son to cancer and he would lose fingers to the same circulatory ailment (Buerger’s disease) that cost him his left leg.
He lived a life that was a running battle with misfortune, but there are those in Salisbury who remember him, late in his life, sitting on the first tee at Corbin Hills under an umbrella, serving as an unofficial starter and smiling at the world.
He died on May 22, 1985, at 63, just three months after he was inducted into the N.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame.
Kluttz’s older brother, Clyde, who died in 1979, is more famous because he played in 656 games from 1942-52 in the major leagues and played a key role for the Cardinals in 1946, a season they won the World Series. Clyde was the catcher in the Cardinals’ pennant-clinching playoff win against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Clyde also signed Hall of Fame pitcher Catfish Hunter for the Kansas City Athletics in 1964, and, in 1975, was instrumental in Hunter choosing to sign with the New York Yankees as a free agent.
Clyde was elected to the Salisbury-Rowan Sports Hall of Fame years ago, and deservedly so.
Alvin has been on the ballot many years, without election, but his time should come.