Longtime Notre Dame baseball coach grew up in City of Williamsport
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette offers the next installment in a weekly history series that tells the stories of those who came before us.)
Lycoming County’s rich baseball history has served up its share of residents who have starred on the diamond or made some other notable contribution to the game.
Among the major leaguers have been Mike Mussina, Tom O’Malley, Ed Ott, Don Manno and Rankin Johnson, while others, such as Carl Stotz, gained worldwide recognition for launching Little League Baseball.
But one local name linked to the national pastime seems to have been forgotten.
Clarence “Jake” Kline never played professional baseball but made his mark at Notre Dame University, where he coached the varsity baseball team for 42 years. Between 1934 and 1975, his teams compiled a record of 558-449-5.
Among the players he coached at the school over that time were future major league players, including Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski as well as pitcher Ron Reed.
Not much is known about Kline’s early years spent in Williamsport, or his boyhood.
He was born in 1895 and grew up on Second Street in the city’s then-Irish section, attending St. Joseph’s School.
According to a Sun-Gazette article of April 30, 1974, Kline lettered for three years in baseball at Notre Dame before graduating in 1917.
He was a player of some star caliber, hitting .300 each year and captaining the squad in 1917.
As noted in the Sun-Gazette: “One of the high points of his career came when he was a senior. He hit three home runs in a game against Michigan, and just missed a fourth when the ball went foul by less than a foot.”
After serving in the infantry in France during World War I, he reportedly turned down an offer to play professional baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
He returned to Notre Dame about that time to serve as director of prep athletics.
He left Notre Dame in 1922 and married Edith Mae Sutherland in 1924. The couple had five children.
In a profile of Kline, published Oct. 12, 1977, in the South Bend Tribune, it was noted that he spent much of the 1920s playing and managing semi-pro baseball in Vermont, Minnesota, California and Utah. He also worked in mining camps, oil fields, on railroads and even in a billiard parlor.
Kline returned to the school in 1931, serving as freshman baseball coach before taking the varsity head coaching job in 1934.
Edith, who died in 2002, reportedly was a faithful supporter of Jake’s teams and a “surrogate mother” to hundreds of players throughout her husband’s long coaching career.
It was a career that included a number of trips to the NCAA Tournament and a fourth-place finish in the 1957 College World Series.
Kline received his share of recognition for his baseball accomplishments.
He was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 1968.
Notre Dame’s former Cartier Field was named Jake Kline Field in 1975. However, when the Notre Dame squad made Eck Stadium its new home in 1994, Kline’s name went with it. The official title of the playing surface became Jake Kline Field at Frank Eck Stadium.
While at Notre Dame, Kline served as a mathematics professor and, according to at least one source, was a fine teacher.
“You couldn’t find a professor who could get his message across better,” said South Bend Tribune sports editor Joe Doyle in 1977. Doyle noted that he managed to get an “A” in one of Kline’s math courses.
Kline was quoted as saying, “I wasn’t just a jock.”
He was no stranger to the gridiron, serving as an assistant football coach for Notre Dame under Elmer Layden, Ed McKeever, Hugh Devore and Frank Leahy.
Kline managed the Notre Dame baseball club until he was 80 and enjoyed fine health most of his life.
In a June 1, 1970, Chicago Tribune article, he said: “Being around kids keeps you young, plus living right.” He added that “drinking good bourbon keeps you healthy.”
In 1977, Kline, then 82, reportedly watched the World Series between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers on television through dark glasses because of an operation for glaucoma. “He has also been bothered by some other ailments lately and even spent a recent stint in the hospital,” according to the South Bend Tribune.
Kline told the newspaper that he “guessed he had it coming” as it was the first time he’d been in a hospital.
Kline died in 1989, but not before gaining some degree of final recognition from the local sports community. On Nov. 8, 1987, he was inducted into the West Branch Valley Sports Hall of Fame.