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Mudville: April 14, 2024 2:11 pm PDT

Spirit Keeper

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Passion is a gift. And Terry Klausman has The Gift.

Klausman, a welder and artist, is bringing life to baseball gravesites. He visits the graves of well known and little known players alike, and takes the time to remember those players and their family members buried in the plots – and spruces up the area as well.

If a grave marker is tilted, dirty, or in disrepair, he takes care of all that, too; doing what he can to have the stones repaired.

Klausman keeps the memories of the dead alive, and then at the end of each of his visits he will offer a prayer.

“This whole thing has been very spiritual to me,” Klausman told BallNine. “I’m Catholic. I kneel down at the conclusion of every visit, take my hat off and say the Lord’s Prayer. This is my calling, my love and my passion.”

In his own way, Terry Klausman is doing God’s work, and he sometimes comes across living relatives of those who have passed and offers encouraging words to all. And make no mistake, the Ohio resident is a huge baseball fan; he loves the game and knows all the information and statistics of those he visits – from baseball owners to stars to players who played only one day in the majors.

“I love to talk about these people and keep their spirit alive,” he said.

Klausman, 59, has traveled many miles – as far as Seattle – to visit graves, but his path is always straight.

“Once I’m in the cemetery, I have no trouble finding the grave,’’ he said. “I know exactly where to go. Everywhere else in life I have a terrible sense of direction, but in the cemetery I know exactly where to go.”

He calls his work the “Spirit Keeper Project” and has dubbed himself the “world’s poorest philanthropist.”

Why does he do it, where does the passion come from?

“I love baseball and I have a passion for exploration,” Klausman told me. “And I have a great fascination with numbers. I’ve always looked at the numbers on the back of a baseball card. As a welder I have fractions memorized, because I have to deal with numbers all day.”

Combining those traits led to all this.

“It’s a multi-faceted project; I get to say thank you to them,” he explained of those he visits. “I get to learn interesting knowledge from studying them. I leave them tributes as a way to say thank you and maybe pass on information to other people.”

Fittingly, the information is put on a baseball and left at the site, an “info ball.” He places the baseball in a careful way in the ground where it will not be run over by someone cutting the grass. He wants others to take the time to look at the baseball and learn about the person buried there. He has also left other items, including gloves and caps, at graves.

The tools of the Spirit Keeper are simple.

Tools of the trade: at pitcher Guy Hecker's grave on Saturday. (Photo Courtesy of Terry Klausman)

“I have a long-handled edger, a hand shovel, a hand trimmer, a rake, a broom, I don’t get fancy with battery powered clippers,” Klausman said. “I don’t mind putting my physical labor to the project. It’s my way of saying thank you. It’s a mental break for me, too. I talk to them while I’m there.

“Big Ed Delahanty is buried in Calvary Cemetery up in Cleveland,” Klausman said. “I tell you what: having my hands in his dirt, I felt something.”

That is a Spirit Keeper connection.

If a stone marker is sunken, he alerts cemetery officials. One such stone belonged to Herb Score. The flat marker was buried in mud.

At Bob Feller’s grave in Cuyahoga County he peacefully trimmed the bushes, showing respect to Feller.

“I don’t have any idea how long it’s going to take me when I visit a grave, it takes however long it takes,” Klausman said of his garden of graves work.

Being an accomplished artist, he uses a sheet or several sheets of white paper to make a print of the stone or monument (also called rubbings), and keeps a detailed library in his workshop of graves he has visited. He also takes photographs.

“I document it. I also take a photo of the info ball,” he said. “My prints are special because I do the entire marker.”

Klausman has visited 145 graves over a short span of time. The first grave he visited was on July, 18, 2021. That player was Cleveland Indians star shortstop Ray Chapman, who died at the age of 29 after being hit in the head with a pitch from Carl Mays. Klausman visited the Lake View Cemetery with friends Nancy and Mark Koenig, initially to see the James A. Garfield Memorial.

“I wanted to see Ray Chapman, I read about him,” Klausman said. “We found Ray and I was emotionally taken. I cleaned it up. I was wearing my 1930 replica hat and I ended up leaving the hat there as a tribute. I went back a year later and the cap was still there.”

Terry Klausman's hat - a year later. (Photo Courtesy of Terry Klausman)

One of his favorite players of all time was Ohio native and Yankee legend Thurman Munson; and when he visited Munson’s grave in Canton, a place I visited in 1999 on the 20th anniversary of Thurman’s death, he was blown away by the ballpark feel of that special resting place and the way it was beautifully designed.

Klausman measured out 60 feet, six inches from Munson’s name on the monument to create a moment of baseball grace. “I spent like four hours that first day there with a hand trimmer, trimming the hedges because I didn’t realize he had all these hedges,” he said.

Changes have been made to the area since the last time he visited, however.

Cleveland has not won a World Series since 1948. They are now known as the Guardians. Klausman says of all of those 1948 Indians, “Only one player from that team is buried in Ohio and he’s not even from the state.”

That would be Bob Feller, who is buried at Gates Mills; North Cemetery in Gates Mills, Ohio.

“I visited Bob and his wife Anne, who just passed away about a year or so ago. It’s a tiny cemetery,” Klausman said.

The Hall of Famer, who died at the age of 92 in 2010, was one of a kind. I remember calling Bullet Bob Feller, the Heater from Van Meter, at his home in Iowa one day for a pitching story I was working on – and he was a bit out of breath. I asked, “You okay Bob?”

“Yeah,” he said in that raspy voice from the Greatest Generation, and at that time he had to be in his late-80s.

“I was just throwing a rubber ball against the barn,” Feller said. “I like to stay in shape.”

Sixty feet, six inches. (Photo Courtesy of Terry Klausman)

Sixty feet, six inches: Thurman Munson's grave site. (Photo Courtesy of Terry Klausman)

Klausman has branched out to other sports and visited the grave of golfer Herman Keiser, who won the 1946 Masters and became the head professional at Firestone Country Club in Akron. He is buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Akron. Originally from Missouri, Keiser was given one of the all-time nicknames, known among his fellow golfers as the Missouri Mortician because of his serious demeanor. Keiser, like Feller, was a World War II Navy veteran, like my dad as well. Keiser beat Ben Hogan by one stroke for that Masters title.

“When I went to the graveyard, I met his son. His son works at the graveyard,” Klausman said. “I’ve met so many wonderful people. I met the granddaughter of Sad Sam Jones. You have to be respectful.”

Sad Sam Jones was 21-8 for the Yankees in 1923; and this Monday will mark the 100th anniversary of the no-hitter he pitched against the Philadelphia Athletics, winning 2-0.

What made this no-hitter unique was Sad Sam did not strike out a batter. Over his 22-year career he won 229 games and was a hero for the 1918 World Series winning Red Sox, producing a 16-5 record. He originally started with Cleveland, but went to the Red Sox in the trade that brought Hall of Famer Tris Speaker to Cleveland. Sad Sam was featured in Lawrence Ritter’s classic The Glory of Their Times. He loved his hometown of Woodsfield, Ohio and his nickname “Sad Sam, the Cemetery Man,” came from a baseball writer who from the press box wrote, “The dour features of the pitcher at that distance completely hid the twinkle in his eye.”

Sad Sam Jones, the Cemetery Man, is buried at Oaklawn Cemetery in his beloved hometown of Woodsfield, where just like Jimmy Stewart from the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life, Jones was president of the board of directors of the Woodsfield Savings and Loan Co.

Klausman takes the time to remember the lives of these athletes.

“One of the great things about this project is the historical research I get to do,” Klausman said with that passion glowing in his voice. “I really dig in. Sam Jones was an amazing man; he was very much an ice cream social kind of guy. An Andy Griffith guy. No one disliked Sam. The reason why his nickname was Sad was because his hat was pulled down. He didn’t want people to see his eyes.”

Terry Klausman at Ray Chapman's gravesite. (Photo credit: Nancy Koenig)

Klausman said visiting Hall of Famer Red Ruffing’s site at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Bedford Heights, Ohio, one of 73 cemeteries he has visited, was a particularly moving experience.

“These players, they overcome so much, Red Ruffing lost four toes when his foot got crushed between coal cars when he was working as a miner at the age of 15,” Klausman said. “He’s resting at a mausoleum about 25 minutes from where I live and when I said the Lord’s Prayer there, it reverberated throughout the place; it was amazing acoustics.”

The Ray Chapman site is special because of his place in baseball and Cleveland history but also because Klausman’s friend Nancy Koenig was with him and took the photograph of Klausman at the Chapman monument. She passed away in January of 2022, and the project is done in her memory as well.

Klausman, whose email is TKlausman@yahoo.com, has had graves raised, putting in work orders with cemeteries; and he commended the work the cemetery workers do to fix graves or complete the death dates on stones and such.

“Some of these graves are like archeological digs,” he said, noting the grave of Bunk Congalton, who played for Cleveland and Boston with his career ending in 1907. He died in 1937 at the age of 62 and was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Twinsburg, Ohio.

You don’t have to be a star to have your grave fixed and cleaned up. Consider Frank Cross, who is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Cleveland. He played one game for Cleveland in 1901 and picked up three hits in five at-bats, finishing with a career batting average of .600.

“After that one game, he asked for his release so he could go back to the minors so he could play every day,” Klausman said. “It’s crazy. I got so many stories.”

At Thanksgiving, Klausman will visit the gravesite of Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American Major League Baseball player, taking the field in 1897 for the Cleveland Spiders. He is buried at St. Anne’s Church Cemetery in Indian Island, Maine. In 1915 the Cleveland team became the Indians.

Now the Indians are the Guardians.

“He’s the reason why they were named the Indians,” Klausman said. “I never thought they would change the name. One of the reasons I call this the Spirit Keeper Project is I want to honor Louis Sockalexis, the proudness of the name, you know the Great Spirit.

“The game passed me by because they don’t want me,” he said of today’s MLB game. “I quit ‘em.”

Dean Chance's grave site, complete with Cy Young Award commemoration.

Klausman used to go to many games at Cleveland Municipal Stadium and then Jacobs Field. “I quit going to the games but I love the game and I love stats,” he said. “So I had to figure out a way to still love the game, and I found it by doing the Spirit Keeper Project.”

On Saturday, he visited his 145th grave in Wooster, Ohio. He visited the last MLB pitcher to win a batting title. Yes – you read that right. The player’s name: Guy Hecker. “He won the pitching Triple Crown in 1884,” Klausman said. “He went 52-20 and completed 72 of 73 starts. In 1886 he hit .341.”

Also in the Wooster Cemetery is Dean Chance, the Angels pitcher, who was born in that farming community in 1941.

“You can tell a lot about a person from their stone, what they say, what they don’t say, how big, how small,” Klausman said. “Dean’s whole entire monument is the 1964 Cy Young Award.”

In that 1964 season Chance pitched 50 innings against the Yankees, who won the AL pennant, and allowed 14 hits and only one run, a Mickey Mantle home run. He threw four complete games against the aging Yankees, three of them shutouts.

As for Hecker, the pitcher who once hit three home runs in a game and also produced six hits in a game, long before Shohei Ohtani – in typical Klausman passion he exclaimed of Hecker’s incredible statistics, “Wowzers!”

Guy Jackson Hecker’s last game was in 1890. He died in 1938 at the age of 82. But on a beautiful Saturday in September, Hecker’s unique gravesite at Wooster Cemetery was given a cleanup and Hecker, like all the others, was remembered with the Lord’s Prayer from Klausman.

The Spirit Keeper and his project live on in 2023.

More photos: Courtesy of Terry Klausman

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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