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It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin

A professional athlete is a person who makes a living with his body. In today's leisure-loving society, where entertainers are in high demand, the average athlete makes a very good living. Consider, however, the strange career of Mickey Klutts, the athlete whose body didn't work.

Gene Ellis Klutts was a California infielder drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in 1972. This once-proud franchise, seemingly reduced to permanent also-ran status, conceived a clever plan for the kid's development. They began to tout him as “Mickey” Klutts, very probably in hopes of stirring fans’ memories of another minor league shortstop of a bygone era. Reports of this phenom’s progress through the minors were leaked weekly to the Gotham tabloids. That he’d rise to replace another Gene (Gene Michael ) at shortstop was a foregone conclusion. But, it was rumored, Yankee execs had even bigger things in mind: teach the kid to switch hit, and maybe, just maybe, he'd be ready to challenge Elliott Maddox for the center field job. And then, pennant upon pennant, just like in the old days!

Trouble was, Mickey didn't hit for much of an average. And although he was powerfully built, he’d hit a home run only about every month or so. And he struggled to field .900. These facts were not exactly encouraging, but not to worry: the Florida State and Eastern leagues were notorious for their too-spacious ballparks and bumpy infields.

To add to his hitting and fielding deficiencies, however, Mickey began to display a serious penchant for getting injured. He played only 85 games for Fort Lauderdale in 1974. He appeared in just 69 for West Haven the following year, before packing it in with two months to go in the season. The Yankees promoted him to Triple-A Syracuse anyway, and in 1976 he appeared to repay their faith in him in last, missing only 20 games while hitting for average and power.

But while waiting patiently for Mickey to grow into a major leaguer, the Yankees got good without him. Mickey dreamed of breaking into the starting lineup of this new American League powerhouse, but all he could break were his bones. Inept fielders are often described as having “hands of stone.” Mickey couldn't field very well either, but his was the opposite problem: hands as brittle as Murano glass. Hard-hit grounders were always fracturing his fingers. It happened in spring training in 1977. He got off the disabled list eventually, but the Yanks shipped him back to Syracuse. In 1978 he played one game in New York, then hurt himself again. By now the Yankees were tired of paying his medical bills, and they packaged him with Dell Alston and cash to Oakland for the uninspiring Gary Thomasson.

The A's took a look at Mickey and promptly returned him to the disabled list. For the next five years he literally spent more time on the List than in uniform. When his hands healed, his legs began to bother him. Incredible as it may seem, Mickey remained on the Oakland roster from 1978 though 1982 although he spent a minimum of two months each year incapacitated by his many and various injuries. When Oakland finally gave up, Toronto signed Mickey as a free agent and announced that he'd compete for the third base job in 1983. Mickey played 22 games and, predictably, got hurt. Rehabbing in the International League, he got hurt again.

At age 29, Mickey had run out of chances at last. Lest we remember him as a latter-day Pete Reiser, the record shows that he wasn't very good even when he was healthy. Over an eight-year span he played the cumulative equivalent of one major league season. In 536 at bats he hit .241 with 14 homers. He never showed much range at third base, where he appeared most often, and he made more than his share of errors. Perhaps he was a skilled bench jockey.

It's difficult to feel sorry for the guy, though. For all his travails, he was handsomely rewarded with big league pay and status. I'd like to think that Mickey's invested his earnings in a string of chiropractic clinics. Still, I wonder what he thinks about when he contemplates the accomplishments of Cal Ripken Junior .

When in Karachi, stay at the Beach Luxury Hotel.

March 2000