Stan and Jake

Hall of Famers from Pennsylvania who settled in South Bend, Coveleski and Kline lived parallel baseball lives. Did their paths ever cross?

Author: Dennis Brown

They were born five years apart in the late 1800s.

They were raised 50 miles apart in the Pennsylvania towns of Williamsport and Shamokin.

They were inducted into their profession’s respective Halls of Fame in 1969.

They have baseball venues named in their honor.

They lived most of their lives in South Bend and passed away five years apart, both at age 94.

“They” were Clarence Kline and Stanislaus Kowalewski — better known as Jake Kline and Stan Coveleski — Jake the Notre Dame head baseball coach for 42 years, and Stan a Major League Baseball pitcher with a wicked spitball.

With baseball now in full swing, it seems like a good time to reminisce and remember these two South Bend diamond legends.

Stanislaus was born in 1889 in the coal-mining town of Shamokin. In the book The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, he told author Lawrence Ritter that he began working in the mines at age 12, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days a week for $3.75 per week. “Which means a 72-hour week, if you care to figure it up,” he said when interviewed for the book in 1966. “About 5 cents an hour.”

He hauled timber to the mines and after work developed a strong and accurate throwing arm by hurling rocks at tin cans. At age 18, he started playing organized ball with a local semi-pro team, and then soon signed a contract to play for $250 a month with the Lancaster Red Robins of the Tri-State League. (That’s translates to $62.50 a week, if you care to figure it up.)

A vintage photo of early 20th century baseball spitball pitcher Stanley Coveleski wearing a mitt with a ball inside held against his face and fingers on his opposite hand near his mouth.
Spitballer Stan Coveleski. National Photo Company Collection

Under his anglicized name Stan Coveleski, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound righthander played in Lancaster for three seasons and one with the Atlantic City Lanks. It was there that legendary Philadelphia Athletics Manager Connie Mack saw “Covey” and signed him to a contract to play toward the end of the 1912 season. He pitched well, but Mack thought he needed more time in the minor leagues and shipped him to the Spokane, Washington, club in the Northwestern League, where over two seasons Coveleski became the league’s top pitcher. He was then traded for five players to the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League, where he learned how to throw the then-legal spitball. First using tobacco and then alum, which he kept in his mouth to make the compound gummy, he developed exceptional control of the pitch. He recorded a 2.67 earned-run average in 1915 and was acquired by the Cleveland Indians of MLB’s American League prior to the 1916 season.

Stan never played in the minors again, pitching for Cleveland, where he experienced his most success, the Washington Senators and the New York Yankees. In his first season with the Indians (now Guardians), he compiled a 15-13 record with a 3.14 ERA and just 58 walks, a remarkable display of control for a spitballer. He notched his first 20-win season in 1918, including a 19-inning complete-game victory over the Yankees. (Starting pitchers today might complete 19 innings in three games.)

Coveleski continued to excel over the next two seasons, going 24-12 and 24-14. In the latter, 1920, he played a major role in Cleveland capturing its first World Series title, winning three of the Indians’ four victories over the Brooklyn Robins (now Dodgers). The 1920 season was also notable for baseball banning the spitball — except for Stan and 16 other pitchers who were allowed to continue throwing it under a grandfather clause.

Coveleski pitched well for Cleveland over the next four years, leading all American League pitchers in 1923 with a 2.76 ERA. He was traded to Washington in 1925, playing for three years, including a 1925 season with 20 victories, a 13-game winning streak, and a league-leading 2.84 ERA. He finished his career in 1928 with the “Murderers Row” Yankees of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and company.

His career numbers of 215 wins against 142 losses (.602 winning percentage), a 2.89 ERA, 981 strikeouts and a 1.25 WHIP (walks and hits divided by innings pitched) led to his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1969. In 2001, the esteemed baseball historian Bill James ranked Coveleski the 58th best pitcher in history. Stan and his older brother Harry combined for 296 victories, ranking in the top 10 among MLB pitching brothers.

Of his induction into the Hall, Coveleski said: “I figured I'd make it sooner or later, and I just kept hoping each year would be the one.” And, of the game he mastered, he said in the Glory of Their Times: “I enjoyed playing ball. But it’s a tough racket. . . . The pressure never lets up. Doesn’t matter what you did yesterday. That’s history. It’s tomorrow that counts. So you worry all the time. It never ends. Lord, baseball is a worrying thing.”

After retiring, Stan, his wife, and family settled in South Bend, where he had an opportunity to coach a boys amateur team, according to a story from the Society of American Baseball Reference. He also opened a gas/service station on the city’s west side and purchased a home on Napier Street. He enjoyed hunting and fishing and continued to offer baseball lessons to young people at no charge. He died March 20, 1984, in South Bend at age 94.

Three years later, not far from Stan’s home, the venue for South Bend’s new minor league baseball team was christened Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium, known affectionately over time as “The Cove.” The Chicago Cubs’ High Class A affiliate now plays in what is called Four Winds Field at Coveleski Stadium, drawing tens of thousands of fans each summer.

Despite the many similarities in their lives, Clarence “Jake” Kline’s baseball journey took fewer turns than that of Coveleski.

It seems fitting that a man who devoted his career to baseball would be born in 1895 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles from Coveleski’s birthplace, and the birthplace of Little League Baseball. Fitting as well, he grew up on Second Street in the Irish section of the town.

Beyond that, little is known about Jake’s younger years, until he ventured to Notre Dame in 1915. In a three-year varsity career, he played third base and, according to Notre Dame’s athletics archives, hit “well over .300 all three seasons.” In a 1916 victory over Michigan, Jake set a school record with three home runs in one game, a standard that has been matched but never exceeded. He was team captain as a senior in 1917. According to a story in the Williamsport newspaper, he served in the infantry in France during World War I and, upon returning, reportedly turned down an offer from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Instead, Jake set upon a coaching career. A 1977 profile of Kline in the South Bend Tribune reported that through the 1920s he played for and managed semi-pro baseball teams in Vermont, Minnesota, California and Utah, while also working in mining camps, oil fields, on railroads and in a billiards parlor. He married Edith Mae Sutherland in 1924 and they raised five children. Edith died in 2002 in South Bend.

A vintage black-and-white photo of longtime Notre Dame baseball coach Jake Kline hitting a ball during practice
The coach at work. Notre Dame Athletics

Jake returned to his alma mater in 1931 as an assistant baseball coach and was appointed Notre Dame’s 15th head coach in 1934, 42 seasons after the program began. As the Irish media guide has put it, “the 16th would not be needed for another 42 seasons.” His first year as head coach, the Irish compiled an 8-11 record, but over the next four seasons he led them to a .690 winning percentage with 49 victories and 22 losses. Over the next decade, Jake’s teams had just one sub-.500 season.

Inarguably, his most memorable season was in 1957, when, after going 11-6, the Irish played in the District 4 postseason tournament in Kalamazoo, Michigan. At that time, the winner of eight district tournaments qualified for the College World Series (CWS). Notre Dame defeated Alma College, 18-2, and Western Michigan, 4-2, to advance through the winner’s bracket to the championship round. After falling to loser’s bracket finalist Northwestern, 9-2, the Irish rallied in the “if necessary” game to beat the Wildcats, 6-1, and earn the university’s first CWS berth in Omaha, Nebraska.

Following the district championship games, Irish players celebrated by throwing Coach Kline into the locker room showers. “Jake was all wet, but I saw the tears rolling out of his eyes,” pitching ace Chuck Symeon recalled during a 2012 reunion of the 1957 team. “That was the highlight of the season — helping our coach make his first trip to the CWS.”

The team played with some extra incentive throughout that season. As co-captain Jim Cusack explained it: “Jake had said he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d coach, and we thought 1957 might be his final year. Next thing I know, it’s 20 years later and Jake still was coaching. So, it may have been a ruse, like in those Knute Rockne movies. It might have given us a boost, but we also had the experience and talent to put it all together.”

The Irish opened the ’57 series with a 13-8 loss to Iowa State to drop into the loser’s bracket. They then defeated Colorado State College (now the University of Northern Colorado), 23-2, and Texas, 9-0, to reach the semifinals, where they rallied with two runs in the ninth inning only to fall short in a 5-4 loss to Penn State. Sixty-six years later, the 23 runs scored in the victory over Colorado State remains tied for the most by a team in CWS history.

Whether a “ruse” or not, Kline definitely did not retire after the 1957 season. In fact, that season was the first in a four-year stretch in which the Irish registered 77 wins against 35 losses (.688 winning percentage). The 1960s saw some mostly highs and a few lows, but Kline and his club suffered four straight losing seasons from 1971 to 1974. They rebounded to 17-14 in 1975, after which Jake stepped down after 42 years as head coach at age 81.

Kline finished with a career record of 558-449-5, nine NCAA tournament berths and nine players selected in the Major League Baseball draft. The former Cartier Field — where the Jordan Hall of Science stands today — was renamed Jake Kline Field soon after his retirement. The baseball program’s home since 1994 has been Jake Kline Field at Frank Eck Stadium. In addition to coaching baseball, Kline also served as an assistant coach with the football program for several head coaches, and for some four decades he taught mathematics at Notre Dame. “I wasn’t just a jock,” he once said.

The American Baseball Coaches Association inducted Jake into its Hall of Fame in 1969, and in 1987 back in Williamsport, he was inducted into the West Branch Valley chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. He died on October 15, 1989, in South Bend.

It’s hard to imagine that Stan and Jake, two men with such similar backgrounds and careers, and who lived in the same mid-sized community for decades, wouldn’t know each other. But several attempts to determine if they were friends or even just acquaintances came up empty. Maybe they were, but whether or not, Jake and Stan are unsurpassed in South Bend’s baseball record book.

Dennis Brown is assistant vice president for issues management at Notre Dame.