Oh, What a Relief: Ron Kline
Ron Kline’s career as a major league pitcher spanned 17 seasons and nine teams. He started his career as a starting pitcher, with mixed results, and experienced his best seasons after the age of 30, when he emerged as one of the American League’s most effective and durable relievers … yet is hardly counted today among the premier relievers of the 1960s despite putting up numbers that say he deserves that kind of accolade.
During the first decade of Ron Kline’s pitching career, he was 68-107 with a 4.14 ERA as a starter and reliever. He moved to the bullpen exclusively with the Washington Senators in 1962, and over the next six seasons he was 45-31 with a 2.52 ERA.
Kline was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1950 and made his major league debut in 1952, going 0-7 out of the Pirates’ bullpen that year. He spent the next two years in military service, and returned to the Pirates in 1955, going 6-13 as a starter and reliever. In 1956 he worked out of the Pirates’ starting rotation, making 39 starts and pitching 264 innings on his way to a 14-18 record and a 3.38 ERA. He won nine and 13 games in each of the next two seasons respectively, while losing 16 decisions both years. After an 11-13 season with Pittsburgh in 1959, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Tom Cheney and Gino Cimoli.
Kline was 4-9 in 1960, his only season with the Cardinals. He was purchased by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1961, and was 8-9 that year, which he finished with the Detroit Tigers. After a 3-6 season with the Tigers in 1962, he was purchased by the Washington Senators.
It would be a career-lifting move for the 31-year-old right-hander, who had been 68-107 to this point as a starter and reliever. For the Senators, he would move to the bullpen and never move out. His numbers as a relief specialist revealed why.
For the Senators in 1963, Kline was 3-8 with a 2.79 ERA. He finished 46 of his 62 appearances and saved 17 games for a team that won only 56 on the season. He followed up in 1964 with a 10-7 season and a 2.32 ERA, appearing in 61 games and finishing 52 of them, with 14 saves.
Ron Kline led the American League with 29 saves in 1965.
In 1965, Kline led the American League with 29 saves, going 7-6 with a 2.63 ERA. In 1966, he tallied 23 saves with a record of 6-4 and a 2.39 earned run average. In the off-season, Kline was traded by the Senators to the Minnesota Twins for Bernie Allen and Camilo Pascual. He was 7-1 for the Twins in 1967 with a 3.77 ERA, and was traded only one season later to the Pirates for catcher Bob Oliver. Kline was 12-5 for the Pirates in 1968 with a 1.68 ERA.
He spent the 1969 season with three teams: the Pirates, the San Francisco Giants (traded for Joe Gibbon) and the Boston Red Sox. For the season, he was a combined 1-5 in 43 relief appearances. He signed with Atlanta for the 1970 season, but retired after only five appearances with the Braves.
In his prime, from 1963 through 1968, Kline appeared in 370 games (an average of 62 per season) with 45 victories, 95 saves and a combined ERA of 2.52. Kline finished with a career record of 114-144 and a 3.75 ERA.
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