Klaus still painting walls long after slam cleared one


They called him Ol' Snow Shoes because of the way he shuffled through the dirt at shortstop, or R.N., for Red Neck, because he was a griper as well as a battler.

Klaus never was afraid to get his uniform dirty, or to speak his mind.

"I got the Ol' Snow Shoes nickname when I was with the Braves in 1953 because I ran like I had snowshoes on," Klaus said. "I was always dirty because I'd spit on my hands, rub them in the dirt and wipe them on my pants. That was a way to get a solid grip on the bat. There was no pine tar in those days."

These days, Klaus, 66, who played for the Orioles in 1959 and 1960, has his own business, Klaus Painting, in Valle Crucis, N.C. He and his wife live in the apartment above the store. Asked whether he's considering retirement, he said, "I'll quit before long."

A painting contractor, Klaus is a one-man operation, selling paint in his store and then going out with brush and roller in hand. It has been his full-time job for 25 years, since he left baseball, though he first ventured into it when he was playing.

"When I was with the Red Sox in the mid-1950s, I was living in Florida in the off-season and took anything I could get in the way of work," he said. "I bought a home there and painted for different contractors."

Klaus, who batted .249 in 11 years with five different teams, came to the Orioles from the Boston Red Sox in December 1958 for outfielder Jim Busby. He had batted .159 that year, mostly as a pinch hitter, so little was expected of him.

"We realize this isn't a deal to set the world on fire, because of the kind of year Klaus had," Orioles general manager Lee MacPhail said. "He's not flashy. He's the kind who wants to play every day, and he has a chance to do that for us."

Klaus played 104 games at three infield positions in 1959, batting .249, but it was the following year that he was part of a rare feat. He and Albie Pearson, a 5-foot-5 1/2 outfielder, tied a major-league record by hitting two grand slams in one game, against the New York Yankees.

It had been done only seven times previously. It was done for the 41st time this May by the Red Sox's Mo Vaughn and John Valentin, but for only the first time against the Yankees since Klaus and Pearson.

"I remember we got beat, 15-9," Klaus said, his memory perfect. "I hit it off reliever Johnny James in the ninth after Albie hit his off Jim Coates in the eighth."

Noting that he had only 40 home runs in 11 years, Klaus said: "It was the only grand slam of my career. I was lucky to hit a home run of any kind, much less a grand slam."

When he puts down his paintbrush, Klaus fishes and plays golf, participating in Baseball Alumni Association tournaments. They are charity fund-raisers in which a fan gets to play with a celebrity, such as Klaus, for $250.

"I get to see a lot of my old cronies this way," Klaus said.

Next: The other half of the grand slam punch.

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