Tom Klawitter’s ability to make the Twins’ Opening Day roster as a long shot in 1985 was mentioned a while back. This required a look at the Klaw’s pitching résumé (Baseball Reference, you magnificent beast).
Klawitter made a start against Toronto on May 19, 1985, in the Metrodome. He went 1 ⅓ innings and was hooked with a 2-1 lead. Pete (Freeze) Filson relieved, giving up one run over 7 ⅔ innings as the Twins cruised, winning 8-2.
Wait a moment, here:
Does this mean Twins manager Billy (Slick) Gardner wasn’t as old school as imagined? Did Slick actually invent the “opener” — starting an unlikely suspect to get two innings maximum, with another pitcher at the ready to go deep into the game?
Klaw, were you the original opener on that Sunday 35 years ago?
“No, I gave up a home run to Jesse Barfield to open the second, walked a couple, and Billy just pulled me,” Klawitter said from his home in Janesville, Wis.
Klawitter went 10-6 in 26 starts at Class AAA Toledo in 1984 to earn a spring training invitation. Twin Cities media visitors to Orlando started a pro-Klawitter campaign. Gardner cooperated by making “Klaw” signs from the dugout when the lefty recorded outs.
There was enough attention paid to this Klaw that, when the season started, the real “Claw” — Baron von Raschke — showed up at the Dome a couple of times. Sadly, Klawitter couldn’t throw enough strikes, then ran into an elbow problem and pitched only seven games (April 14 to May 21) in the big leagues.
He had an elbow cleanup, pitched six games in the Blue Jays farm system in 1986, and went home to Janesville. He was offered a chance to coach JV girls’ basketball at Parker High.
“I balked at first — ‘girls’ basketball?’ — but took the job, and wound up loving it,” Klawitter said.
He coached the Janesville Parker varsity for 26 seasons, to 12 largest-class state tournaments and three state titles, with a 564-128 record.
Lots of history there for the Klaw, even if he wasn’t MLB’s first “opener,” as a sportswriter had briefly dreamed.
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• Mistie Bass was Klawitter’s greatest star at Parker. Back-to-back state titles in 2001-02; Duke standout; long WNBA career; and Chubby Checker’s daughter.
• Klawitter has been the pitching coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater since 2016, with no season in 2020. His sons T.J. and Ross (a D-III All-America shortstop) played there.
• Klawitter pitched for and ran the Janesville Ace amateur team for 20 years. He turns 62 in June and plans to continue pitching, particularly with Chicago North in over-35 baseball.