#CardCorner: 1975 Topps Jim Kern
In a season dominated by relief pitchers like Bruce Sutter, Kent Tekulve and Don Stanhouse, Kern carved out his own place in history with a 13-5 record and 29 saves.
No pitcher since has compiled a season with as many wins and as many saves.
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Born March 15, 1949, in Gladwin, Mich., and raised in nearby Midland, Kern took an unusual path to the big leagues. He went undrafted out of high school in 1967, gradually growing into his 6-foot-5 frame. A hard throwing pitcher with little control, Kern impressed Indians scouts when he struck out 43 batters in two games in an American Legion tournament and eventually signed a free agent deal with Cleveland on Sept. 4, 1967 – collecting a $1,000 bonus.
Kern went 4-7 with a 4.93 ERA in 24 games in the Gulf Coast League and the Western Carolinas League in 1968, then joined the Marines in 1969 and did not play that season. But after moving from active duty to the reserves in 1970, Kern decided to give baseball his full attention.
The Indians sent him back to the Western Carolinas League with Class A Sumter in 1970, where he was 5-6 with a 4.88 ERA and a league-leading 25 wild pitches.
“For me,” Kern told the Los Angeles Times, “a no-hitter was when I didn’t hit anybody.”
Kern spent the 1971 season with Class A Reno and was just as wild, striking out 109 batters in 100 innings but also issuing 100 free passes and 27 wild pitches. Promoted to Double-A Elmira in 1972, Kern was 3-11 with a 4.33 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 104 innings.
But in 1973, Kern got the break he needed at Double-A San Antonio. Joe Horlen, who had wrapped up his 12-year big league career the year before, was a San Antonio native who made nine appearances that year for his hometown team – mostly as a gate attraction. Horlen, who led the AL in ERA in 1967 with the White Sox, helped Kern harness his fastball and learn to exploit hitters’ weaknesses.
Kern pitched well for a Reds team that finished the season with 101 losses, going 3-5 with a 2.84 ERA in 50 games before being traded to the White Sox on Aug. 23 for two players to be named later. Kern was 2-1 with three saves in 13 games for Chicago, then entered the 1983 season with high expectations on a young and talented White Sox squad.
But in his first appearance of the 1983 season on April 5, Kern was pulled after facing just four batters against the Rangers.
“The elbow is a little inflamed,” Kern told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on April 4. “I’m only throwing 91 to 92 (mph).”
Kern tore a muscle in his right arm during the game, necessitating surgery and ending his season. Released by the defending AL West champion White Sox on March 1, 1984, Kern joined the Phillies in June but was let go a month later before hooking on with the Brewers toward the end of the year.
He appeared in just 14 games in 1984, five (with the Brewers) in 1985 and 16 (with the Indians) in 1986 before his career ended.
He was given his release by the Indians on June 17, 1986.
“I had my opportunities,” Kern told the Akron Beacon Journal after posting a 1-1 record and 7.90 ERA. “I was only going be here until the (young Indians players) matured. My problem was that they matured too fast.”
Kern finished his career with a record of 53-57 to go with 88 saves and a 3.32 ERA over 416 big league appearances. But for one year in Texas, Jim Kern was among the best relievers of his era.
“If you think being a ballplayer makes you a better person than anybody else,” Kern said, “you’re in a lot of trouble.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum