The Spirit Keeper: Major-league fan honors memory of Cleveland baseball players

·9 min read

Every chance he gets, Terry Klausman pays tribute to the hallowed game of baseball.

The 58-year-old Coventry Township resident makes pilgrimages to cemeteries, visits the graves of major leaguers, cleans up plots, decorates monuments, makes rubbings of inscriptions and leaves a token of appreciation.

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When he finds sunken or turned stones, he contacts cemetery officials and requests repairs. When he discovers memorials without death dates, he secures permission and pays to have them updated.

Recently, Klausman started buying headstones for players in unmarked graves.

“I’m the world’s poorest philanthropist,” he said.

It’s a diversion he calls the “Spirit Keeper Project,” a tribute to some of the greatest names in Cleveland baseball — and quite a few who are forgotten.

“This project is my way of paying homage to the people responsible for playing the game that I loved so dearly,” he said.

Klausman, an Akron artist who works as a welder, tells stories that veer off into unexpected directions. He speaks a mile a minute, reciting names, dates and other facts. As he grows more animated, he gestures excitedly, acts out adventures and erupts in laughter.

His passion for baseball is obvious. He’s loved the sport for as long as he can remember.

“As a boy, I couldn’t play,” he said. “I was very awkward. I wanted to compete, but I couldn’t do it.”

Instead, he became a lifelong fan.

Memories of Cleveland Stadium

He collected baseball cards and memorized the statistics on the back. He attended games as often as possible in 80,000-seat Cleveland Stadium. He sneaked a transistor radio under his pillow at bedtime and secretly listened to games called by announcers Herb Score and Joe Tait.

“I learned to love a good play-by-play because I had such an imagination,” Klausman said. “I could see it in my mind. They could paint pictures with words.”

It was tough to stay up late. The kid drained a lot of batteries after falling asleep.

His Cleveland baseball heroes in the 1970s included Andre Thornton, Mike Hargrove, Duane Kuiper and Toby Harrah. He idolized those guys, even if they didn’t win a lot of games.

“When I was growing up, I saw so much bad baseball that when the Indians first won anything, I cried,” he said. “It was one of the greatest feelings ever. And you know what? It was a movie! ‘Major League.’ ”

Klausman has attended countless games and fan camps with his buddy Mark Koenig, who played baseball at Wadsworth and the University of Akron, and the two have called games at fancast booths in Jacobs Field and Progressive Field.

The idea for the Spirit Keeper Project was born in July 2021 when Klausman, Koenig and his wife, Nancy, visited the James A. Garfield Memorial at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.

“When we were there at the monument, I said, ‘I’ve got to visit Ray,’ ” Klausman said.

Visits to Ray Chapman's grave

Ray Chapman (1891-1920) was the Cleveland shortstop who died at age 29 after being hit in the head by a pitch. Fans visit his Lake View grave and leave baseballs, gloves, caps and other memorabilia. Klausman was so moved that he left behind his 1930s replica hat.

That could have been the end of it, but for some reason, Elmer Flick (1876-1971) came to Klausman’s mind. Flick, a Hall of Famer from Bedford, led the National League with 110 RBI in 1900 when he played for the Philadelphia Phillies, and he served as an outfielder for the Cleveland Bronchos and Naps from 1902 to 1910. Klausman paid his respects to Flick at Crown Hill Cemetery in Twinsburg.

Next he journeyed to Greenlawn Cemetery in Akron to visit Barberton’s Hal Naragon (1928-2019), a catcher for the Indians in the 1950s. He returned to Crown Hill to see Charles “Chief” Zimmer (1860-1949), a catcher for the Cleveland Blues and Spiders from 1887 to 1899.

“I’ve just gone where the Lord has taken me,” he said. “If something pops up, I follow it.”

His fifth stop was to the Highland Hills grave of Joe Vosmik (1910-1926), a Cleveland native and All-Star outfielder for the Indians in the 1930s. The plot was overgrown and unkempt.

“I was seeing a need for these sites to be spiffed up,” Klausman said.

So he edged the marker and raked around it. He began to bring hand shears, hedge clippers and other tools to provide basic upkeep.

“It’s a sign of respect,” he said.

Klausman initially focused on the most accomplished teams in Cleveland history: The Indians of 1920, 1948 and 1954. Then he paid tribute to a team infamous for being the worst: The 1899 Spiders, who compiled a 20-134 record.

Spirit Keeper Project is a process

How does it work? He identifies players he considers “important to the project.” For example, Jimmy McAleer (1864-1931), a Youngstown native who played for the Spiders in the 1890s and became the first manager of the Cleveland Bluebirds, or Blues, in 1901.

Klausman visited McAleer’s grave at Oak Hill Cemetery, recited the Lord’s Prayer, cleaned up the site, edged the marker and trimmed overgrown bushes. He used a giant sheet of white paper to make a graphite print of the stone.

As a final touch, he left behind an “info ball,” a baseball on which Klausman inscribed information about McAleer, and sank it below lawn mower level.

“I’m hoping that somebody’s curious, picks that up and learns about that guy,” he said. “I want this to be something to draw them.”

He repeats the process at every grave. Klausman keeps binders that document his visits. He fills them with photos, maps and notes, jotting down information about the experience.

He trimmed the bushes at the grave of Cleveland pitching great Bob Feller (1918-2010) at Gates Mills Cemetery in Cuyahoga County. He had Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland raise the sunken marker for Leo Fohl (1876-1965), who managed Cleveland from 1915 to 1919. He did the same for Herb Score (1933-2008), whose flat marker at Lakewood Park Cemetery was buried in mud.

“Is this my calling?” he said. “It was like an epiphany. Am I here to speak for those that can’t speak for themselves anymore and do things for those who can’t do things for themselves anymore?”

He raised a New Year’s Eve toast and wore a party hat at the Toledo grave of Adrian “Addie” Joss (1880-1911), a Hall of Famer who pitched for the Bronchos and Naps in the early 20th century. He tossed a ball toward the monument for Akron native Thurman Munson (1947-1979), the New York Yankees catcher buried at Sunset Hills Memory Gardens in Jackson Township.

“We like to have fun in the cemetery,” he said. “It’s not all about death.”

Player honored for one inning

Ohio native Malachi Hogan (1878-1945), who played in only one game for the Cleveland Blues in 1901, is buried at Knollwood Cemetery in Mayfield Heights. The Spirit Keeper Project didn’t overlook him.

“By God, he made his dream come true,” Klausman said. “I treat him with just as much love and tenderness.”

Klausman said he became emotional at the grave of pitching legend Cy Young (1867-1955), a Gilmore native who is buried at New Peoli Cemetery in Tuscarawas County. Young played for the Spiders in the 1890s and the Naps in the early 1900s.

“I cried. It was overwhelming for me,” Klausman said. “It was dawning on me: I’m seeing some great people.”

He visited Dave Pope (1921-1999), a Cleveland outfielder in the 1950s, who is buried at Lake View with his wife, Nellie.

“He was the oldest baseball card I ever had,” Klausman said. “He was kind of a bit player, but he was a major leaguer for crying out loud. I tip my hat to that.”

The marker had no death date for Nellie, who had passed away in 2003, so Klausman contacted the family and got permission to finish the marker.

Not all stops are related to baseball.

Klausman has visited Cleveland Cavaliers great Nate Thurmond (1941-2016) at Lake View, former WNIR personality and Cavs announcer Howie Chizek (1947-2012) at Crown Hill, 1946 Masters Tournament champion Herman Keiser (1914-2003) at Lakewood Cemetery in Akron and even his first art teacher, Rosemary McClain (1945-2019), at Mount Peace Cemetery in Akron.

“It’s my project,” he said. “I can make the rules up.”

Unmarked grave gains attention

Klausman made a sad discovery when he traveled to Church Hill Cemetery near Youngstown in Trumbull County. Bob Wood (1865-1943), the first starting catcher in the history of the Cleveland major-league franchise, was buried in an unmarked grave.

Wood was a 32-year-old rookie when he made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 1898. He played in Cleveland for the Blues and Bronchos in 1901 and 1902. He caught two of Addie Joss’ five shutouts in 1902.

Klausman couldn’t bear the thought that the final resting place had no monument.

“Did God direct me to discover this?” he wondered. “To correct something that needs correcting?”

He contacted cemetery officials and arranged to design and buy a granite stone for the catcher.

“His marker is gorgeous,” Klausman said.

But he felt guilty. Wood’s wife is buried next to him. Shouldn’t she have a marker, too?

Officials didn’t know her name because a 1920s fire had destroyed cemetery records.

Klausman conferred with Blackstone Funeral Home in Girard, which handled the arrangements a century ago. He also hired a private investigator to confirm the name: Margaret Cross Wood, who died in 1922.

The Spirit Keeper Project designed and purchased another marker. The stones for Bob and Margaret Wood will be unveiled at 1 p.m. Monday. Local officials and media are expected to attend.

“It’s a big deal for Youngstown,” he said.

Cross-country trip planned

In a little over a year, Klausman has visited 75 graves, making repeated trips to most of them.

He is looking forward to September when he will fly to Seattle and drive back to Ohio with his friend Mark Koenig. He plans to visit the grave of George Burns (1893-1978), a Cleveland first baseman who was American League MVP in 1926.

Other stops will include the Iowa graves of Hal Trosky (1912-1979), who won the 1936 American League RBI title as first baseman for Cleveland, and James Dunn (1866-1922), who owned the team when it won the World Series in 1920.

The game isn’t over yet. Klausman has more graves to visit and more players to honor.

“I’m trying to keep their spirit alive,” he said.

For more information about the Spirit Keeper Project, call Terry Klausman at 330-524-3729 or email him at Mark J. Price can be reached at

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This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland baseball fan makes pilgrimages to graves of famous and forgotten.