BLAST: ‘Klumper’s Thumpers’ finish 16-1 in Summer of ‘72WORTHINGTON — As the sports world began looking ahead to the approaching Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, the four divisional leaders in Major League Baseball were the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — As the sports world began looking ahead to the approaching Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, the four divisional leaders in Major League Baseball were the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics.
The Pirates had the best record in baseball (64-38, .627) and owned an eight-game lead over the New York Mets in the National League East, while the Philadelphia Phillies had the worst mark in MLB and were a dismal 39-63 (.382), trailing their western Pennsylvania rivals by a whopping 25 games.
The Reds were 61-39 (.610) and had a five-game edge on the Houston Astros in the National League West, with the San Diego Padres in last place (41-61, .402).
Things were closer in the American League, especially in the East where the Tigers (57-45, .559) had a slight 2.5 game lead on the Baltimore Orioles, with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox also in the mix. Just five games separated Detroit from Boston.
The Milwaukee Brewers (in the American League then) were last with a record of 41-61, 16 games out of first.
In the American League West, Oakland had the third-best record in the Majors (62-41, .602), but had only a 3.5 game advantage over the Chicago White Sox, while the Minnesota Twins (52-47, .525) were in third place, trailing the A’s by eight games.
The Texas Rangers were dead last in the AL West, 20 games back with the second worst record among all 24 teams, 41-62 (.398).
Those were the standings in the Monday, August 7, 1972 issue of the Daily Globe, which was an afternoon paper.
The banner headline on the sports’ page that day was:
“Local VFW is No. 2 in state”
Yes, Worthington’s VFW baseball team, coached for the third summer by 1968 WHS graduate Wayne Klumper, had just finished playing three games in the northeastern Minnesota community of Ely,
Coined by Daily Globe sports editor Bill Brower as “Klumper’s Thumpers,” the locals defeated Gilbert (7-5) and Princeton (13-3) in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, earning a chance to play host Ely (winners over Willmar and Minneapolis Samuelsen-Healy) for the 1972 state VFW title.
Worthington took a perfect 16-0 record into the championship game, but trailed 2-1 after five innings.
Ely snapped the game open in the bottom of the sixth, scoring seven runs on five hits, four walks, an error and a wild pitch.
Worthington scored twice in the top of the seventh, but Ely’s 9-3 victory gave “Klumper’s Thumpers” their only loss of a marvelous season.
“We had a great season,” recalled Eagan’s Greg O’Brien, who has worked in sales with Cargill’s steel industry for the past three decades. “We were a close-knit team and Wayne Klumper was a tremendous coach. All the kids on the team loved and respected Wayne. He was just a great coach for kids our age.”
Made up primarily of 15- and 16-year-olds, entering either their sophomore or junior years of high school, VFW baseball is somewhat of a transition period between youth baseball and high school/American Legion ball.
“It was a nice age of kids to coach,” reflected Klumper, who retired three summers ago from a long career as the program director at the local YMCA. “Most of them didn’t have jobs yet or cars —lots of them didn’t have a driver’s license, so playing baseball was what they looked forward to during the summers.”
Klumper, who played football and baseball for the Trojans and the Worthington State Junior College (WSJC) Bluejays, coached the local VFW squad for three seasons.
Worthington was 8-5-1 in the summer of 1970, Klumper’s first season.
“Three of our losses to close games to Luverne and Pipestone,” Klumper remembered about his first team. “I enjoyed that first summer and looked forward to the next year.”
Worthington finishes 14-2 and places third at 1971 state tournament
After completing a year of college at Mankato State, Wayne returned to Worthington for the summer and his second season as the VFW coach.
With veteran players like Kevin Bray, Rick Van Roeckel, Daryl Schuster and pitcher Frank Little playing key roles for Worthington, the locals had an outstanding campaign.
Losing only to the Como Gophers (a St. Paul team) by a 4-3 score in a late-season game (July 24), the ’71 team entered the District 3 playoffs with an 8-1 record.
Hosting the games at legendary Buss Field, Worthington opened on Aug. 1 with a 2-0 victory over Tracy. Five days later, the squad edged Marshall (3-2) and then won the district title on Aug. 9 with a 10-7 win over Slayton.
“My dad was so excited after that game,” Klumper recalled. “I’ll never forget him, shouting ‘we’re going to state.’ I think winning the championship at Buss Field was really special for him.”
Worthington traveled to South St. Paul for the ’71 state tourney and won three out of four games, completing the season with a 14-2 record and a third-place finish at the “big show.”
Klumper’s team opened in South St, Paul with a 6-5 win over Hastings and followed with an impressive 6-1 victory over Staples.
A 3-0 loss to Winona in the semifinals put Worthington in the third-place game. The team responded well, beating Staples again, 7-4, finishing the season with a win.
’72 season opens with win at Slayton June 10
Playing at Slayton on June 10, the 1972 Worthington VFW team opened the season with a 3-2 victory, despite only getting one hit in the game.
Stan Suss smacked a leadoff single in the top of the fifth for Worthington’s only hit, but five Slayton errors helped “Klumper’s Thumpers” score two run in the first inning and another in the fifth.
Four games later (June 29), Worthington hosted Slayton and ripped 13 hits in a 13-3 win, as Arnie Wheeler and Mike Remme each cracked a trio of hits and both Bruce Stofferahn and Bruce Wilson had two.
In between those two games, Worthington had wins over Wilmont (9-4), Pipestone (10-0) and Jackson (11-4).
In July, the team posted victories over Jackson (6-2), Pipestone (7-2), the Sioux Falls Cooties (4-2), Wilmont (10-2), the Sioux Falls Cooties (13-2) and Sioux Falls Co-Op (9-3).
Winning three of its last four games against Sioux Falls’ teams put the capper on an 11-0 regular season for Worthington’s ’72 VFW team.
Among the Daily Globe game story headlines were:
“Local VFW edges Slayton; Five Slayton errors help out”
“Jackson bombed by VFW”
“VFW makes it 10 in a row”
“VFW wins 11 games in a row”
Yes, it was beginning to sound like a broken record —the local VFW baseball team was winning all the time.
“We never trailed the whole season,” Klumper said. “We were ahead in every game and ended up winning them all. But in the state tournament, we trailed in all three games. We came back and won the first two, but we never did catch Ely in the state championship game.”
The two headlines from Ely ran:
“Local VFW is one game away from Sunday title tilt” — this was in Saturday’s paper, after Worthington’s Friday (Aug. 4) win over Gilbert.
“Local VFW is No. 2 in state” — Monday’s headline, describing both the Saturday semifinal victory over Princeton and the Sunday afternoon loss to Ely.
Worthington repeats district championship with pair of wins at Redwood Falls
Between beating Sioux Falls Co-Op and Gilbert, the locals repeated as district champions by winning two games — and getting a forfeit — at Redwood Falls.
An 8-5 win over Morgan, a forfeit victory over Slayton and a well-played 9-3 decision over Redwood Falls improved Worthington to 14-0 and qualified the team for a repeat state tournament trip.
But this time, the distance was far greater.
“It was exciting, getting to travel that far and stay overnight with your friends and play three games of baseball,” recalled Mike Traphagen, who played second base for “Klumper’s Thumpers” and has been a teacher, coach and activities director for the Worthington school district for many years.
“We played baseball every day in the summer and this trip was a highlight for us. I know we stayed in Winton, which seemed like a ways from Ely.”
The team stayed on the third floor of the House of Peace, a retreat house in Winton that had been a Roman Catholic Hospital.
“It was kind of scary,” recalled O’Brien, who was the team’s top pitcher. “I know there was a guy there who we called the ‘grave digger.’ But, the whole experience was just a lot of fun.”
O’Brien, who pitched all seven innings in the win against Gilbert, remembers how cold it was on Sunday in the championship game.
“I know it was sure cold on Sunday and we just didn’t play as well against Ely as we did against Gilbert and Princeton,” the future all-conference Trojan basketball player summed up about the last game of the ’72 VFW baseball season.
Klumper’s starting lineup and batting order for the championship game was similar to what it had been throughout the campaign.
Leading off was first baseman Arnie Wheeler. Third baseman Shane Peters batted second, followed by Traphagen (second base), shortstop Le Roy Kuhl, center fielder Mike Remme, catcher Bruce Wilson, right fielder Bruce Stofferahn, left fielder Leon Stugelmeyer and O’Brien (pitcher).
Suss also played in left field in the title game and Mike Ling came in to relief O’Brien in the sixth inning.
“We had good pitching depth with three guys who threw well,” Traphagen said. “OB, Stofferahn and Ling were all good pitchers, which really helped. Marlin Wasko later became a very good pitcher, too.”
Traphagen said that Kuhl, who later played baseball at South Dakota State and had a stint in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league system, was a “real good all-around baseball player. He was solid at shortstop and hit the ball well as our cleanup hitter.”
Traphagen noted that Klumper liked to alternate right-handed and left-handed hitters in the line-up when possible, as Wheeler and himself batted right-handed, but Peters and Kuhl hit from the left side.
“Wayne Klumper was such a good coach for us,” concluded Traphagen. “He taught us a lot about baseball and was just fun to play for. We were fortunate to have him coach us.”
Wheeler, Peters and Traphagen each drove in two runs in Worthington’s come-from-behind state win over Gilbert, while Wasko scored a key run after escaping a pickoff attempt.
Worthington played very well in its 10-run win over Princeton in the semifinals.
“I thought they (Princeton) were the best team up there,” Klumper said. “But, we played so well against them.”
Remme ripped three hits in the game and Kuhl smacked a pair to lead Worthington’s nine-hit attack, while Stofferahn was sharp on the mound — going the distance and striking four Princeton hitters in key situations.
Wilson, the team’s reliable catcher, smacked a second-inning inside-the-park home run in the championship to tie the game at 1-1. But, Ely took a 2-1 edge in the next inning and then clinched the state championship with its big sixth inning.
Each team that Worthington played in the tournament finished with a trophy, as Gilbert came back to win the consolation championship and Princeton won third place.
“Ely got some really nice jackets for winning the title,” remembers Klumper. “Those would have been nice to wear home.”
Traphagen recalled how, later, three of the players from Princeton’s team became good friends of his at St. Cloud State College.
“That’s all part of the positive things about sports,” concluded ‘Trap,’ “You get to meet a lot of great people.”
Wilson, Stofferahn, Wheeler made all-tournament team
Wilson, Stofferahn and Wheeler were each selected to the 21-member all-tournament team at Ely, highlighting some impressive season statistics for “Klumper’s Thumpers,”
Wheeler finished the season with a team-best .423 batting average and 15 RBI.
Wilson was next with a .400 season average, followed by Stofferahn (.378), Remme (.361), Peters (.361) and O’Brien (.354),
O’Brien pitched 48 innings and had a fantastic strikeout to walk ratio of 65-11, while allowing 21 hits and compiling a 7-1 win-loss record.
Stofferahn was a perfect 6-0, while pitching 33 innings and giving up 20 hits. His strikeout to walk ratio was 43-20,
Ling won all three of his decisions and had a strikeout to walk ratio of 29-11, while yielding 23 hits in 26 innings.
It sure was quite a year for the boys of summer, 40 years ago, in 1972.