Fans around baseball used to joke about Corey Kluber’s lack of emotion. He could pitch 7.1 innings of shutout ball with 14 strikeouts, and you wouldn’t know. There he was, out on the mound and stoic, seemingly unaffected by any possible emotions of happiness or excitement. They even call him “Klubot,” and though he chafed at the nickname, it did seem appropriate.
But on May 19, 2021, you could see him jumping up and down, hugging his teammates, and even smiling for a change. That day, he threw the Yankees’ first no-hitter of this century, completely dominating the Texas Rangers.
For a day, Kluber allowed himself to be human. The man who had toyed with the league from 2014 to 2018, earning two American League Cy Young Awards and two other top-three finishes over that span, had the game of his life, and it happened to be in a New York Yankees uniform.
On Friday, Corey Kluber announced his retirement from baseball at 37 years old, after posting a 7.04 ERA in 55 innings with the Red Sox in 2023. He published a heartfelt statement in which he thanked every team he pitched for, his fans, and his wife and children.
Kluber was perhaps the best pitcher in the AL during the mid-2010s with the Cleveland Guardians. He won those two Cy Youngs and combined with relief ace Andrew Miller to put the team on their backs on the oh-so-close run to a 2016 World Series title. Without much rotation help, he pitched on short rest three times that postseason with a 0.89 ERA in 30.1 innings until finally running out of gas in Game 7 against the Cubs.
The ace was dealt to the Rangers prior to 2020 in exchange for current closer Emmanuel Clase. It didn’t work out, as injury troubles from 2019 reared their ugly head the following year as well, and that combined with the COVID-19 pandemic to limit Kluber to just a single start in a Rangers uniform.
So when the Yankees signed Kluber to a one-year, $11 million deal in January 2021, it was a roll of the dice. They weren’t sure how much he could pitch, and indeed, he would ultimately be limited to 80 innings before a right shoulder strain robbed him of most of the season.
Nonetheless, those 80 innings were enough for him to make an impact. Kluber posted a solid 3.83 ERA that year, with 82 strikeouts, and was a helpful piece of the Yankees’ 2021 rotation that included Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Jameson Taillon, Domingo Germán, and breakout performer Nestor Cortes.
Kluber’s no-hitter stands as the lasting highlight of the Yankees’ season. He needed just 101 pitches to cover the distance in what would be the final complete game of his career, and he struck out nine Rangers. He did give away one walk, but that was all they could muster against the stingy Kluber. If you want to observe a masterclass of veteran pitching, it’s worth the six minutes to watch all 27 of Kluber’s outs that day in the clip below.
Kluber lowered his ERA to a fine 2.86 ERA that day, and the sense of fulfillment there was among Yankees fans was notable. They were obviously worried about Kluber being A) healthy; and B) good, but for a day at least, he erased all doubts.
Unfortunately, Kluber would leave his next outing, on May 25th, after just 58 pitches and wouldn’t return until August 30th. He wasn’t the same pitcher, and while there’s a chance he might have gotten an ALDS start had the Yankees won their Wild Card showdown in Boston, there wasn’t much optimism at that point. He signed with the Rays for 2022 and that was that.
But during the previous campaign, Kluber made his impact felt in the Bronx well beyond the mound. He took a young Michael King under his wing and taught him his most valuable pitch: his hybrid curveball/slider or, if you will, the “Kluberball”. In fact, the conversation in which Kluber took a ball and showed the grip of the offering to King took place just a day before the no-hitter, on May 18th.
This quote, which King said to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, is why Kluber was so valuable to the Yankees:
“Having a guy like Kluber say that he has confidence in me and thought we were similar pitchers, that gave me the confidence to say, ‘This could be an easy pitch to learn. I’ve gone through six different slider grips and thrown it since I was in college. It’s never been a good pitch for me until Kluber.”
That pitch not only helped King give the Yankees quality innings in a variety of roles through the past few years, but it later represented the ticket (well, a big part of it) to getting one of the best hitters of our generation: Juan Soto.
So, with all the evidence at the table, we can say with confidence that Kluber’s time with the Yankees was brief, but far more lasting than anyone realized at the time. Further, he always handled himself with class and dignity, and fans always respected him.
Kluber departs Major League Baseball with a 3.44 ERA, 116 wins, and 1,725 strikeouts in 13 seasons, with two Cy Young awards, three All-Star Games and an ERA title. He had a marvelous career, and the Yankees were proudly a part of it.