Joe Klein, executive director of the independent Atlantic League since its inception in 1998 and former MLB general manager, passed away at Temple University Hospital from heart surgery complications on Wednesday morning. He was 75.
In a career that spanned six decades, Klein spent time as a player, manager, scout, scouting director and farm director before serving as GM of the Texas Rangers (1983-84), Cleveland Indians (1986-87) and Detroit Tigers (1994-95), roles he is most widely known for in Major League Baseball. In 1997, when Atlantic League Founder Frank Boulton needed a baseball man to run the on-field operations of what would become a start up league in 1998, his list was one name long.
“Today is a very sad day for the Atlantic League and for baseball,” said Atlantic League Founder Frank Boulton. “Joe’s contributions to the game and the Atlantic League are immeasurable. He was a great leader who guided the development of our league for over 20 years with his knowledge, grace and respect for every owner, front office staff member, manager, player and fan. There is a great hole in the heart of the Atlantic League today. But in time, it will fill in as we fondly remember our dear friend and mentor, Joe Klein.”
Klein was officially named Executive Director of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Clubs in 1998, a position he served in until his passing. During his tenure, the league hosted 37 million fans and saw player after player return from the Atlantic League to Major League Baseball, a pipeline he helped create and sustain for 20 years. Klein is predeceased by wife Cathy, and is survived by his sons J.K. and Todd, daughter-in-laws Ruth and Robin, and Hannah (granddaughter).
“Joe was a dear friend and esteemed colleague,” said Atlantic League President Rick White. “We feel fortunate to have spent the time we did with him and send our heartfelt condolences to his family and his many friends in the baseball community.”