Chuck Klein- an Overlooked Hall of Famer

One of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball, but that few people remember or have even heard of, was Chuck Klein. Laboring in obscurity for the majority of his playing days with the wretched Philadelphia Phillies, Chuck Klein put up batting averages and RBI totals that eventually would carry him to the doors of the Hall of Fame. And for one five year stretch, from 1929-1933, Chuck Klein had numbers that he could match against anyone in the annals of baseball. For during that period, Chuck Klein accumulated an amazing 693 runs batted in, an average of 139 a year!

Charles Herbert “Chuck” Klein was born on October 7th, 1904 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Once he began his assault on National League pitching, Chuck Klein became known as the “Hoosier Hammerer”. Making his major league baseball debut with the Phillies on July 30th, 1928, Chuck Klein made an immediate impression, especially on the corrugated tin right field wall of the Phillie’s home park, the Baker Bowl. Only 280 feet from home plate down the right field line, the 60 foot high wall was an inviting target to left handed hitters. Chuck Klein took full advantage of the dimensions of the Baker Bowl, but his achievements were in no way a product of his home field cooking.

Chuck Klein hit .360 in the two months he played in 1928, and he became the full time right fielder in 1929. His next five seasons are almost mind boggling. In 1929, Chuck Klein batted .356, belted 43 home runs and knocked in 145. He followed that up with a ridiculous 1930 campaign that saw his bat send 170 runs across the plate, while Chuck Klein hit .386! 1931 was a bit of a fall off by those standards; Chuck Klein “only” hit .337 with 121 RBI.

His 1930 season is considered one of the best ever by a hitter. Chuck Klein had a National League record 107 extra base hits, 250 total hits, 59 doubles, and 445 total bases. The ball had been “juiced up” that year to increase attendance, as the Great Depression was in control of the economy. To prove this point, Chuck Klein’s .386 average only got him third place in the batting race, behind Bill Terry at .401 and Babe Herman’s .393. Indeed, the Philadelphia Phillies as a team hit .315! Unfortunately for the Phillies, they also had a league high ERA as a unit of 6.71; six pitchers were battered for double figure losses. Despite the wondrous hitting feats of Chuck Klein, Philadelphia wound up last by 40 games, with a 52 and 102 record. Chuck Klein’s stats would have been good enough to win the Triple Crown in 57 of the years of the 20th century.
There is no doubt that the Baker Bowl helped Klein’s cause. In 326 at bats, Chuck Klein hit .439 at home, over 100 points higher than his road average, which was still a very good .332. He had over 100 RBI in his home stadium, but still had 61 on the road. There were only five games that 1930 season that Chuck Klein failed to get a hit at home. Chuck Klein had 83 multi-hit games; 48 at the cozy Baker Bowl. Chuck Klein also threw out 44 men on the bases from his right fielder’s position, a result of his being able to play the tin wall’s quirky ricochets and caroms expertly.

Batting .348 in 1932, Chuck Klein knocked in 137 runs, along with poling 38 homers. He also became the only player after 1920 to lead his league in home runs and stolen bases (20). These numbers were good enough to gain him the National League MVP Award, as Philadelphia managed a fourth place showing. The following year, Chuck Klein did get his Triple Crown, with a .368, 28, 120 season. Then he became the only player to ever be traded after accomplishing the feat, when he was sent to the Cubs for $125,000 and three players.

Playing now in Wrigley Field, Chuck Klein saw his statistics fall back to earth, but this was due in large part to a series of injuries that would never again allow him to come close to his previous lofty highs. He drove in 80 and 73 runs in his pair of years spent with the Cubbies, but Chuck Klein did help Chicago to a World Series in 1935, his only sniff of post-season play. Chuck Klein hit .333 in the Series, which the Cubs lost in six games to the Tigers.

By now he was also known as the “Clouting Kraut”, due to his German heritage. He was traded back to the Phillies for the 1936 campaign, and had one more good year, with 104 runs batted in. On July 10th, 1936, Chuck Klein walked up to the plate in Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field and belted four home runs in a 10 inning 9-6 win over the Pirates. Chuck Klein became the first National League batter to pull off this rare trick, as he homered on the first pitch he saw in the 10th. It was not the first time Chuck Klein had been involved in a baseball oddity. In 1931, he had hit for the cycle in a game in which there was a triple play; this would not happen for another 65 years, when the Red Sox John Valentin was the player who hit for the cycle.

After a brief stint with the Pirates in 1939, where Chuck Klein hit .300 in 85 games, he once again came back to the Phillies to end his career. He played his final game on June 11th, 1944, after playing only a handful of games since 1940. Chuck Klein’s career numbers were impressive; 300 home runs, 1201 runs batted in, and a .320 lifetime batting average. In addition to his Triple Crown, Chuck Klein led the National League in home runs four times, RBI twice, slugging percentage and runs scored three times, hits and doubles a pair of times, and total bases and extra base hits four times.

Chuck Klein passed away on March 28th, 1958, in Indianapolis, at the age of 53. The Veteran’s Committee elected him to the Hall of Fame in March of 1980, a fitting tribute to a slugging outfielder whose exploits on the ball field had been overlooked for too long.

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