A Major League Baseball
player inducted into the Hall of Fame
in 1980, Charles “Chuck” Herbert Klein was born on October 7, 1904 in Indianapolis
, Indiana, and died there nearly 54 years later, on March 28, 1958. In between, Klein – the “Hoosier Hammerer” – was a two-time All Star
and won the National League Most Valuable Player
and Triple Crown
awards. He led the National League
in HRs four times during his career, and also picked up two RBI
and two hits titles. Remarkably, the former steelworker
led the league in stolen bases and home runs in 1932 – the same year he won MVP honors – and remains one of only three players in MLB history to achieve this feat. The next year, he led the NL in homers, batting average, and runs batted in (but came up short in MVP voting, losing out to Carl Hubbell
). He also hit four home runs in a game in 1936.
Overall, Klein hit .320 and finished his career with exactly 300 home runs. When he retired this total was good for sixth-best on the all-time career list - second in the NL to Mel Ott.
Klein was also much more than an adequate outfielder, patrolling right field for all but the 1931 and 1934 seasons, in which he played left. In 1930, he set the still-standing MLB record for assists in a single season, with 44, although experts partially attribute this – like his hitting stats – to his ability to make the most of the odd angles of the his home park, the Baker Bowl.
Klein spent almost all of his 17 seasons in major league baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies (and the Blue Jays, as the team was controversially "renamed" in the mid-1940s). One might think this was unfortunate for Klein, as the Phillies could manage only a .364 winning percentage during his tenure with them, but the left-handed hitter feasted at the Baker Bowl. While the Bowl’s fences ranged from 342 feet in left to 408 in center, the right field wall was only 280 feet deep – a very inviting target for a left-handed, line-drive hitter like Klein.
Klein did manage to break into the postseason in 1935, playing in the World Series for the Chicago Cubs following a blockbuster trade in November 1933. The Phillies sent Klein to Chicago for $65,000 and Ted Kleinhans, Mark Koenig, and Harvey Hendrick. The players the Phillies received for Klein were not as important as the amount of money, which sparked concerns that big-market teams would create an unbalanced playing field by outspending their foes.
Klein hit .333 in the Series, with one home run and two runs batted in as the Cubs lost to the Detroit Tigers in six games. But Klein was a disappointment in Chicago, where the right field fence was deeper; although he hit over .300 in 1934, he hit only 20 HRs that year, and missed most of the second half of the season due to injury. Although he hit 21 homers the next season, Klein continued to struggle with injuries and at the plate.
In May 1936, the Cubs traded Klein back to the Phillies (along with Fabian Kowalik) for Ethan Allen and Curt Davis. Klein responded by clubbing 20 home runs and batting .309 over the next 117 games, but his power numbers fell off significantly the next year, and Klein would never again be quite as feared a hitter as he once had been. He played 85 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1939, moving cross-state after being released after 25 games with the Phillies. He was released by the Pirates after the end of the season, however, and returned to Philadelphia the following season, playing in 116 games but batting only .218 with 7 homers. He would not play more than 50 games in a season thereafter, and retired in 1944 after collecting 1 hit in 7 at-bats over four games.
Information on Klein’s life after baseball is mixed; what is certain is that it was relatively short and not entirely happy. He ran a bar in Philadelphia after retirement, but financial issues plagued him. He is thought to have been an alcoholic, and he suffered a stroke that left him partially disabled before succumbing, at the age of 53, to cerebral hemorrhage (according to his obituary; according to other sources, he may also have had cancer and/or emphysema). He is buried at Holy Cross and Saint Joseph Cemetery in Indianapolis.
Baker’s reputation as a bandbox hindered Klein’s entry into baseball’s pantheon, as many baseball experts felt that Klein’s production was as much about his home park as his power. In the end, his stats were overpowering, and the Special Veterans Committee voted him into the Hall along with Al Kaline, Duke Snider, and Tom Yawkey on August 3, 1980.
National Baseball Hall of Fame
Special thanks to kthejoker for fact-checking & additions.