1928-1933, 1936-1939, 1940-1944
Career w/Phillies: .326 AVG / 243 HR / 983 RBI / 71 SB
Born in Indianapolis in 1904, Chuck Klein earned the nickname “The Hoosier Hammer.” And boy, was he a ballplayer.
The Phillies luckily received Klein. Bashing the ball in 1928 for the Cardinals’ Fort Wayne, Ind., farm team, Klein was about to reach Saint Louis. But Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis ordered the Cards to relinquish the Fort Wayne team because they had two teams in the same minor league; Klein was out for bidding. Somehow, someway, the Phillies actually outbid the Yankees for Klein; instead of joining Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the Bronx, Klein would become a Phillie legend.
Klein finished 1928 by hitting 11 home runs for the Phillies, and in 1929 he broke out. He slammed 43 homers, drove in 145 and hit .356. In 1930 he hit .386 with 40 bombs and 170 RBI. Consistently among top performers hitting the ball, Klein came down to Earth a little in 1931, merely hitting 31 homers and driving in 121, but both totals led the National League. His .337 average wasn’t good enough to win a Triple Crown. He came close again in a spectacular 1932 season, hitting .348 (3rd), homering 38 times (1st) and driving in 137 runs (2nd), but it would all come together in 1933. (Still, he led the league in steals that year with 20, earning himself a NL MVP award).
In 1933 Klein hit .368 with 28 home runs and 120 runs batted in, all leading the league and earning himself a Triple Crown (but not the MVP award). It would show that Klein benefited greatly from the Baker Bowl’s short right field, as Klein’s numbers decreased considerably upon arrival in Chicago in 1934.
Klein would return to the Phils twice. Between 1936 and ’39 he had a few nice seasons (104 RBI in ’36, .325 in ’37) but nothing near his totals of his glory years. The Phils would release Klein in ’39, but he’d return again in 1940 as a sporadic pinch hitter and platoon player. After a seven-home run campaign in ’40, Klein dwindled to a shell of his former self. He remained in Philadelphia after retiring, running a bar but drinking heavily. He died in 1958 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980.
And for all the offense Klein exhibited, he was also a strong defensive player, regularly achieving more than 20 assists per season in left field. As far as all-around ballplayers are concerned, Klein was one of the best early ones.
Comment: I wrestled with the ordering of Klein and No. 7 on the list, so they could go either way. I took points off Klein for evaporating so quickly upon his first return to Philadelphia; he truly got help from his ballpark. Still, he was a prodigious player and deserves a top 10 ranking.