Klein's journey ends in Cooperstown

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Isabelle Minasian

Chuck Klein’s journey to Cooperstown was a winding path, filled with historical highs and devastating lows, and it all began on a small corn farm just a few miles south of Indianapolis on Oct. 7, 1904.

A star pitcher and hitter for Southport High School, Klein failed to attract the attention of any big league ball clubs and so, like many of his classmates, upon graduation he started work at a local steel mill. It was physically taxing, but later on Klein would credit the experience with the strength that would help him carve out a Hall of Fame career.

For three years he toiled at the mill, and when he wasn’t heaving hundreds of pounds of ingots into a furnace he was playing outfield for a nearby semi-pro team. It was there he was scouted by an agent and signed to the Evansville Hubs of the Three-I League.

From Indianapolis his contract was sold to Fort Wayne, and his phenomenal 1928 season drew the eyes of a number of major league clubs, including the struggling Philadelphia Phillies.

When Klein’s contract became available, the Phillies jumped on the opportunity. Klein made his big league debut the afternoon he reported to Philadelphia, July 30, 1928 and finished out the season with a strong .360/.396/.973 slash line.

The following year proved to be a breakout, despite an early-April slump, when Klein finished his first full season in the majors with a National League record 43 home runs.

While the Phillies floundered in the ensuing years, Klein continued to flourish, earning National League MVP honors in 1932 and the Triple Crown in 1933. Eventually Philadelphia was forced to trade the “Hoosier Hammer” to the Cubs in an effort to settle their debts, and it was in Chicago that Klein would make his only trip to the World Series. He hit .333 with a home run in the Cubs’ eventual loss to the Tigers in 1935.

Klein returned to Philadelphia in 1936, where he promptly carved his names into the record books once more as the only modern era National League player to hit four home runs in a single game.

He put up good numbers in the following years, but that season would be his final starring turn and he retired as a player in 1942. After three years of coaching for the Phillies he retired from the game.

The toll of a life rigorously-lived weighed heavy upon him, and shortly after retiring Klein retired he suffered a stroke. He was later diagnosed with a central nervous system disease and passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage at 53, back at home in Indiana. On March 14, 1980, Klein’s contributions to baseball were immortalized when he was posthumously elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame along with former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey.

Isabelle Minasian is the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series