Philadelphia Inquirer - March 13, 1980

After 3 decades, Chuck Klein’s a Hall of Famer

 

By Allen Lewis, Special to The Inquirer

 

TAMPA, Fla. – Three men figured prominently in the career of Chuck Klein, the famous Phillies slugger of half a century ago, who was finally named yesterday to baseball's Hall of Fame.

 

First, there was Branch Rickey, the famed executive who steered Klein to the Phillies in 1928. Second, there was kindly Burt Shotton, the quiet man who. was managing the Phillies in Klein's early years. And, third, there was Frank (Lefty) O'Doul, a well-traveled veteran who took the young outfielder under his wing in his first spring training and taught him the facts of major-league life.

 

Klein got to the Phillies by a fortunate occurrence, involving Rickey. Born Oct. 7, 1905, at Indianapolis, Klein starred in high school in basketball and track as well as in baseball as a pitcher. He then went to work in an Indianapolis steel mill and played semipro baseball on weekends.

 

In 1927, Klein signed on with the Evansville team of the Three-Eye League, but played in only : 14 games before a broken ankle ended his season.

 

The next spring, Klein attended a tryout camp conducted by the St. Louis Cardinals and made an impression. He and some others were placed on the Fort Wayne club of the Central League, and then Judge Landis, baseball's commissioner stepped in.

 

Because the Cardinals also controlled the Dayton franchise in the same league, Landis told Rickey, then Cardinal general manager, he could not take any men off the Fort Wayne roster for his St. Louis club, even though they might be Cardinal property.

 

When that happened, Rickey looked around and decided that Klein could do his Cardinals the least damage if he were on the Phillies rather than another contender, and he arranged the sale.

 

It was Shotton, later to manage two Brooklyn Dodgers pennant-winners, who saw the potential in the rugged Klein, stuck with him when Chuck was struggling as a rookie, and helped him gain the confidence he needed to become one of the National League's most feared hitters during the early years of the Great Depression.

 

And it was O'Doul – who had failed as a pitcher with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox but who had gone to the minors to become an outfielder and returned to the major leagues when past 30 years of age – who helped Klein achieve greatness.

 

He and Klein shared the same locker at Chuck's first spring training in Winter Haven, Fla., in 1929. The confident, sophisticated O'Doul, who set a still-standing National League record that season with 254 hits, not only helped his young companion with his hitting, but also in the major league way of doing things.

 

Klein had only 102 pro games under his belt when he first joined the Phillies after his batting prowess, his power, speed and accurate arm had attracted attention. In 1928, Klein gave an indication of his future greatness when he batted .331 and pounded out 26 home runs in just 88 games for Fort Wayne before being sold to the Phillies for a reported $7,000. In a very short time, he was worth 10 times as much.

 

Klein walked into Baker Bowl, the old ball park at Broad Street and Lehigh Avenue that had been a show-place before the turn of the century, for the first time during a game on a sultry Monday afternoon, July 30, 1928. Sent up as a pinch hitter by Shotton in the seventh inning, Klein failed to get a hit, although the Phillies went on to beat the Cardinals, 8-7, in 16 innings.

 

The next afternoon Klein was in the starting lineup and, despite a slow start, played regularly in every game in the rest of the season. He batted in the cleanup spot on July 31 against the Cards' Grover Alexander and doubled and sacrificed in four trips to the plate. Four days later, in a Saturday afternoon doubleheader sweep by Pittsburgh, Chuck homered in each game.

 

Klein quickly got a taste of what life with the Phillies was like in those days. In the first five games he started, the opposition not only won every one but averaged 15 runs a game and scored more than 10 in each one. Chuck got plenty of exercise in his right-field post.

 

Still, Klein, who was then earning about $400 a month, did well. In 64 games, he batted .360 and hit 11 home runs, but few could have foreseen how quickly the well-muscled, red-faced, 6-foot, 195-pounder would be one of baseball's best.

 

The very next season, Klein led the National League with 43 home runs, and was ahead of Babe Ruth's record 60-homer pace until he went through the first 25 August games without one. Still, Klein broke the National League homer record that year and set a club mark that stood until Mike Schmidt shattered it with 45 last season.

 

In many ways, the 1930 season was the most amazing for Klein, whose first five full seasons are the best of any player who ever lived.

 

Although his homer total dropped to 40 in his second full year, Klein batted .386, scored 158 runs to set a National League record that still stands, led the league with 59 doubles, amassed 250 hits and batted in 170 runs, a figure exceeded only once in league history.

 

During that season, Klein put together two 26-game hitting streaks and three of 14 games, and never went hitless for more than two games in a row.

 

In addition, although Klein was not an exceptional fielder, he learned to play the short right-field wall at Baker Bowl so well thaf he had 44 assists, still the modern league record.

 

Time after time, opposing batters would line a hit off the tin on the right field wall and confidently turn first base only to have Klein throw an on-the-fly strike to the shortstop for an out. There were even times when he threw batters out at first.

 

Klein continued to garner honors in the ensuing seasons. The Sporting News named him the Most Valuable Player in both 1931 and 1932, a year in which he also won the first National League Most Valuable Player Award ever voted by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

 

Before being traded to the Chicago Cubs after the 1933 season, Klein led the NL in runs three times (in a row), in hits twice, in doubles twice, in home runs four times, in runs bat ted in twice, in total bases four times, in slugging percentage three times, in batting average once, in stolen bases once and in assists twice.

 

After the 1933 season, when he became only one of nine players ever to win the Triple Crown since RBIs became official in 1920, Klein was traded to the Chicago Cubs because the Phillies needed money to stay in operation. He was never the same player again.

 

Klein returned to the Phillies in' 1936 and hit, four home runs in a game that July in Pittsburgh. Except for 85 games with the Pirates in 1939, he played the rest of his career in a Phillies uniform, finishing his 17-year career with a .320 average, 2,076 hits and 300 home runs.

 

Despite his impressive credentials, Klein, who played his final game in 1944 when he also served as a Phillies coach, was not elected to the Hall of Fame in the years he was eligible in the writers poll, and was not picked by the Hall's Veterans Committee until yesterday in the meeting here.

 

The Veterans Committee also named Tom Yawkey to the Hall of Fame. Yawkey was a businessman who spent millions in the 1930s to convert the Boston Red Sox into a contender.

 

 

Inquirer baseball columnist Allen Lewis is a member of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee.

Ruthven:  Starting slowly, feeling good

 

By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

CLEARWATER, Fla. – As Johnny Miller, Muhammad Ali and Tiny Tim could tell you, everybody's comeback trail has to start somewhere.

 

Dick Ruthven's started yesterday against Orlando Isales, Ramon Aviles and Don McCormack. When Ruthven finished warming up, he looked around, scratched his head and said, "Who are these guys?"

 

The Phillies could have waited a couple days and let Ruthven make his post-elbow-surgery debut by twirling a few pitches in the direction of people he knows. Instead they found him some work in an intra-squad game that should have been subtitled, "Who's Who in Oklahoma City."

 

That might have been a coincidence, but so might heartburn after fast-food cheeseburgers.

 

"In a game like this," said pitching coach Herm Starrette, "he doesn't have quite the pressure he would if he was facing Cincinnati or Toronto."

 

Ruthven was aware of that as he stalked out to begin his two-inning, stint that lasted all of 17 pitches. There was only one thing he couldn't figure out. Peering in. for his first signal in seven months, he suddenly noticed runners on first and third.  Dallas Green had put them there as part of his spring program to make1 every game a fundamentals' drill. Or' something like that.

 

"If they didn't want to put any pressure on me, I don't know why they put anybody on base out there," Ruthven said, not too seriously. "Hey, look, I know what their feeling is. But I've been hurt too many times to-go out and overdo it without any thought.... I just work here."

 

So does Starrette. And he has a lot better chance of being deemed a brilliant employee if Ruthven could come back this year and imitate that guy who was 6-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his first six starts last season.

 

It would be pretty tough to look at yesterday's outing (six batters, one hit – a ground-ball single by Del Unser) and predict that Ruthven will be his old self again. But he certainly was wincing and grimacing a lot less than he had been last March.

 

"Last year at this time, I knew he was suffering even before he told anybody," Starrette said. "I can tell by his expression. I can tell if he's healthy when he throws the ball. I can see it on his face. And he's shown me no signs of arm trouble so far."

 

It was last March that Ruthven's elbow began inflating about as fast as Pete Rose's wallet. The elbow was loaded with bone chips.

 

"I recall throwing batting practice down here last year,, then going to the ballpark the next day with my elbow the size of a grapefruit," Ruthven said. "It bothered me a whole lot for about a week and a half. Then I didn't feel it again until May."

 

After being 6-0 on May 9, he went 1-5 the rest of the way, pitched only 22 innings the second half and wound up in the operating room in September.

 

Yesterday was the first time that Ruthven had pitched to a living, breathing batter since Aug. 8, but he regarded it as no great milestone.

 

"Hell, I only threw 17 pitches," he said. "But if I wake up tomorrow and it feels as good as it does today, I'll know everything's fine. I guess tomorrow morning will be the real milestone. But I don't really expect anything to happen."

 

He has thrown this spring every time he was supposed to throw. He has held back on the breaking balls, but he threw a few yesterday without much difficulty. And his fastball has moved the way it did when he was right.

 

 

NOTES: Jim Wright also pitched yesterday, for the first time since breaking a bone in his elbow last spring. The lack of pain elated him. He even spoke hopefully of making the club, but there is virtually no chance.... Orioles scout Jim Russo was in attendance, watching rookie outfielder Orlando Isales and some others. He told Paul Owens that he'd get back to him "in a day or two."

TV/radio Talk (excerpt)

 

By Harry Harris, Inquirer TV Writer

 

 

TV and radio rights to Phillies games this year, according to Broadcasting magazine, are costing Channel 17 and KYW-AM $3,500,000, a $550,000 increase over last year’s price.