Chuck Klein got used to leaving Philadelphia. He also got used to coming back to Philadelphia. The sweet-swinging right fielder played in Philadelphia on three different occasions, being traded away once, reacquired in a trade once, and released twice by the franchise during his career. On January 12, 1942, the Phillies released Klein and he sat out much of the season, until he was re-signed by the Phillies on August 7th of that year.
Klein's first stint with the Phillies came in late July, 1928 when he was traded from Fort Wayne of the Central League to Philadelphia for Harvey MacDonald. The day after the trade, manager Burt Shotton put Klein into the starting lineup and he quickly showed what he could do with a bat when he doubled in three at-bats and quickly became a fixture in the lineup for a team that was desperate for any kind of offense. As a 23-year old rookie, Klein hit .360 with 11 home runs and 34 RBI in 275 plate appearances in 1928. Klein followed that up with a 43 home run season in 1929 and hit .356 that year, despite slumping through much of the early part of the season. At the time, Klein's 43 home runs were a National League record and earned Klein the nickname of "Babe Ruth of the National League."
After getting a nice raise to $15,000 for the 1930 season, Klein put together one of the greatest seasons of all-time, with two 26-game hitting streaks to his credit on the year and was hitting .413 in early August as he looked to finish the year above the lofty .400 mark. Klein leveled off, although still hit well in August and September, his season average dropped to .386 on the season and he fell short of his predicted 50 home runs, finishing with "just" 40.
Klein amazingly finished second in the inaugural MVP Award balloting in 1931, but he continued to pound the ball, but the financial fortunes of the team took a huge hit when attendance was cut almost in half by the Great Depression. Not only was the team bad on the field, but they were even worse on the balance sheets and were nearly bankrupt. Owner Gerald Nugent unloaded Klein to pay off bills, trading him to the Cubs for shortstop Mark Koenig, outfielder Harvey Hendrick, pitcher Ted Kleinhans and $65,000 in cash.
The Phillies were financially saved, but were now even worse of a team without Klein on the roster.
Klein adjusted well to playing in Chicago and was putting up good numbers when an injury ruined his season. He attempted to play with a torn muscle in his leg, but eventually missed time, but still hit .301 with 20 home runs playing much of the season on a leg that not only bothered him that season, but into the next season as well.
In 1936, the Cubs returned Klein to Philly when he got off to a sub-par start, dealing him to the Phillies along with Fabian Kowalik for Ethan Allen and Curt Davis in May of that season. With Jimmie Wilson now managing the Phillies, Klein was back in the starting lineup, Klein turned things around and looked like the same player that the team had traded away four years earlier. Klein had a four home run game against Pittsburgh and just missed having a fifth in a July game at Forbes Field. Klein again put up good numbers, but the Phillies were still a pretty bad team and finished with 100 losses and 38 games behind the Giants.
1938 presented a challenge for Klein as the team - in mid-season - moved from the Baker Bowl, which was crumbling around them, to Shibe Park. The right field fence was 50 feet deeper at Shibe than it was in the Baker Bowl, leaving Klein with a new obstacle to conquer. The new ballpark combined with the slowly shrinking skills of Klein led to the worst season of Klein's career when he finished with just eight home runs, 61 RBI and hit just .247 for the Phillies. The next season was even worse and the Phillies released Klein in June. He latched on with Pittsburgh in mid-season and slowly began to hit better with an everyday spot in the lineup. Klein put together a 21-game hitting streak that bumped his average from .225 to .316 with the Pirates. He came back to Earth, but still hit .300 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI.
When Klein was eventually released by Pittsburgh, the Phillies took him back for the 1940 season, but he was nothing near the player he had been earlier in his career. Klein finished with just 73 at-bats in 1940, which would be more than he would have in any one season over the rest of his career, which came to an end in 1944. In 1941, Klein was a utility player, but managed to hit his 300th career home run, the only home run that he would hit that year.
The Phillies released Klein in January of '42, but he stayed with the team as a coach. He was reactivated as a player in August, but would play just 30 more games from then until the end of his career in 1944. He continued to coach until the end of the 1945 season before retiring from that role as well.
From there, Klein became a bar owner in Philadelphia, but that would last only a couple of years. Klein, decimated by a disease that affected his central nervous system, went back to his hometown of Indianapolis, where he died in March of 1958 at just 53 years of age. The cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage.
For years, there was a debate over whether or not Klein was worthy of the Hall of Fame. It looked like he would never be enshrined, but a Philadelphia school teacher - Edward "Dutch" Doyle started a letter writing campaign to get Klein into the Hall of Fame. A family member and other fans also started campaigns on Klein's behalf and in 1979, the Veteran's Committee considered Klein, but didn't vote him in. The following March, just as the Phillies were preparing for what would be a World Series Championship season, Klein was voted in by the committee and inducted in ceremonies later in 1980.
Chuck Klein's career stats