Year Inducted: 1980 (Veterans Committee)
Home parks are interesting. Mel Ott hit roughly 60% of his home runs in the Polo Grounds, taking full advantage of the very short right field line. The home park argument has been something suppressing Larry Walker’s Hall of Fame case, and will most assuredly hinder Todd Helton as well. One hitter who seemed tailor-made for his home park (Baker Bowl in Philadelphia) was Chuck Klein.
Klein took full advantage of the 280 foot line in his home park to help him hit 300 career home runs. He also slashed .320/.379/.543 in a career spanning 17 different seasons. Klein’s time in the Baker Bowl limited his wRC+ to a still fantastic 133. And, as evidenced by his .320 batting average, he wasn’t just a power hitter. In nearly 7200 plate appearances, he collected over 2000 hits, and nearly had 400 doubles as well. His power at the plate also brought him a lot of run production, driving in over 1200 and scoring over 1000 times. And, despite stealing less than 100 bases in his career, he was worth 13 runs on the base paths according to Fangraphs.
Klein, naturally, never got much love from the BBWAA due to his home park. Most of his detractors felt that playing in the Baker Bowl gave him too much of an advantage at the plate, while his supporters countered that the wall was over 60 feet high in right field, so he couldn’t just hit pop ups for home runs. Another good counter would be Mel Ott, who played his entire career for the Giants at the Polo Grounds and had a short wall without a giant wall to hit the ball over, while Ruth and Gehrig had a short right field porch to aim at.
Another big thing against Klein was his early decline, caused by a bad leg injury. Not too long after joining the Cubs, Klein hurt his leg running the bases which sapped almost 2 year worth of power and production from his bat. Following the 1936 season that saw him play in 146 games, his playing time dwindled and didn’t play in as many games the next few seasons. The last 4 years of his career also saw him be a pinch hitter almost exclusively, with a grand total of 125 fairly abysmal plate appearances with an OPS+ of -5 (let that number sink in a little bit. He was 105% worse than the average hitter in those 125 PA).
Klein’s extended family wrote a lot of letters to the Veterans Committee, hoping to persuade them to elect Klein posthumously, successfully gaining his election in 1980. Klein was an OK pick-an obviously great hitter with long suffering injuries that limited his career numbers. His home park probably helped him, but he still had to take advantage of his opportunities, something he did in spades.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 8/31/16, let’s close out August with another Hall of Fame right fielder. This one, unlike Klein, got inducted more to his high batting average and stolen base numbers, rather than power.