Chuck Klein is the legend cardboard forgot.
Or, at least, he’s one of the many baseball men who slipped into the folds of the Great Depression and World War II, where even superstar careers too often became side notes to the darkness of the day and eventually just slid from consciousness entirely as the sunny recovery of the 1950s boomed.
But back in the late 1920s, young Klein was an up and comer with the St. Louis Cardinals, who had plucked him from the ranks of the Indianapolis semi-pro ball teams.
By 1928, he was tearing the cover off the ball with the Central League Fort Wayne Chiefs when the Cards were forced to sell the team and relinquish rights to the players — seems they had another Central League team in Dayton, and Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was none too happy with that arrangement.
All players went to the highest bidder, with the Philadelphia Phillies winning the rights to Klein’s booming bat.
The Phils would phinish a ghastly 43-109 that season, so manager Burt Shotton likely had few qualms about plugging the rookie in at rightfield and watched him hit eleven home runs in just 64 games … not to mention a gaudy .360 batting average.
As it turns out, the 23-year-old was just getting in his warmup swings, as he exploded into one of the two or three best hitters in the National League as the Roaring Twenties came to a close.
Find 1960 Fleer Chuck Klein on eBay (affiliate link)
Find 1960 Fleer Chuck Klein on Amazon (affiliate link)
To wit, from 1929, Klein batted .359 with 180 home runs and drove in 693. He also scored 658 times himself and even threw in 51 stolen bases for good measure. In 1932, he nabbed the National League MVP award on the strength of a .348, 38 HR, 137 RBI effort that also included a league-leading 20 stolen bases.
In many respects, 1933 was even better, as Klein copped the Triple Crown.
The Phillies crested above .500 in 1932 for the first time since 1917 but fell back to seventh in ‘33, prompting them to accept the Cubs’ overwhelming offer of Harvey Hendrick, Ted Kleinhans, Mark Koenig, and $65,000 in cash for Klein’s services that offseason.
Alas, the man who was supposed to replace the production lost by a declining and traded Hack Wilson a few seasons earlier never really found his groove in Chicago, and the Cubbies traded Klein back to Philly in 1936 after he put up “just” 41 home runs in 1934 and 1935 combined.
By that time, Klein had become a regular in the baseball card sets of the era, including the popular and colorful Goudey issues from 1933-35, and their black-and-white set in 1936.
As the decade wore on, though, so did the ravages of the Great Depression, and the number of cards issued each year dwindled right along with Klein’s production on the field.
His second stint in Philadelphia didn’t go much better than his tour of Wrigley, and he slowly declined into a part-time player and pinch-hitter — even got exiled (promoted?) to the Pittsburgh Pirates for most of the 1939 season. Though Klein managed to hang on through 1944, he only played in as many as 120 games once after 1936 (in 1938), and he managed just three double-digit homer campaigns after that point.
With the advent of World War II, baseball cards all but dried up right along with Klein’s playing time, and he made just six cardboard appearances after that 1936 season.
All of those circumstances have left Klein as a superstar — a Hall of Famer, even (1980, Veterans Committee) — who is little known or collected among modern hobbyists.
Part of that owes to his bright baseball light dimming all too soon, and part is becasue his few mid-career cards are tough to come by — those Goudeys in particular can be pretty expensive, even in rough condition.
Find Chuck Klein cards on eBay (affiliate link)
Find Chuck Klein cards on Amazon (affiliate link)
Luckily for all us whippersnappers who missed out on the Goudey goodies first-run, though, there is a more affordable alternative when we’re looking to get a taste of the Hoosier Hammer’s baseball cards … the 1960 Fleer Baseball Greats set!
And also the 1961 follow-up.
For me, though, if you want an old but not bank-breaking Klein card, the 1960 is tough to beat.
I mean …
It’s not so old that it’s impossible to find.
It’s cheap — usually under $5 in decent raw condition on eBay.
It’s unusual — one of only three horizontal cards in the set, along with Ernie Lombardi and Gabby Hartnett.
So … why did Klein get lumped in with the Cooperstown catchers?
I don’t know, but I’m sorta glad he did.
It makes for a neat, underrated card of a nearly forgotten offensive monster from baseball’s long ago.
What’s not to love?
Wow! Wax of the Day
You won’t find a ton of unopened cards from Klein’s prime years, but wrappers from the 1933 Sport Kings issue, as in this eBay lot, do pop up occasionally.
It’s an artful and colorful reminder of the days and players gone by, the ones that shaped our grandparents’ and parents’ years before most of us were even a twinkle. Check out the eBay listing here (affiliate link).
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End Date: Sunday 12/31/2023 18:45:34 EST
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End Date: Monday 12/25/2023 20:38:11 EST
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