By In Stuff

Rabbit Hole: Klein, Ott and Larry Walker

Chuck Klein has one of those wonderful baseball stories that they used to make movies about, you know, back when you could make movies about people who didn’t wear capes. Klein grew up on a corn farm just outside of Indianapolis. He was a disinterested student and a good baseball player, a path which led him to a grueling job at the Chapman-Prico Steel Mill and a cherished spot on the local semi-pro baseball team.

He was playing one day when a Prohibition officer (and former truant officer) named Adolph Stahlman happened to see him play. Stahlman, best i can tell, has no history or experience as a baseball scout. But he was impressed and he good friends with the owner of the Evansville, Ind. baseball team. Stahlman passed along word, and Klein was signed making Chuck Klein the only Hall of Famer in baseball history to be scouted by a Prohibition officer.

Klein went to Evansville and hit pretty well, well enough that he was sold to Fort Wayne in the Central League. He hit really well there. Fort Wayne was a Cardinals affiliate then in large part because basically every other minor league team was a Cardinals affiliate. This was the work of Branch Rickey, who spent a lifetime five steps ahead of everybody else in the game. Rickey was so far ahead, in fact, that the Cardinals owned TWO TEAMS in the Central League, a clear violation of the rules. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis caught the Cardinals and made them Fort Wayne sell every player.

Rickey knew that the one valuable player on that Fort Wayne team was Chuck Klein, and he undoubtedly tried to figure out a way for the Cardinals to keep him. When that became impossible, he quietly sent word about Klein to the Philadelphia Phillies because of his lifelong affinity for their manager, Kindly Old Burt Shotton.*

*If you have read “The Boys of Summer” or are an aficionado of the curmudgeonly sportswriter Dick Young, you know that Young would call Shotton “KOBS” which stood for Kindly Old Burt Shotton. Every letter of KOBS dripped with sarcasm.

But if you look back through the newspapers of th etime, it is ASTONISHING how often the word “kindly” appears in reference to Burt Shotton. “Kindly Ol’ Burt.” … “Shotton, usually pictured as a gentle and kindly man” … “lovable, kindly Burt” … “A kindly family man” … “the man they call ‘kindly old Burt Shotton'” …  “that kindly gentleman” … “The kindly and lovable Burt Shotton” … there are literally hundreds of these references, and they are for the most part NOT sarcastic.

In the official transactions, Fort Wayne is credited with trading Klein to the Phillies in exchange for someone named Harvey McDonald. A minor-league-Major-League trade is fun!

The Phillies were only purportedly Major League. They were the joke of the National League at the time. They’d had a losing record for 10 straight years, finishing last in six of them. This is a rabbit hole for another day, but from 1918 to 1948, the Philadelphia Phillies only once had a winning record. That’s an astonishing three decades of awfulness. Klein arrived much like Roy Hobbs did for the hapless New York Knights, and he immediately reported to kindly old Mr. Shotton.

“They tell me you can hit,” Shotton said. “God knows we need hitters. We need everything.”

Shotton put Klein into the game a pinch-hitter the day he arrived. Shotton started him the next day. And Chuck Klein could hit. Really hit. From 1929 to 1933, Chuck Klein hit .359/.414/.636. He led the league in homers four times, in doubles twice, in runs three times, in slugging three times, in total bases four times, and he won a batting title. He won a triple crown too. In 1929, his first full season in the big leagues, he set the National League home run record at 43. They called him the National League’s Babe Ruth. Those five extraordinary seasons would eventually get Chuck Klein into the Hall of Fame.

The point of this post is to talk about Chuck Klein and the Hall of Fame. As the title suggests, this will intersect with Larry Walker a bit later (Mel Ott also plays a small role), but mostly it is about Chuck Klein.

The baseball history fans among you already know a lot of this; Klein is among the most controversial players in the Hall of Fame. There are certainly lesser players in the Hall, but Klein’s hot button is that many believe he’s an inner-circle  Hall of Famer because of his extraordinary five years (he still holds THREE fairly significant records that we’ll get to in a second) while many others believe he has no business whatsoever in Cooperstown.

What’s particularly interesting is that upon his immediate retirement, almost nobody thought Klein belonged in the Hall of Fame. He was, at his retirement, one of only seven players to have hit 300 home runs, and the other six made up a Who’s Who of Baseball: Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott, Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons and Rogers Hornsby. He had a lifetime .320 average.

And then there are those three records that still stand:

  1. In 1932, he became the only player since Deadball to lead the league in home runs and stolen bases in the same season. Willie Mays led the league in homers four times and stolen bases four times but never in th e same year — Mays is the only other player to lead the league in homers and stolen bases in an entire career.
  2. In 1930, Klein got a hit in 135 games. Yes, it’s an odd record, but it’s still astounding that with the expanded season no one has broken it. Wade Boggs in 1985, Derek Jeter in 1999 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 all matched the record of 135 games with a hit, but they did it in 162-game seasons. During that season, by the way, Klein had two 26-game, two 14-game, and one 13-game hitting streaks.
  3. In 1930, Klein had 44 outfield assists, which isn’t just a record, it’s miles ahead of anybody else. Nobody will ever come close to that. We’ll get back to that one.

Despite all this, Klein’s Hall of Fame case was basically dead on arrival. He first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1948. He got three votes. Three. Sure, it was a loaded ballot (52 future Hall of Famers were on it) but three? Klein got fewer votes than 43 players including non-Hall of Famers Stuffy McInnis, Jimmy Dykes and Charlie Grimm.

Over the next couple of years, his vote total went up to 14, which is still bordering on irrelevant, but ihe could not even sustain that total and he dropped to 11 the next year. Klein had five seasons that are virtually unprecedented in modern baseball history. He’d done things nobody had ever done before (and wouldn’t do again). And the collective yawn was the Grand Canyon.

If you know your baseball history a little, you know exactly why all this is true: For those five years, Chuck Klein played his home games in a circus ballpark called the Baker Bowl. How crazy was the Baker Bowl? You know how now today a tiny ballpark might be called a “bandbox.” The Baker Bowl was the original bandbox. People actually called it ‘The Band Box,” or “The Cigar Box.” It was a box where the long sides of the rectangle pointed out to left field. Right field was, plainly ridiculous.

How ridiculous? It was 280 feet down the right-field line. More to the point, it was 300 feet to left-center. And Chuck Klein was a left-handed pull hitter.

“Some critics have averred that Babe Ruth would hit a hundred home runs a year if he played at the Baker Bowl,” one sportswriter wrote in 1931. ” Because Klein has the advantage of hitting in this park 77 games of the season, smart baseball men are not inclined to rate him as highly as might be expected from his hitting records.”

This was 40 years before Bill James started writing at length about park effects, but the Baker Bowl was so obviously freakish, that even in his time as lot people were calling bull on Chuck Klein.

Klein, by the way, didn’t buy any of it. He didn’t buy that the dimensions of the Baker Bowl had ANYTHING to do with his record-setting home run numbers, his triple crown, his crazy-high batting average. When asked to explain why he hit so well at the Baker Bowl, he explained that it had the game’s best background for hitters …

“That must be a lot of hooey,” Klein responded to the criticism. “I can’t believe it, although like every other player, I make my best average playing at home. That’s only natural when you consider we play 77 games at the Baker Bowl … you get more used to the background at the home park, and that makes it easier to pick out the ball and wallop it.”

Boy do I love how old ballplayers used to talk.

Home/road splits were unavailable in those days. Sometimes, reporters would keep them by hand for a few weeks, but they usually lost interest. So people knew that Klein hit better at the Baker Bowl, but they were not generally aware of how much better.

How big a difference was it, anyway?

1929

Home: .391/.434/.734, 25 homers, 78 RBIs, 64 runs
Road: .321/.382/.583, 18 homers, 67 RBIs, 61 runs

— This was the year Klein set the National League home run record, and this year he has a reasonable argument that the Baker Bowl effect wasn’t that big. Klein hit for a much higher batting average with a few more home runs at home, yes, but he was right to say that most hitters are better at home. Anyway, he was really good on the road too.

1930

Home: .437/.482/.792, 26 homers, 109 RBIs, 91 runs
Road: .332/.391/.578, 14 homers, 61 RBIs, 67 runs

— This seems a bit less reasonable. Klein scored 91 of his NL record 158 runs at home. He drove in 109 of his 170 RBIs at home. Klein’s road numbers are still good … but even that should be taken with a grain of salt. Remember, 1930 was baseball’s silly season, the year the whole league hit .300, the year Hack Wilson drove in 191 RBIs, etc.

1931

Home: .401/.465/.740, 22 homers, 78 RBIs, 80 runs
Road: .269/.327/.421, 9 homers, 43 RBIs, 41 runs

— And now we’re things are beginning to come off the rails. Klein was a below average hitter on the road, and 1941 Ted Williams at home.

1932

Home: .423/.464/.799, 29 homers, 97 RBIs, 92 runs
Road: .266/.340/.481, 9 homers, 40 RBIs, 61 runs

— This was Klein’s MVP season. This is one of the most insane splits in baseball history.

1933

Home: .467/.516/.789, 20 homers, 81 RBIs, 62 runs
Road: .280/.338/.436, 8 homers, 49 RBIs, 39 runs

— This was the year Klein won the Triple Crown. It’s easier to win a triple crown when you hit .467 at home.

Those five seasons more or less make up the bulk of Chuck Klein’s Hall of Fame case. He was a good player for a couple of years with the Cubs, probably every bit as good, but his numbers changed drastically. He hit .301 and .293 his two full seasons with the Cubs when Wrigley Field was his home park. He hit 20 and 21 home runs. Fine years. Chuck Klein was a good ballplayer. Only in the Baker Bowl was he great.

 

In all, he hit 123 of his 180 homers at home. He hit .424 at the Baker Bowl and .294 on the road. That must have been one heck of a hitting background they had at the Baker Bowl.

The Hall of Famer voters saw that right away. They saw him as a creature of the Baker Bowl. Klein would have an occasional boost of momentum. For a time in the mid-1950s, Klein’s percentage raised into the high 20s; this is because of what you might call “The Mel Ott gambit.”

There were really four quote-unquote great left-handed hitters in the National League in the 1930s — Klein, Paul Waner, Bill Terry and Mel Ott. The other three were voted into the Hall more or less immediately while Klein got almost no support. And of the those three, Ott was considered the greatest (because he WAS the greatest).

A handful of Klein boosters focused on Ott. Sure, his numbers were extraordinary … but he played half his games in the Polo Grounds. And the fence down the right-field line at the Polo Grounds was only 257 feet from home plate, much shorter even than the Baker Bowl.

So, the question went, how did Mel Ott breeze into the Hall of Fame while Chuck Klein waited helplessly?

This actually was a pretty dumb question. Even if you say that the Polo Grounds was as comical as the Baker Bowl, Mel Ott was still twice the ballplayer Chuck Klein was (more than twice if you compare Wins Above Replacement).

But the question turned out to be dumber than that because the Polo Grounds was patently NOT the hitters park that the Baker Bowl was. The Polo Grounds was actually A PITCHER’S PARK. Yes, it’s true, the stadium had that preposterously short fence down the right field line. But unlike the Baker Bowl, where the fance was a straight line, the Polo Grounds jutted out so that right-center was a preposterous 449 feet from home plate.

Yes, Ott did yank a lot of homers down the line — he hit 323 of his 511 home runs in the Polo Grounds, as the Klein supporters often pointed out. What they did not point out was the Ott was actually a BETTER HITTER on the road. The Polo Grounds hurt him at least as much as it helped him.

Take 1931. Yes, Ott hit 20 of his 29 homers at home. He also hit .349 on the road and .233 in the Polo Grounds.

In 1932, it was similar. He hit 24 of his 38 homers at home. He hit 60 points better on the road.

And so on. This gap was more-or-less there every year. For his career, Ott hit .297 at home, .311 on the road. If he hit 63% of his home runs at home, well, he also hit 63% of his doubles on the road. He had 72 triples in his career — 51 of them away from the Polo Grounds. Mel Ott was Mel Ott wherever he played.

The same isn’t true for Chuck Klein.

The Mel Ott gambit didn’t really work. There was a last-ditch effort for Klein in 1968, but it crashed at 28% of the vote, and Klein was off the ballot, seemingly lost.

Lost, maybe. But he was not forgotten. You have heard the last few years how the relentless enthusiasm of superfans can help players get into the Hall of Fame. There were several such fans for Jim Rice. A fan and writer named Rich Lederer just kept hammering everybody with Bert Blyleven stuff, and the stuff was so logical and persuasive that Blyleven (against pretty severe odds) was elected. My friends Jonah Keri and Tom Tango — with Jonah playing the lead — were pivotal in the election last year of Tim Raines.

Well, Chuck Klein, certainly without ever knowing it (he died in 1958), inspired two such superfans, who simply would not give up the dream. The first was a high school English teacher, basketball coach and Philadelphia character named Ed Doyle. Everybody called him Dutchy. He grew up, as he often said, “right back of third base at the Baker Bowl,” and he was deeply committed baseball fan. Dutchy was outraged that Chuck Klein was not in the Hall. And he decided to do something about it.

“I made a pest of myself in a lot of places,” Dutchy would say, “But I wasn’t going to back off.”

There was no subtlety in Dutchy’s case. He came at people hard with blunt (and misleading) statistical arguments. Triple crown! A .320 average! Hit 300 homers! Dutchy DID NOT CARE about the Baker Bowl’s dimensions, refused to buy into that argument for one minute. He sent these simplistic but pointed arguments to every single Hall of Fame voter or influential baseball figure he could find, all the way up to the commissioner’s office (Bowie Kuhn knew him by name). He had his English students write Chuck Klein letters as assignments, which they would also send out. Later, Dutchy met Klein’s sister-in-law and together they wrote more than 1,000 more letters.

When Chuck Klein made ito the Hall of Fame, Dutchy had a special T-shirt made and brought a group of 42 to Cooperstown to celebrate.

The second Klein disciple was not quite as passionate but he played an even larger role. Allen Lewis was an influential Philadelphia sportswriter for a half-century. He was a beloved figure and a nationally renowned expert of baseball’s rules. He, like Dutchy, was entirely convinced that Klein belonged in the Hall of Fame and took it as a personal affront that others could not see it.

Lewis, at first, tried to pound people with the Klein achievements and statistics, but he soon realized that was a dead-end. Klein’s problem, Lewis realized, was that people already accepted the numbers as Hall of Fame worthy. What they did not accept, however, was the authenticity of those numbers. Klein’s numbers could have been 50% better, and it still would not have mattered.

We see this all the time now with the PEDs. You can’t win the Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens argument by telling people about their amazing stats because many don’t think the numbers are genuine. The irony is that the BETTER the statistics, the LESS many people believe them. Mark McGwire hit 583 home runs and never got 25% of the vote. If he had 683 homers or 783 homers or 883 homers, it would have been the same thing.

LASZLO: Are you enough of a businessman to appreciate an offer of a hundred thousand francs?

RICK: I appreciate it, but I don’t accept.

LASZLO: I’ll raise it to two hundred thousand.

RICK: My friend, you could make it a million francs, or three, and my answer would still be the same.

This is where Larry Walker comes in. I have been one of a group of people pushing Walker’s Hall of Fame case. He has a superb Hall of Fame case statistically — .313/.400/.565, three-time batting champ, MVP, 73 wins above replacement — and you can see that he had a stretch just that’s pretty similar to Chuck Klein:

Klein from 1929-1933:359/.414/.636, 232 doubles, 46 triples, 180 HRs, 51 stolen bases

Walker from 1992-2002: .353/.441/.648, 214 doubles, 25 triples, 182 HRs, 83 stolen bases.

But with Walker, like with Klein, many find those numbers inauthentic. Coors Field was entirely different from the Baker Bowl — Coors is enormous because of the way the ball carries at altitude — but just as hitter friend. So, the stat argument doesn’t break through.

Lewis cleverly turned the tables. Instead of talking about Klein’s numbers, he began talking about Klein’s completeness as a ballplayer.

“Klein could do the four things that make superstars,” Lewis wrote. “He could run, throw, hit and hit with power. … It’s difficult to imagine what else is needed to qualify the greatest hitter in the history of the Phillies for admission to Cooperstown.”

To pull off this argument, Lewis turned to one of those three records listed above — the outfield assist record Klein set in 1930. He played that up to show what an extraordinary arm Klein had. After all, what could an extraordinary outfield assist record have to do with the Baker Bowl?

Answer: Everything. Klein was playing right field, and you know how tiny the right field at the Baker Bowl was. Klein was the playing more or less where second basemen play on the shift. Because of this, x-number of those 44 assists were merely him playing very shallow and throwing to first to beat the runner. We don’t know how many of these he pulled off, but it must have been a few — we know he almost threw out Rabbit Maranville at first, at which point Maranville “wiggled his ears at Chuck and laughed.”

Lewis didn’t need to go into all those details. He played up the all-around brilliance of Klein. It was a smart choice, and Klein began to get some momentum in the 1970s. Almost 40 years later, I admit trying to pull off the same judo move with Walker. I feel SURE that Walker really was a great all-around player (it’s less clear with Klein) and that is the best way to present his Hall of Fame case.

In the end, Klein had something that Walker does not: Allen Lewis became a member of the Hall of Fame’s veteran’s committee in 1979. One year later, the committee voted in Chuck Klein.

Maybe someday I can be on the veteran’s committee.

* * *

Rabbit Hole Leftovers!

I love this headline that I ran across:

Portsiders.jpg

First of all, “Portsider” is just an awesome name for left-handed pitchers, and I am firmly in favor of bringing the term back.

In that artcile, Klein basically said that lefty pitchers are harder to hit when you’re a lefty hitter. This story is from 1931, and they played it up like this is newsworthy. So was this around the time that the whole lefty-lefty thing became obvious to people? Or was this just blindingly obvious in 1931 also but the newspapers decided to play up because, well, there were pages to fill?

The second story is even better.

Chuck_Klein_bowling.jpg

A few things here. One, I love that Klein became the “assistant manager” of the downtown bowling alley. I wonder if he was actually the assistant to the manager.

Second, it’s great that they thought working in the bowling would keep Klein in strong playing condition.

Third, I just had a great conversation with Steve Stone about the old Cedar Center Bowling Alley in Cleveland where both of us basically learned how to bowl.

Fourth … Not too long ago I wrote a story I once wrote about a bowling alley, and I had an outraged woman call me; she was furious that I used the term “bowling alley.” She thought I was a bowling hater (I was RAISED on bowling) and wanted me to know that “alley” is a pejorative term and bowling alleys should, in fact, be called bowling CENTERS.

I was properly respectful to the woman. I am always eager to call everything by their right name. I am easily embarrassed if I use an out-of-date term or if I say something that was once mainstream but can now be taken wrong — my daughters correct me on this fairly often. I always try to keep up with the times.

But it will be a cold day in hell before I EVER call a bowling alley a bowling center.

 

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51 Responses to Rabbit Hole: Klein, Ott and Larry Walker

  1. BobDD says:

    I “discovered” Chuck Klein when playing APBA baseball with all historical stats available. So Klein’s 1930 season was a high draft choice. As well as Fred Dunlap’s 1884, Tip O’Neill’s 1887 and several others that APBA and Strat lovers will remember. I overused George Puccinelli’s 1930 and Monte Cross’ 1894, and wondered forever why Rogers Hornsby played only part-time for seven seasons while still posting all-star stats. Good memories! Thanks for explaining Chuck Klein again.

  2. invitro says:

    This is an excellent article. Very fun.

  3. invitro says:

    Klein’s HoF election might not look quite as bad if you just look at OPS+. Here’s the top 30 RF’s in OPS+, and some other players, including all HoF’ers:
    RF’s by OPS+
    1. 206 Babe Ruth (HOF)
    2. 170 Shoeless Joe Jackson
    3. 160 *Aaron Judge
    4. 159 Stan Musial (HOF)
    5. 155 Hank Aaron (HOF)
    6. 155 Mel Ott (HOF)
    7. 154 Frank Robinson (HOF)
    8. 151 Gavvy Cravath
    9. 148 Harry Heilmann (HOF)
    10. 144 Sam Crawford (HOF)
    11. 144 *Giancarlo Stanton
    12. 141 Larry Walker
    13. 141 Babe Herman
    14. 140 Vladimir Guerrero (HOF)
    15. 140 Gary Sheffield
    16. 140 *Bryce Harper
    17. 139 Reggie Jackson (HOF)
    18. 138 Darryl Strawberry
    19. 137 Reggie Smith
    20. 137 Chuck Klein (HOF)
    21. 137 Jack Clark
    22. 136 Brian Giles
    23. 134 Al Kaline (HOF)
    24. 134 Paul Waner (HOF)
    25. 134 Harry Lumley
    26. 133 Danny Tartabull
    27. 133 *J.D. Martinez
    28. 132 Tony Gwynn (HOF)
    29. 132 Rocky Colavito
    30. 132 Ken Singleton
    … 132 *George Springer
    … 130 Roberto Clemente (HOF)
    … 130 Dave Winfield (HOF)
    … 130 Ross Youngs (HOF)
    … 128 *Nelson Cruz
    … 127 *Mookie Betts
    … 126 *Yasiel Puig
    … 125 Kiki Cuyler (HOF)
    … 125 *Shin-Soo Choo
    … 124 *Jose Bautista
    … 124 Enos Slaughter (HOF)
    … 114 Harry Hooper (HOF)
    … 112 Sam Rice (HOF)

  4. Cliff Blau says:

    Well, the NL record for runs is 198, and the record for assists by an outfielder is 50, but otherwise this was good.

    • vtmike says:

      Attaboy Cliff, you sure got him. Who can forget Orator Shafer in 1879, playing at Lakeshore Park?
      “In 1878, the White Stockings returned to the 1871 site and to a new park that is usually called Lake-Shore Park. At the new park, the outfield area was especially close in right field. The right field fence was less than 200 feet away, so anyone hitting the ball over that fence was awarded only a ground rule double. Batters would aim for the fence, and during their years at the park, the Chicago club regularly led the league in doubles.”

  5. Jonathan Kopplin says:

    I love the random Casablanca quote dropped into the middle of the article.

  6. paqui says:

    Thanks RG. Keep update new game modcustom writings

  7. Scoop K says:

    “Portsider” is typically used for chubby lefties, as in “Portly portsider CC Sabathia.” Thin ones, like Chris Sale, are “skinny/spindly southpaws.”

  8. Steve Copley says:

    100% agree with Jonathan on the Casablanca quote.

  9. W B says:

    Stopped reading after the ‘get off my lawn’ sentence about movies. Come on Joe, you’re better than that.

    • BearOn says:

      I am fairly certain Joe was attempting to make a wry joke here … I think he has written enough on contemporary films to suggest that he continues to be a big fan of movies … including some Marvel/DC films.

      • BearOn says:

        Heck, the blog post before this shows Joe admitting his love of Wonder Woman and Black Panther ….

        C’mon, WB … read before your burn.

    • nickolai says:

      Your loss!

      Didn’t read but still felt compelled to jump down to leave a comment? I don’t get people like you.

  10. The Beekeeper says:

    I don’t know if you are seeing whether you can write enough to charge for this blog, but if so, it is a great success. I probably would not have paid before this latest string of posts, but I would now. This one was fantastic.

  11. smead jolley says:

    so, joe….how many other folks had that kind of split in baker bowl? who else took that much advantage of that park? maybe real talent’s necessary to be able to take that much advantage of your home park?

    also….any comment on league park in cleveland, which didn’t have much to do with tris speaker’s career doubles mark i don’t imagine.

    or the launching pad….making henry aaron look like didn’t age normally for quite a while?

    • smead jolley says:

      also….i’d swear i’ve read a couple times over the years that klein suffered a serious injury his first year as a cub…something about his whole leg from the hip down turning nearly black…and then for the rest of his career he had injuries. any information about that?

    • Mark Daniel says:

      Good point. I looked it up, and just as one example, in 1931, Klein’s teammate Spud Davis (catcher) hit .326/.382/.443.
      His home/road splits:
      At Baker Bowl – .403/.453/.568
      Road – .241/.304/.305

      This was the first guy I looked up. I don’t think I have to look further.

    • John Autin says:

      One thing Joe might have mentioned is that the BEST hitter ever at Baker Bowl was none other than Mel Ott — .415 BA, .508 OBP, .774 SLG, 1.282 OPS. In just 119 games there, Ott had 40 HRs, 161 RBI and 139 runs.

      To your question … Klein got more Baker benefit than most of his teammates, but the effect is plain to see there as well. For the 5 years Joe focused on (1929-33), Klein’s BA and OPS splits were .424/1.243 at home, .294/.857 away. His teammates were .311/.806 at home, .260/.681 away.

      • smead jolley says:

        so, see…spud davis was a pretty good hitter. had good years with sportsman’s park (well, an awfully good hitter’s park, too)…and even in forbes field. i wonder…did baker bowl *make* a mediocre player seem like a star. that’s kind of joe’s point vis a vis klein, i think…

        • smead jolley says:

          just cuz joe says so…don’t make it true, or right, even. i’ve been reading joe for a long, long time. i notice when you jumped in….beyond the spud davis thng….er. tris speaker? how on earth is it possible to shit on klein….and not follow it up with speaker and league park? it’s…er. it’s not.

          joe is one of my very favorite writers. he’s got….bad breath. kids. life. he’s as human as you and i…

          /

          • smead jolley says:

            chuck was a five tool guy, before anyone ever thought of putting those tools together in quite that way. he (joe) cherry picked.

  12. Rob Smith says:

    Every time I hear about Baker Bowl I have to google the pics. It is incredibly short. They did install a high, Fenway-like wall. Actually it was 60 feet high according to Wiki, so quite a bit higher than the 37 foot green monster. So, that’s something. But still, 300 to right-center is ridiculous. It does just out from there to 408, so it does eventually become challenging. I do think the 60 foot high fence has to be taken into consideration, though when debating Klein’s numbers. Joe didn’t mention it at all.

    Baker Bowl was also noted for having a lot of foul ground. Supposedly it had 60 feet of foul ground, and you can see from the pictures that the foul ground is generous all the way to the outfield fence, and not like today where foul territory narrows as you get farther down the line. So, there were at least some factors to mitigate the short fence. In ballparks like Oakland where there is a lot of foul ground, it’s mentioned as a factor in making it a pitcher’s park. Lots of foul outs become possible. So, that needs to be factored into the discussion as well.

    There is also some mention of a hump in center field where they had built a tunnel for trains to pass through. The train depot behind right field is the reason why rightfield is so short. Originally center field was short too, during the dead ball era. So when it was obvious that home runs were too easy, they lowered the tracks, built a tunnel and extended center field and the grandstands over the tunnel. The pictures are not of good quality, so it’s tough to see the hump. But it made me think of the dip down the left field line at Crosley field, where Cincinnati played until 1970 I always thought that was the oddest thing, so if Baker Bowl had something like that in center field, that’s really something too.

    But anyway, I always find ballpark dimensions to be interesting, and Baker Bowl might be the most interesting. Lots of odd features. Features, not bugs!

    • Mark Daniel says:

      What’s also interesting is what is in the location where the Baker Bowl used to be. Home plate was at the corner of N. 15th St. and W. Huntingdon St in Philly. If you go to google maps, there really is no evidence whatsoever that a baseball stadium once existed there. That’s probably true for Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and many other old stadiums, but it just seems sad, or inappropriate, or something, that there’s nothing there anymore.

      • BobDD says:

        So I looked up the Baker Bowl, and both Google and Bing Maps had its location (and Crosley Field) noted. But Bing also had Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds where Google did not. Until you brought it up, I had not thought to check internet maps to see if they had historical places identified that no longer exist.

      • BobDD says:

        Looking up the above, led me eventually to looking at the BABIP for some of the better hitters of my lifetime. I cannot see any rhyme or reason to this list. Sure, the two slowest runners are at the bottom, but otherwise speed seems not to matter, nor LH batters, or era or anything else I can think of. I know this is off topic, but does anyone have an explanation for the randomness?

        359 Carew
        353 Trout
        352 Votto
        350 Jeter
        345 Cabrera
        344 Boggs
        343 Clemente
        341 Gwynn
        338 Ramirez
        338 Brock
        335 Martinez
        334 Allen
        328 Williams
        320 Musial
        319 Mantle
        317 Bagwell
        314 Rodriquez
        314 Piazza
        305 Henderson
        304 Thomas
        299 Mays
        296 Kaline
        295 F.Robinson
        292 Murphy
        291 Pujols
        291 Murray
        291 Aaron
        287 Griffey
        285 Bonds
        280 Schmidt
        278 Morgan
        255 McGwire
        254 Killebrew

        • Bob Sanchez says:

          Recall that home runs do not count toward BABIP. In general, the home run hitters trend toward the bottom of the list. The two slowest runners are also the two guys who lose the most when you subtract their home runs.

        • JustBob says:

          I take it as a personal affront that you included slap hitters Rod Carew and Wade Boggs, but left out George Brett (.307, for the record) (I should also point out that I was a fan of both Carew and Boggs, but a much bigger fan of Brett)

        • John Autin says:

          BABip skews towards fast LHBs, and towards the modern approach of “swing hard, in case you hit it” — trading soft contact for harder contact.

        • Mark Daniel says:

          Strikeouts and walks don’t count, so in the case of someone like McGwire, something like half his plate appearances are not included in BABIP.
          For example:
          McGwire: 7660 PA, 583 HR, 1317 BB, 1596 K, 75 HBP, 150 IBB
          Carew: 10550 PA, 92 HR, 1018 BB, 1038 K, 25 HBP, 144 IBB

          PA for BABIP
          McGwire 3939
          Carew 8233
          With a BABIP of .255, that amounts to about 1004 hits that count toward BABIP for McGwire.
          With a BAPIP of .359, that amounts to 2956 hits for Carew.
          If you added HRs to create a stat like BABIP+HR, you would get something this:
          McGwire .346
          Carew .366

          That’s pretty close.

      • Rob Smith says:

        Apparently they did put a marker of some sort where Baker Bowl used to be. That’s common. Atlanta has an outline of parts of the park (in paint) where Fulton Country Stadium existed, including a marker where Hank Aaron’s 715th HR landed. It’s currently a parking lot next to Turner Field, but with the Braves moved out and Georgia State University now owning the property, I imagine they’ll rip up the parking lot & build something there. They’ll keep the Aaron marker, if they didn’t there would be outrage, but that’s about it.

        Back to Baker Bowl, another interesting fact is that when they ended up moving to Shibe Park, where the A’s played (allowing them to share maintenance costs), they only had to move a few blocks. You can see both parks from an aerial shot.

        In the end, Baker Bowl was built in the dead ball era and didn’t consider that HR’s would be a big thing…. i.e. they didn’t know the ball would change (queue another Rabbit Hole discussion about the ball). It was actually considered a state of the art park when built, but it quickly became a joke in the new live ball environment. The strangest thing is that they stayed in Baker Bowl so long. Even back in the day, the park was considered a joke and was mocked by players and the media. So it’s not like Joe is the first one to figure out the park was a joke. They knew it at the time. And with another park, Shibe Park, just a few blocks away, I wonder why the move didn’t happen far earlier. Baseball wasn’t a big money thing, so sharing a park made a great deal of financial sense. But, in the end, I guess people do like their own park. Their own home. Even if it’s a total joke. Look how long San Francisco stayed in Candlestick Park, lol. And the A’s in the Coliseum. Both were and are terrible. And of course, there’s Tampa Bay…. they’ll be luck if that place doesn’t just cave in.

    • Dave Kunsman says:

      According to “Green Cathedrals” put out by SABR , Baker Bowl during Klein’s tenure there was 325 to right center, still quite short. And the wall in right was brick topped by tin to 40 ft high until July ’29 (yes, during the season it was changed) when a wire mesh of 15′ was installed on top of it. Still, a mid-high fly ball would clear 55′ at a distance of 300-325′. The Polo Grounds configuration of Ott’s time had a 10′ wall in right, 12′ in right center. (“Green Cathedrals” was published in ’06 and contains data on every park used by MLB and the Negro Leagues.)

  13. Ian says:

    Fun article. I think both Klein and Tim Raines have similar arguments. Both basically had a five year period that put them in the HOF (if you discount dWAR calculations, Klein actually has the better five year peak) but Raines was decent for a longer period (115 OPS+ after his peak compared to Klein’s 111 (I know OPS+ is just one stat)).

    It’s interesting how voters look at dominate guys who didn’t have long careers – guys like Johan Santana and Nomar Garciaparra had peaks every bit as good (or better) than short peak guys like Klein and Raines but they didn’t have the extra compiling years that voters seem to require.

  14. I’m glad to see an emphasis on ballparks. Think of Duke Snider. He played in Ebbets Field with a short right field, but the ball had to get over that scoreboard. Then he goes out to LA and the first time they were in the Coliseum, Willie Mays looked at that 440 to RF and said, “Duke, they took away your game.”

    Meanwhile, Mays (and McCovey and Cepeda) spent large portions of their careers in Candlestick, which was best described–in a line too infrequently repeated and uncommonly known–by Harry Wendelstedt (an umpire who should be in Cooperstown, by the way). He once called Candlestick a memorial to Lon Chaney. Nice. But imagine what else Mays could have done in an actual baseball stadium.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I saw a game in Candlestick. It was an afternoon game, as they started doing pretty often because of the awful evening weather. It was still overcast, cold and windy. The park was gray and ugly. There was only one way in and one way out, so traffic was horrible, even though it wasn’t a big crowd. The people that worked their were slow and incompetent. Trying to buy a ticket took forever. Trying to buy a beer took forever. This wasn’t because there were long lines, the game was lightly attended. The whole sense was that nobody cared and nobody wanted to be there. It was the worst baseball experience ever. I don’t remember a single thing about the game. While the Coliseum in Oakland is not a good ballpark, at least the people that worked there were competent and the game I saw there was actually pretty good. A game winning three run homerun from Andy Kosko. Yeah, that’s going to date me. Bottom line, though. That game in Candlestick is the only time that the atmosphere completely wrecked the game for me. Why they ever built a stadium in that location is a complete mystery. It is the single worst location they could have chosen anywhere in the state of California.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I wanted to expand on the Duke Snider comment. In 1958, the rightfield at the Coliseum WAS 440 feet. But in 1959, they shortened it to 380 feet. Much more reasonable. That was another stadium with an extreme short porch. 320 feet to left centerfield, with a high net above the fence. Very much like Baker Bowl. Of course they moved to Dodger stadium after a couple of years.

      As for Snider, the fence changes did make a difference. In 1957, his last year at Ebbetts Field, he played 139 games (his games played really dropped off after this year) and hit:
      Home: .305/.421/.671 with 23 HRs
      Away: .244/.314/.508 with 17 HRs.

      Then, in 1958, with the 440 foot rightfield at the Coliseum… with him playing only 102 games (he was declining, so that also needs to be factored in):
      Home: .294/.335/.441 6 HRs
      Away: .331/.407/.573 9 HRs

      Then in 1959, with the 380 foot rightfield at the Coliseum… playing 126 games… obviously he was having injury problems…
      Home: .342/.415/.574 13 HRs
      Away: .268/.383/.488 10 HRs

      After that, Dodger Stadium was no picnic for him either. But also he was well into his 30s, and missed lots of games every year. So it’s hard to know how much of it was age, how much was injuries and how much was the ballparks. Probably a bit of each. But with the number of games missed, I think age and injuries were the far bigger factor in his decline.

  15. Ross says:

    Do park factors take into account the asymmetry of ballparks in the calculations? I only found that the more runs scored at a ballpark, the more it’s considered a hitters park for adjustments to OpS+, etc. But a very short right field would mean more to Klein than say a righty pull hitter.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Park effects only factor in the offense that occurs there. They don’t evaluate dimensions, wind, altitude etc. They assume those things will all impact the level of offense, which is measurable.

    • invitro says:

      I think you’re asking if there’s a different park factor for left- and right-handed hitters. I’m fairly sure that bb-ref doesn’t use one. I think they should, and also have a separate factor for doubles/triples and homers, along with a BABiP factor. I know that it’s common for a stadium to be good for homers but bad for BABiP, etc., but there may not be enough data for such a split to have value, though.

    • Carl says:

      They do not. Therefore, one must consider and adjust for park factors being off for say a right handed pull hitter in Fenway vs a left handed pull hitter in Fenway.

      • Rob Smith says:

        Lefthanded pull hitters have done very well in Boston. Ted Williams, Big Papi, Yaz. The fences are not ridiculously far in right, and they are also low walls. And the extra space in the outfield that the right fielder has to cover gives more room to drop in bloopers or drive gappers. Leffield is great for wall scrapers that would have been outs, but there is a lot less room for the left fielder to cover so they can play pretty shallow and poach line drives that float a bit. So I think Fenway plays pretty well for left handers, and of course right handed pull hitters.

      • Ross says:

        Thanks everyone, that’s what I figured. Seems like we all agree there is some room to make the park factors more precise

    • Steve says:

      Some sources do give separate park factors for LH and RH hitters, or separate factors for different stats (HR, 2B, 3B, etc.). But in evaluating players, typically only overall park factors are used. The goal of these adjustments is not to say what Chuck Klein would have hit in a neutral ballpark. Rather, it’s to say how valuable his offense was in this park. If he played in a hitters’ park, his offense was less valuable (in terms of contributing to wins) regardless of how he personally was affected by the park.)

  16. Carl says:

    In considering park effects, I took Larry Walker’s park-by-park hitting stats and simply pro-rated his non-Coors games for his Coors games. This allowed him unadjusted “hitters hit better at home” stats when he was in Montreal and St. Louis, and only adjusted for the Coors Field. Cost him his lifetime .300 average, and also some OBP and slugging as well. Became a very good comp for a very good (but not a HoFer) Reggie Smith.

  17. SB McManus says:

    About 10 years ago when I had more free time on my hands I used to play a lot of sports video games. One version of MLB baseball had a setting where you could play your games in historical ball parks, including the Baker Bowl. It was fun (in the nerdiest possible sense) to select the Baker Bowl and load up your team with left handed power hitters. I wasted a lot of Saturdays and Sundays doing stuff like that.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I’m not a big video game player. I used to play with my kids, and they’d crush me. I liked the old timer teams in the NBA version. I would have loved to have dialed up Baker Bowl for the baseball game. But the truth is that I was even worse at baseball video games than I was at football or basketball.

  18. Crout says:

    A bandbox you say? If you drive by the site of Baker Bowl, you would not be able to believe that Major League ballpark was once there. Yeah, it was a bandbox. It made bandboxes look large.

  19. steve says:

    Ballplayers from 100 years ago are legends while guys from 20 years ago are just old guys who used to play ball.

  20. LaKeisha says:

    Ironic that you mention both Chuck Klein and Mel Ott. In 1929 the Phillies were playing the Giants in the last game of the season, and both had 42 home runs (tying the NL record set by Hornsby) when Klein hit his 43 homer to set the new NL record. The Phillies pitchers intentionally walked Ott four times to protect Klein’s record. (Which only lasted one year until 1930, when Hack Wilson hit 56.

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