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Whither Chuck Klein?

by Rob Neyer

Chuck Klein is in the Hall of Fame.

Johnny Callison is not. Gavy Cravath isn’t, either.

And yet, somehow I managed to leave Klein off both my All-Time and my No. 2 teams in the Phillies chapter.

How?

Well, one “problem” is that Klein really enjoyed only five good years for the Phillies, 1929 through 1933.

“Yes,” you might be thinking, “but when Klein was good, he was so good that he’s obviously the best right fielder in Phillies history. Jeez, the guy’s in the freakin’ Hall of Fame!”

Yes, he is. So is George Kelly, and so is Freddie Lindstrom, and so is Ross Youngs.

Which is to say, you’ll need a bit more than a Hall of Fame plaque to convince me. You’ll need to prove that Klein’s
five good seasons were great seasons.

And that’s not easy to do. Yes, he put up some big numbers. But when you look at Klein’s big numbers, you need to remember that his home ballpark, the Baker Bowl, was perhaps the best hitter’s park of the 20th century until the creation of the Colorado Rockies in 1993. From 1929 through ’33, Klein hit 180 home runs, far more than anybody else in the National League. But of those 180 home runs, 122 came in Klein’s home ballpark.

We can’t just ignore that, and Win Shares doesn’t.

In Klein’s five best years, he totaled 140 Win Shares. That’s quite good.

In Callison’s five best years (1962-1966), he totaled 136 Win Shares. That’s very nearly as good.

And in Cravath’s five best years (1913-1917), he totaled 144 Win Shares. That’s just slightly better.

Okay, so Win Shares aren’t perfect, and Bill James himself wouldn’t argue that there’s any difference at all between 140
and 136 and 144. The problem for Klein is that once you get past those five best seasons — and by the way, for all five
players those five seasons were consecutive — Callison and Cravath have big edges. Cravath played only eight seasons
of any substance for the Phillies, so we’ll just look at one-, two-, and three-season Win Shares for each player.

          Callison  Cravath  Klein
Best 1       17        16      13
Best 2       34        31      26
Best 3       50        42      35

Just to repeat myself, these are the best seasons aside from the five best mentioned above. Really, the case for
Callison is so compelling that I’m surprised, now, to find just how compelling it is. He contributed in two other seasons, giving him an entire decade as a worthwhile player for the Phillies. Klein doesn’t have anything else, once you get past his eight best seasons. Neither does Cravath, but in those eight seasons, Cravath has a noticeable edge in Win Shares, 186 to 175. And that edge would be bigger if not for World War I, because of which the National League played an abbreviated schedule in both 1918 and 1919.

I can see the argument for Klein over Cravath. I don’t quite buy the argument, but I can see it. But Johnny Callison’s
the greatest right fielder in Phillies history. And if he’s ever replaced, it won’t be Chuck Klein who does it. It will
be Bobby Abreu.