By STEVE KRAH
Baseball players today throw iron around as a part of strength training.
Back in the late 1920’s, Chuck Klein built powerful wrists by moving sturdy steel plates while working at an iron works in his hometown of Indianapolis.
He caught and tossed 180-pound hot steel plates with tongs and tossed them into rolling mills.
His Popeye-like forearms allowed the “Hoosier Hammer” aka “The Powerhouse” to take a terrific cut with a 42-ounce bat — the legal limit at the time — and club 300 home runs to go with a .320 lifetime batting average, 1,201 runs batted in and 398 doubles. The lefty slugger led the National League in circuit clouts four times (43 in 1929, 31 in 1931, 38 in 1932, 28 in 1933).
While with the Philadelphia Phillies early in his career, Klein told the Associated Press that confidence in his forearm power kept him from getting into trouble with his foot work because he did not feel the need to lunge or “get too much body” into his swing.
Chuck pitched in grammar school as a young boy and then became a three-sport star at Southport High School (baseball, basketball and track).
Klein was primarily a right-handed pitcher for the Cardinals on the diamond and had to learn the ropes as an outfielder as a pro.
According to an NEA Service story, Klein got his start in professional baseball when a prohibition agent arranged for him to play for the Evansville Hubs, a St. Louis Cardinals farm team in the Class-B Three-I League.
Klein’s brief time in the minors was two weeks with Evansville and 10 weeks with the Fort Wayne Chiefs of the Central League. After breaking his ankle in the winter of 1927-28, he was sold to Fort Wayne for $200.
When baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis discovered that the Cardinals owned CL teams in both Dayton, Ohio, and Fort Wayne, St. Louis was forced to sell off the Fort Wayne team. Landis now has an elementary school in Logansport named for him.
The Phillies outbid the New York Yankees for Klein’s services and he entered the National League.
He was called up to the Phillies at the end of the 1928 season after signing a $7,500 contract. In his first 64 games with Philadelphia, he hit .360 with 11 homers and 34 RBI.
For all his heroics on the diamond, Klein suffered after he left the game. According to the Indianapolis Times, he had a nerve disease that impaired his reflexes and memory and crippled his right leg.
Klein died at 53. He was found dead in a flooded bathroom in his Indianapolis home in 1958 and he is buried in hometown.
Chuck Klein Sports Complex is located on Indy’s west side.
Indiana’s Chuck Klein, a Baseball Hall of Famer who played from 1928-44, wielded a 42-ounce bat.