October 26th, 2008

carole lombard 07
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Carole nearly gets her Phil

I just finished watching game 3 of the 2008 World Series -- it ended at 1:47 a.m. (Eastern), due to a rain delay in Philadelphia that delayed the first pitch until 10:06 p.m. Saturday -- and since Carole Lombard herself was an avid baseball fan, it's time for another baseball-related entry at "Carole & Co." With the Phillies involved this year (they beat Tampa Bay 5-4 to take a 2-games-to-1 lead in the best-of-seven Series), it's appropriate that they figure in this entry.

In mid-June of 1930, two notable personalities with Fort Wayne ties made a return. One, of course, was Carole Lombard, shown with her mother in the early '30s:

The other was actually from Indianapolis, but he spent some time in Fort Wayne before rising to prominence. His name was Chuck Klein, nicknamed the "Hoosier Hammer," and in 1930 he was known as one of baseball's most powerful sluggers.

Klein, four years less a day older than Lombard, originally signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, and in 1928 played for its Fort Wayne affiliate, where he hit 26 homers in 88 games. Klein was going to be called up to the big club in mid-season, but the commissioner's office ordered the Cardinals to sell the Fort Wayne franchise and give up its players because they also had an affiliate in the same league (in Dayton, Ohio). Klein signed with the Phillies and joined them in July 1928.

The following year, his first full season in the big leagues, Klein soared to stardom, hitting 43 home runs to lead the National League. He would lead the NL in homers three more times; the last came in 1933, when he also led the league in batting avarage and runs bated in. Unfortunately, the Phillies, in those days perpetually cash-strapped, had little else -- particularly in pitching -- so they invariably were league weaklings. (From 1918 to 1948, the Phillies had but one winning season, 1932.)

In an attempt to get some extra money, the Phils agreed to play the minor-league Fort Wayne Chiefs while on a swing through the midwest. According to Wes D. Gehring, author of "Carole Lombard: The Hoosier Tornado," Lombard wanted to attend the game, but previous commitments in Fort Wayne prevented her from doing so.

I have no idea how the exhibition turned out, but I will note that in 1930, Klein hit .386, with 40 homers and 170 RBI. The Phillies as a team hit .315 -- but their pitching staff gave up 1,199 runs and finished last with a record of 52-102. (That year, Philadelphians were far more interested in their American League team, the Athletics, which defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to repeat as World Series champions.)

Carole did come into contact with some major-leaguers a few years later, when the New York Giants held spring training in Los Angeles. She went to watch them practice, then got to show off her pitching form:

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