In 2010, the Philadelphia Phillies fully anticipate making the playoffs for the fourth straight year, and for many Philadelphians anything less than a World Series appearance would be a disappointment.

The Phillies have gotten to this point, in part, on the basis of the best left-handed hitting in the National League.

There was a time, however, when dominant left-handed hitting by the Philadelphia Phillies was incredibly deceptive and actually masked severe deficiencies in the Phillies’ lineup.

In fact, for an entire generation—from 1890 to 1938—if it appeared that a Phillies batter was an elite hitter, there was one question that you could ask to determine if he was truly great or if it was a facade.

Did he hit left-handed?

In essence, if a Phillies batter hit left-handed during this period, his numbers were almost certainly inflated as a result of having played in the Baker Bowl.

You see, the Baker Bowl had a relatively conservative left field (335-341.5 feet down the line, 408 feet to center) but right-center and right field in the Baker Bowl were ridiculous (300 feet to right center, 272-280.5 feet down the line). Because the stadium was designed to fit within the city grid, the stadium had an absurdly small right and right-center field, which made hitting a small task for left-handed hitters.

So up until 1938, when the Phils left for Shibe Park, the stats of left-handed hitting Philadelphia Phillies are incredibly unreliable as indications of overall hitting abilities.

This means you, Lefty O’Doul, Chuck Klein, Cy Williams, Sam Thompson, and Billy Hamilton. This means you too, Gavvy Cravath, with your crafty opposite-field right-handed hitting.


Chuck Klein

The effect of the Baker Bowl is particularly vivid with respect to Chuck Klein’s career statistics. From 1928 to 1933, Klein played in one of the friendliest hitting contexts of all time—he was a left-handed hitter in one of the smallest ballparks in baseball history, and he was hitting in the most explosive era in National League history.

During those years, Klein had 200 hits, 100 runs, 120 RBI, and 28 or more home runs every season. He twice hit 50 doubles, hit no lower than .337 in any one season, and had only one year in which his OBP dropped below .400 and his SLG dropped below .500. He won the MVP in 1932 and finished second in 1931 and 1933, while taking the Triple Crown in 1933. 

Then in 1934, as the offensively explosive era was coming to a close, Klein left the Phillies and joined the Cubs, who played in Wrigley Field, a bigger park, though by no means a pitcher’s park (how small is your park when moving to Wrigley Field represents a disadvantage?!).

He enjoyed (or did not enjoy, rather) two injury-plagued seasons during which his batting average fell precipitously (from .368 in 1933 to .301 and then .293), and his OPS numbers stayed respectable but were less than incredible.

Klein returned to the Phillies midway through 1936 and in 1937 hit .325, though again in limited play.

In 1938, a season in which the Phillies switched mid-year to Shibe Park, Klein was awful, hitting less than .200 with an OPS of .673 in 25 games before being released and then signing with the Pirates. Klein enjoyed a renaissance with the Pirates, hitting .300 with an OPS of .872 in 85 games in Forbes Field with its 300-foot right foul line.

Back with the Phils in 1940, Klein hit .218, and his career was effectively over.


So, Klein sucked?

Whenever I think of players whose performance was skewed positively by their home ballpark, I think of guys like Jim Rice and Vinny Castilla. But Chuck Klein was not just very good from 1928 to 1933—his unadjusted numbers were easily the best in the National League over that period, and he was a dominant offensive player.

Thus, I am less capable of dismissing him out of hand as I would if I were comparing him to Rice or Castilla. Playing in the Baker Bowl didn’t just make Klein good; it made him one of the best players in his league for six seasons. I have a hard time taking that from him without concrete split stats to back it up.

Thus, I think of him as more of a Sammy Sosa or Todd Helton-type player than a Jim Rice-type player. Cy Williams, Lefty O’Doul, et al. fall in line behind him from there.

For fun, here’s some other conspicuous performances by left-handed hitters in the Baker Bowl.

Cy Williams

Cy Williams is an exciting player when you first see his stats. In truth, you think you’ve stumbled upon the National League’s Babe Ruth—he led the league in home runs four times from 1916 to 1927 and finished in the top three 11 times during that period.

Williams actually played in Wrigley Field in 1916 and 1917 and led the NL with 12 home runs in 1916. But his truly dominant era would come in Philly; he peaked with 41 home runs in just 136 games in 1923.

Fred Luderus

A left-handed hitter, he finished in the top 10 in home runs in the NL eight times in nine years with the Phillies from 1911 to 1919, including 1911, when he finished second with 16 behind Wildfire Schulte, and 1915, when he hit 18 and finished second behind Cravath, who had 19. That year, three of the top four home run hitters in the National League were Cravath, Luderus, and Sherry Magee (a Phillies right-hander).

Beals Becker

In 1913, Beals Becker was a left-handed-hitting outfielder with the Cincinnati Reds with 15 career home runs in five seasons. After 30 games, Beals had zero home runs and was traded to the Phillies. In 88 games with the Phillies that year, Becker hit nine home runs, good enough to finish sixth in the National League. The following year, he hit nine more and set career highs with a .325 average and .370 on-base percentage.

In 1915, he would hit 11 home runs in 112 games, good enough to finish fourth in the National League behind Cravath and Cy Williams and Wildfire Schulte of the Cubs. It would be Becker’s final season.

Dave Bancroft

Bancroft was a switch hitter. In 1915, as a rookie, Bancroft hit seven home runs, good enough for sixth in the league. In 15 remaining seasons played with the Phillies, Giants, Braves, and Dodgers, Bancroft would only hit 25 more home runs.

Elmer Flick

In 1900, the 24-year-old, left-handed-hitting Flick finished second in the National League with 11 home runs. In 1902 he joined the American League and never hit more than six again.

George Harper

In 1924, the lefty-hitting George Harper had five career home runs in 350-plus games with the Tigers and Reds, and none 28 games into that season. Harper was traded to the Phillies and hit 16 home runs in 109 games with Philadelphia in the remainder of 1924.

Don Hurst

Hurst was a lefty scorcher for the Phillies who benefited not only from his ballpark, but also his era; he was the lesser Chuck Klein. He debuted at the age of 22 in 1928 and hit 19 home runs in 107 games. He then hit 31 bombs with 125 RBI and 100 runs in 1929 and hit 24 home runs with 143 RBI in 1932.

In 1933, with the offensive explosion era coming to a close, he hit only eight home runs in 550 at-bats, and he was out of baseball in 1934 at the age of 28.

Lefty O’Doul

O’Doul failed to make it as a pitcher in the early part of the ’20s and disappeared from 1924 to 1927. He re-emerged in 1928, but by the end of that season, he’d hit only eight home runs in 190 career games.

In 1929, at the age of 32, he joined the Phillies and hit 32 home runs with 122 RBI, amassed 254 hits, scored 152 runs, and finished with a .398 average and an OPS of 1.087. He had 202 hits the following season and 22 more home runs. In 1931 he left Philly and joined the Dodgers, whose ballpark itself was quite the hitter’s park, and his numbers fell off dramatically.

Johnny Moore

From 1928 to 1933, Johnny Moore was a nobody with the Chicago Cubs, having enjoyed brief success in 1932 when he hit .305 with 13 home runs. The Reds acquired him in 1934 but traded him to the Phillies after he hit .190 with a .506 OPS through 16 games.

In the remainder of the 1934 season, Moore hit 11 home runs with a .343 average. In 1935 he hit 19 home runs with a .323 average, and in 1936 he hit 16 home runs with a .328 average in just 124 games.

Dolph Camilli

Camilli established himself as a slugger for three-plus seasons with the Phillies before joining the Dodgers, with whom he is better known. The two best seasons of his career came with the Phils, when he hit 28 home runs and posted a .315/.441/.577 in 1936 and then hit 27 home runs with a .339/.446/.587 in 1937.

Camilli was saved, in a sense, because when the Phillies switched parks in 1938, Camilli was already in Brooklyn, playing in another park that favored left-handed hitters.


So, what’s the point of all this?

You can rest assured—while we can almost completely write off the performances of left-handed Phillies hitting in the Baker Bowl, today’s left-handed Phillies are earning everything they get. Citizens Bank Park still favors hitters, but it is 330 down the right field line and 329 down the left field line.

No gimmes for Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and company.


Asher B. Chancey lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of .

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