After last week’s blog about the Red’s Frank Robinson was published, a fellow Fish Report reader sent me a photo of the above Reds memorabilia item from 1956. It highlights the tremendous year both Robinson and his teammate, Ted Kluszewski, led the Reds with 73 home runs between them. The team’s record was 91-63, just two games back of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who lost another subway World Series to the NY Yankees in 7.
Kluszewski was nicknamed Big Klu, as he was 6’2” and weighed 242 pounds. He was easy to recognize with his sleeveless uniform and huge forearms. To emulate the Big Klu, I recall as a kid rolling up the sleeves of my tee shirt whenever we’d play sandlot baseball. In fact, here’s a photo of me and my sister at a young age with sleeveless tops!
Big Klu is on the Red’s All-Time Team as it’s 1st baseman and is commemorated with a statue outside of Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark. The bats sure look like toothpicks next to those muscular arms.
In college, Ted played football for Indiana University as a tight end and was named All American on the 9-1 Big Ten team. He also played baseball for the Hoosiers, hitting .443. Quite an athlete!
He wrote a book entitled Inside Baseball for Little Leaguers that I read from cover to cover multiple times. But unfortunately the book couldn't help me hit a curveball, curtailing my baseball career in high school and driving me eventually to softball, which I enjoyed playing up until about age 40 as documented in this previous blogpost.
My favorite baseball and softball position was 1st base, which Big Klu masterfully played with his trademark glove shown here. As a kid, I really wanted one of those gloves, but they were about twice as expensive as a conventional glove, so needless to say, my wish went unfulfilled.
Due to back problems, Ted’s power began to severely erode later in his career as evidenced in the HR totals on the back of his baseball card shown here. The Reds traded him to Pittsburgh after the 1957 season as his career was essentially over. He was diagnosed with a slipped disc, but refused to go under the knife to have it corrected, as the doctors couldn’t guarantee he’d ever play again.
For 10 years, Ted was a fixture at Cincinnati’s old Crosley Field. He lead the Reds in average, RBI’s and home runs almost every year and was truly a fan favorite. We always listened to games on the radio, and when Ted came to the plate, everyone stopped to listen to the play-by-play, hoping for a big hit and another homer. In those days, there was a radio microphone placed next to the field, so as a listener, you’d hear the crack of the bat before the announcer reacted. A seasoned radio listener could almost tell by that crack what kind of hit it was. And Ted’s were always the loudest!
While researching on-line for this blog, I discovered that a biography about Big Klu’s life in baseball had been written. As a kid, I loved reading books about athletes, especially baseball players. Somehow, this in one I missed. Maybe I’ll order it on Amazon, where it has great ratings.
The Reds retired Ted’s #18 jersey number in 1998. This photo of the stadium giveaway commemorating the occasion was found on eBay.
After retiring as a player, Kluszewski became the hitting coach with the Reds under Sparky Anderson during the Big Red Machine era of the 1970s. Then in 1979, he became the Reds' minor league hitting instructor, a position he held until 1986, when he suffered a massive heart attack and underwent emergency bypass surgery. He retired afterward. Kluszewski died at age 63 from another heart attack on March 29, 1988 in Cincinnati.