During a recent Cincinnati Reds-Pittsburgh Pirates game, announcer Bob Walk waxed poetically about a former Reds great and one time Pirates bit player, Ted Kluszewski.
As Walk ticked off Big Klu’s achievements, seemingly in awe of them, I recalled what an imposing sight Kluszewski was at the plate.
For the first half of the 1950s, Big Klu hit for average and power as well as anyone. Toward the end of the decade, reduced to a bench role because of his bad back, Klu nonetheless turned in productive seasons for the Pirates and the Chicago White Sox.
Kluszewski came onto the Reds’ radar when he was an Indiana University standout tight end. During the war years, the Reds’ trained at IU. During a pick-up game, one of the scouts saw Klu blast balls beyond the reach of any Reds’ outfielder and tried to sign him on the spot. But Klu, more interested in his football career, resisted.
Eventually, the Reds prevailed. Sent to the minor leagues, Klu immediately rewarded his employers. While working his way up to the majors, Klu had a stint with the minor league Memphis Chicks. One afternoon double header against the New Orleans Pelicans, in ten times at bat Klu hit a home run, three triples, two doubles and two singles. His day’s work put him far out in front as the league’s best batter, boosted his average to .412 which was 55 points ahead of his nearest rival.
Kluszewski was selected as an All Star in four seasons and in 1718 games was a career.298 hitter with 279 homers and 1028 RBIs. Perhaps most amazingly for a power hitter, in ten of his fifteen seasons, Kluszewski walked more often than he struck out ending with a career ratio of 492:365. In 1955, he hit 47 homers while striking out only 40 times. No player since Klu has hit 40 homers and struck out 40 or fewer times in the same season.
“Big Klu” enjoyed his most productive years from 1953 through 1956, with home run totals of 40, 49, 47 and 35 while driving in over 100 base runners in each, including a league-leading 141 RBIs in 1954. He also hit .300 or better eight times. Kluszewski led National League first basemen in fielding percentage five straight years, a major league record.
In 1954, Klu enjoyed his best year came when he lead the National League in home runs (49), RBIs and narrowly lost out to Willie Mays in the MVP voting. Kluszewski batted .326, drew 78 walks, had a slugging percentage of .642 and scored 104 runs. He ranked third in the NL in total bases (368), fourth in extra base hits (80) and hit a home run every 11.7 at bats which made him the NL leader in that category.
Klu’s highlight game came on September 12, 1954. In the first game of a doubleheader, Klu hit two home runs and drove in six men in an 11-5 victory. It was one of his six 1954 multi-homer games with his first home run coming as one of his 33 go-ahead hits.
In the nightcap, also won by the Reds 13-2, Klu continued his batting rampage, going 3 for five with another 3 RBIs. His line for the day: AB: 10; R: 5; H: 6, RBI: 9
Kluszewski died in 1988 at age 63. The Reds’ honored Klu by retiring his number 18 and erecting a statue of the sleeveless giant in front of the Great American Ballpark.
“Double the fun” is a Saturday feature here that looks at one notable doubleheader in baseball history each week.