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Ted Kluszewski
First baseman
Born: September 10, 1924(1924-09-10)
Argo, Illinois
Died: March 29, 1988 (aged 63)
Cincinnati, Ohio
Batted: Left Threw: Left 
MLB debut
April 18, 1947 for the Cincinnati Reds
Last MLB appearance
October 1, 1961 for the Los Angeles Angels
Career statistics
Batting average     .298
Home runs     279
Runs batted in     1,028
Teams
Career highlights and awards

Theodore Bernard "Big Klu" Kluszewski (September 10, 1924 — March 29, 1988) was a Major League first baseman from 1947 through 1961. He batted and threw left-handed.

Contents

Career

Ted Kluszewski was born in Argo, Illinois and attended Argo Community High School. He was discovered at Indiana University, where he played football as well as baseball. Due to wartime travel restrictions, the Cincinnati Reds, who normally held spring training in Tampa, Florida, were forced to train at the university from 1943 to 1945. Kluszewski drew the attention of Reds' groundskeeper Matty Schwab. Schwab saw Kluszewski blasting balls over an embankment near the baseball diamond that none of the other Reds players were able to get near. Reds scouts were sufficiently impressed, but Kluszewski, who was also a standout tight end on the Hoosiers' football squad, did not immediately sign, because he didn't want to endanger his collegiate football eligibility. Instead, he signed after he graduated in 1946. After batting .325 and .377 in two minor league seasons, he was called up to Cincinnati and became the Reds' starting first baseman at the end of 1948.

Soon after the 6'-2" (1.89 m), 240-pound (108.8 kg) Ted Kluszewski joined the Reds, he cut off the sleeves of his uniform, much to the chagrin of the Reds front office. He did it because the tight sleeves constricted his large biceps and shoulders and interfered with his swing. "They got pretty upset, but it was either that or change my swing — and I wasn't about to change my swing", said Kluszewski. Ted Kluszewski also became notorious for his strength. When Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher was once asked by a writer to name five of the strongest players in baseball, he complied. However, when the writer pointed out that he'd left Ted Kluszewski off the list, Durocher huffed and said: "Kluszewski? I'm talking about human beings!"

The statue of Kluszewski at Great American Ball Park

Ted Kluszewski was selected as an All-Star in four seasons, and was a career .298 hitter with 279 home runs and 1028 RBI in 1718 games. In ten of his fifteen seasons, Kluszewski walked (492) more often than he struck out (365). In 1955, he hit 47 homers while striking out only 40 times. No player since him has hit 40 homers and struck out 40 or fewer times in the same season (Barry Bonds missed duplicating this feat by one strikeout in 2004).

"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 baserunners in each, including a league-leading 141 RBIs in 1954. He also hit .300 or better eight times. Kluszewski also led National League first basemen in fielding percentage five straight years, a major league record.

However, injuries began taking their toll; Kluszewski was limited to playing just four full seasons in his fifteen-year career. He spent his last four seasons switching teams. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates before the 1958 season, and in August 1959 he was sent to the Chicago White Sox to give the team added punch. They eventually won the American League pennant and faced the National League champs, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the World Series. In the first game at Chicago's Comiskey Park, Kluszewski slugged two home runs and drove in five in an 11-0 rout of the Dodgers. However, the Dodgers would win the next four out of five games and take the series with strong pitching that neutralized the White Sox' hitters — except for Kluszewski, who hit .391 with three home runs and ten RBIs, which tied Gil Hodges' mark set in the same series. About that time, Sox owner Bill Veeck introduced uniforms with players' names on the backs, above the numbers. Veeck deliberately spelled Ted's last name wrong.

When Major League Baseball decided to expand in 1960, Kluszewski was one of the players left unprotected. He was selected by the Los Angeles Angels. Although hampered by back and leg problems, Kluszewski was the undisputed star of the Angels' first game ever, on April 11, 1961 against the Baltimore Orioles at Memorial Stadium, belting two home runs off the Orioles' Milt Pappas. Behind right-hander Eli Grba, the Angels defeated the Orioles 7-2. During his final season, Kluszewski hit .243 with 15 home runs and 39 RBIs in 107 games.

Post-retirement, Kluszewski was a hitting coach, most notably under Sparky Anderson with the Cincinnati Reds during their outstanding teams in the early and mid 1970's, which saw them win World Series championships in 1975 and 1976. 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.

Ted Kluszewski died on March 29, 1988 in Cincinnati at age 63. His #18 was retired by the Reds on July 18, 1998 before a game against the visiting San Diego Padres at Cinergy Field. His widow, the former Eleanor Guckel, a 5'-2" (1.58 m) former softball pitcher (and, like her late husband, a southpaw), threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The Reds lost 2-1.

Highlights

  • 4-time All-Star (1953-56)
  • 3-time Top 10 MVP (7th, 1953; 2nd, 1954; 6th, 1955)
  • 7-time Top 10 in batting average (1949-50, 1952-56)
  • Led league in home runs (49, 1954)
  • Led league in RBI (141, 1954)
  • 5-time led first basemen in fielding percentage (1951-55), a major league record
  • Set a National League record scoring runs in consecutive games (17, 1955)
  • Kluszewski, Gus Bell and Bob Thurman became the second trio of teammates with a three-home run game in the same season (1956), sharing a major league single season record with Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Tommy Brown of the 1950 Brooklyn Dodgers and Cory Snyder, Joe Carter and Brook Jacoby of the 1987 Cleveland Indians.

Honors

  • Ted Kluszewski is prominently mentioned in the first line of the chorus to Terry Cashman's 1981 song "Talkin' Baseball," a musical tribute to baseball.

We're talkin' baseball! Kluszewski, Campanella. Talkin' baseball! The Man and Bobby Feller. The Scooter, the Barber, and the Newc, They knew 'em all from Boston to Dubuque. Especially Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.

  • In an article in 1976 in Esquire magazine, sportswriter Harry Stein published an "All Time All-Star Argument Starter," consisting of five ethnic baseball teams. Kluszewski was the first baseman on Stein's Polish team.

See also

Sources

Preceded by
Eddie Mathews
National League Home Run Champion
1954
Succeeded by
Willie Mays
Preceded by
Roy Campanella
National League RBI Champion
1954
Succeeded by
Duke Snider

Citable sentences

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