Ted Kluszewski (18) Days Until Cincinnati Reds Report to Spring Training


Before Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco crashed onto the Major League Baseball scene with the “Bash Brothers” Oakland A’s of the late 1980s, baseball sluggers were big lumbering men like Frank Howard or quick-wristed phenoms like Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron.  Rarely did true muscle men stride into the batter’s box, and nobody did much in the way of flexing. Midway between pudgy Babe Ruth and the sculpted hulks of the PED era, though,  Cincinnati Reds‘ first baseman Ted Kluszewski brought Major League muscle to the diamond.  He is Number 18 on our Countdown Team as the Reds prepare to report to Spring Training on February 18. 

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Kluszewski signed with the Reds as an amateur free agent in 1946 out of Indiana University in Bloomington, IN.  With a solid college career under his belt, “Big Klu” was able to make his Big League debut in the spring of 1947, and he was a regular in the Reds’ lineup by 1948.

After a couple of up-and-down power seasons, Kluszewski broke out as a major long-ball threat in 1950, when he tagged 25 home runs and finished 18th in MVP balloting.   His power dipped into the teens in 1951 and 1952, but Klu struck back with a vengeance in 1953.

That season, as the Reds were stumbling to an ugly 68-86 record, Ted smashed 40 home runs, scored 97 runs, drove in 108 and slashed .316/.380/.570, and his OPS+ of 143 was enough to snag seventh on the MVP ballot.  Kluszewski’s 1954 was even better, as he tallied 49 HR, 141 RBI, a 167 OPS+ and finished second in the MVP balloting, losing out to a young Willie Mays.

Klu was spectacular again in 1955, a superstar in 1956, but then injuries dinged his powerful body, and he slid fast.  By 1958, he was gone from Cincinnati, and by 1961, he was out of baseball at the age of 32.

Kluszewski’s star burned bright and fast, and, in the mid-1950s, there was no more intimidating figure in the sport than the Reds’ big first baseman.  To enhance his image as a Paul Bunyan playing among mere mortals, Kluszewski began cutting the sleeves off of his Cincinnati uniforms in order to display his massive, muscular arms.   In an era when weight training was often ridiculed, Klu’s hefty display was a self-indulgence that worked because he backed it up with his play on the field.


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