The arms of Theodore Kluszewski, bare to the shoulders in the sleeveless shirt he always wears on the ball field, are one of the Seven Wonders of the Baseball World, a sight strangers are brought to see and marvel at, a legend borne out by the truth.
Kluszewski is the biggest man in baseball—not in height, for several players are taller than his 6 feet 2 inches—but in sheer, packed, muscular weight. Last July Kluszewski weighed 242 hard pounds before the All-Star Game in Milwaukee. After it, after hours of batting practice and fielding practice and 12 innings of tense baseball under a broiling sun, Kluszewski, stripped to the buff, weighed 238½, a weight loss so slight in such a huge man on such a hot day that it gave impressive testimony to one player's wryly appreciative appraisal of Kluszewski's bulk: "That ain't fat; that's muscle."
Kluszewski is one great chunk of muscle. Waiting his turn in batting practice, he grinds his slablike hands around the handle of his bat, and the player next to him, whose humor is cheerful if not subtle, cups his hands under the bat and says, "Let me have some of that sawdust, Klu." Kluszewski smiles faintly, faintly embarrassed by the oftrepeated reference to his strength, faintly bored.
Unemotional, unexcited, even-tempered, he swings his bat with none of Ted Williams' grace, or Stan Musial's precision, or Mickey Mantle's explosive coordination. He holds the bat no more than half way back, it seems, more like a man with a fly swatter who is willing to land heavily on the fly if it comes within reach but who isn't about to get excited over the chase. When the pitch approaches the plate, he brings the bat down in a short, level swing...and meets the ball. That's about all. There's not much wrist action and comparatively little follow-through. It's all arms. But the overwhelming power resident in those arms cows the ball, reverses its direction and sends it flying toward the distant fences.
July 15, 1956
It's a simple method of hitting home runs, but wonderfully effective: through the past three and a half seasons no one in major league baseball has reached those distant fences nearly so often as Ted Kluszewski, not Mantle nor Musial nor Williams, not Willie Mays, not Duke Snider.
Last week, as the Cincinnati Redlegs won seven of nine games to take over first place, lose it, then grab it again in the hectic struggle for the pennant, Kluszewski, his features as calm and stolid as ever, swung his bat menacingly and went on a tear. He hit eight home runs in eight games to move from the ruck to the forefront of the power-laden National League's home run race, which was as close and nearly as exciting as the pennant race. What he did, in effect, was remarkably similar to what Dale Long of the Pittsburgh Pirates had done earlier in the year. Long, too, had hit eight homers in eight games to pace his team as it fought for the league lead. Long's homer-hitting spurt was steadier and more methodical but, paradoxically, it was also more spectacular. Long, playing for the Cinderella Pirates, hit a homer a game for eight successive games, and interest in him and the Pirates built to a point where he was called upon by an ecstatic crowd to take what amounted to a curtain call, unprecedented in baseball.
That's all over now. Long has slumped and so have the Pirates. But here is Kluszewski and the Redlegs, and where are the cheers? When the Reds wrestled out a 19-15 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at the beginning of their great week, it seemed only natural that Kluszewski should hit three home runs to assure Cincinnati its triumph. When he hit three more three days later in a double-header on the Fourth of July, it was noted with interest and appreciation (at least by Redlegs fans) but hardly with gasps of surprise and nationwide bursts of applause. And even when he hit another in the next Redlegs game, and another the game after that, reaction was relatively mild. What he had done was epic, classical, admirable...but after all, he was Big Klu, the power hitter. All that happened, so far as the public was concerned, was that Ted Kluszewski had, after a long dilatory spring, reassumed his proper place as the bellwether of the home-run-happy Cincinnati sluggers, of whom he is the veteran, the first, the prototype.
During his first six major league seasons, Kluszewski was just about the only thing to see in Cincinnati so far as baseball was concerned, once Ewell Blackwell's arm had gone bad and Hank Sauer had been traded to the Chicago Cubs. The Redlegs (they were called the Reds for well over a half a century, and still are by most Cincinnatians, but a few years ago, apparently to ward off a Congressional investigation, the name was officially changed to Redlegs) labored but lost—at the rate of 85 games or more each season—and finished a dank, dismal sixth or seventh each year. They hit 104 homers in 1948, the second time the traditionally light-hitting Cincinnatis had ever gone over 100. At that, it was only the fourth-best total in the league, and in the next three seasons they finished dead last in home runs.
In this dismal prairie of singles hitters, Kluszewski was a lonesome oak of power. Today things are different, and while the people who are jamming into Crosley Field (see page 21) still cheer Klu, the traditional favorite, they now have newer heroes as well. The crowds come to see Gus Bell (who has five kids and who is as highly regarded for that reason as he is for his powerful hitting and brilliant fielding) and Wally Post (who is also a powerful hitter and a good fielder but who has only four children and is therefore cheered only about four-fifths as hard as Bell) and Roy McMillan and Johnny Temple (the light-hitting but brilliant-fielding shortstop and second baseman, the cognoscenti's choice) and Ed Bailey and Smokey Burgess (who give the Redlegs two hard-hitting catchers, whereas most major league teams don't have even one) and a panel of others, most of them recently come to town.
The renascence of Cincinnati baseball began when the shrewd, personable Gabriel Paul took over as general manager in the fall of 1951. The Cincinnati front office came to realize that if good hitters came to bat before Kluszewski, Kluszewski could bat them in. And if good hitters came to bat after him, they could drive him in. This, of course, is the ideal of modern baseball; a team loaded with long-ball hitters.
Previously, however, the Cincinnati management had remembered perhaps too fondly their World Championship Reds of 1940—a team of brilliant pitching, excellent fielding and sound but not overwhelming hitting, a team, in other words, in the classic John McGraw-National League tradition. Under Paul the 1940 team was as fondly remembered as ever, but as a symbol of bygone glory rather than as an example to follow. Times change, and the resurgence of the National League was the direct result of its invasion of the American League's power monopoly Gabe Paul went looking in the same direction. He, too, wanted a lineup loaded with home run hitters.
They are not, needless to say, easy to find. But Paul, through patience, sharp trading and good scouting, found them (starting in 1952, the Redlegs have hit over 100 home runs a season for four straight years). And under the intelligent handling of Manager Birdie Tebbetts, whom Paul hired after the 1953 season, they've developed into outstanding major league players.
Wally Post was a Redleg rookie prospect as far back as 1949. He had another trial in 1951 (when he hit .220), another in 1952 (he hit .155) and yet a fourth in 1953 (.242). Post is a broad-shouldered Ohio farm boy with facial contour that resembles an Indian. He strikes out an awful lot, but he hits home runs remarkably far and often. Paul stayed with his power, and in 1954 Post became a Redleg regular, though he batted only .255. Last year he finally burst through. He batted .309, hit 40 home runs and was the talk of the league. Together, he and Kluszewski hit 87 home runs to rank as the best one-two punch in baseball. Their total was just two less than the 89 the 1940 World Champions hit as a team. Post this year started well but then went into a wild-swinging slump that saw his home runs stop and his batting average sag into the .230s. Now, though, he is starting to hit again. In one game last week he and Kluszewski and Gus Bell teamed with sudden violence to beat Vinegar Bend Mizell and the St. Louis Cardinals. The United Press reported: "Mizell clung to a 2-0 lead until the sixth, when Wally Post clouted his 15th homer over the center-field fence. Gus Bell followed with a single, and Ted Kluszewski slammed his homer into the right-center bleachers. The homer...put Cincinnati ahead to stay."
Bell, the third man in this volatile trio, was obtained from the Pittsburgh Pirates in what must stand as the worst trade Branch Rickey ever made. Gabe Paul gave Rickey Catcher Joe Rossi and Outfielders Gail Henley and Cal Abrams for Bell in October 1952. Bell promptly hit .300, .299 and .308 in his first three seasons with the Redlegs, drove in more than 100 runs each year, was named to the National League All-Star team twice and made it again this year. Rossi never played another major league game, Henley appeared in only 14 and Abrams, after batting .286 for the Pirates in 1953, was traded on to Baltimore in 1954.
Paul should have his fellow baseball executives wary by now for, although Frank Lane has the reputation, Paul ends up with the ballplayers. Thirteen of the men currently on the Redleg roster were acquired from other major league clubs, including such key men as Bell, Burgess, Starting Pitchers Brooks Lawrence (who has a brilliant 12-0 record) and John Klippstein, Relief Pitcher Herschell Freeman and Power Hitters Ray Jablonski and George Crowe. Paul acquired Lawrence from Frank Lane for Jackie Collum, a handy but hardly brilliant left-handed relief pitcher. He got Jablonski, a pitcher and $50,000 from the pre-Lane Cards for Relief Pitcher Frank Smith in a trade remarkable for the fact that Paul 16 months later bought Smith back for only $15,000.
But the Redlegs are not solely a trade-built club. A farm system, in operation before Paul moved up to head the club and vastly enhanced since by the sound direction of Bill McKechnie Jr., has produced such outstanding major league players as McMillan, Temple, Bailey, Pitcher Joe Nuxhall and the 20-year-old rookie outfielder, Frank Robinson, all of whom are members of this year's All-Star team. And down on the farm in his first year in organized ball is the 18-year-old outfielder Curtis Flood, who brings a broad, beaming smile to Manager Tebbetts' round red face whenever his name is mentioned.
"Three years," Tebbetts says of Flood's minor league apprenticeship. "Three years at the outside, and then you'll see a real major leaguer."
When McMillan and Temple are in action it's hard to believe that there has ever been a superior partnership at second base. One play in a vitally important game last week caught the essence of their skill. With the Reds leading the Milwaukee Braves 2-1 in the seventh inning, Temple raced far to his right to stop what seemed to be a certain and damaging base hit. Without hesitating at all, he flipped the ball to an alert and waiting McMillan and breathtakingly turned the hit into a stunning double play that completely killed Milwaukee's hope for victory. That ended the Braves. The Reds held their slim 2-1 lead to the end of the game, Pitcher John Klippstein winding it up by striking out three men in the ninth. The last man to face him, with the tying run on first, was the slugging Ed Mathews. Klippstein threw two good low outside fast balls for called strikes and then pumped another fast ball down the middle, a little inside, and Mathews fanned. It was a stirring end to a memorable game.
Jimmy Dykes, the Redleg coach who began his major league career in 1918, said: "I've been in baseball 40 years and you'd think I'd be used to it. But a game like that, that does things to you. That was a beautiful game."
The people are flocking into Crosley Field this year because of games like that and because of extravagant high-scoring games completely unlike it. They come into town from hundreds of miles away (Gabe Paul said a spot-check survey revealed that 59% of the fans who attend games at Crosley Field live outside Cincinnati). One man seated in the stands behind first base at a game last week said he had come up 100 miles from Russell, Ky. He didn't seem to think anything much about traveling that far to see a ball game.
This out-of-town element in the stands, important as it is to the Red-legs' season attendance, does tend to mute the partisan tone of the crowd. It is not so much a pro-Cincinnati audience as it is pro-baseball and, therefore, while it is knowing, it sometimes sounds a little sedate compared to, say, the mobs in Milwaukee, Philadelphia or Boston. Not that the word "fanatic" doesn't apply. One pleasant-looking woman in her late 30s fell heavily in an aisle at a night game.
"Is she drunk?" a man asked, looking at her but not moving.
Another man, more concerned over the woman's need for help than with her moral state, helped her to her feet and found that her collapse had been the result of heat exhaustion rather than liquor. She had driven that day all the way from North Carolina.
"My husband's very interested over baseball," she explained in a mountain accent, her voice weak, her face still pale. She smiled a little and waved vaguely at the crowded row of seats. "He's settin' out ther' someplace."
ENTHUSIASM IN THE BROILING SUN
But even with the big out-of-town ticket sale, downtown Cincinnati gets excited, too, over the Reds. This is a good baseball center; the steady if decidedly unspectacular attendance figures over the years when the Reds were a hopeless second-division team confirm that. Now that there's powerful and dramatic baseball to be seen at Crosley Field, interest is at a high pitch. The crowds have been consistently over 20,000 in the tiny grandstands (capacity 29,584 seats, smallest in the majors), and the Redleg management quietly but hopefully anticipates that this may be the year the Redlegs go over a million in attendance for the first time in history. They are at present the only major league team that has never done a million.
People who stop off to buy tickets in the air-cooled lobby of the downtown Redleg office are enthusiastic enough to wait patiently in line even when the line spills outside and up Vine Street under the broiling Cincinnati sun.
"They's lines halfway up the square," a boy said excitedly. "I never seen anything like that before. Usually you just walk right in."
The chances are good that there will be a lot more "lines halfway up the square" before World Series time, though Birdie Tebbetts shakes his head when asked about his pitching and says, in an exaggerated whisper, "Milwaukee! Mil-wauk-kee! Five starting pitchers! Five!"
But Tebbetts has seven solid home run hitters, seven! And if pennants are paid for by big hairy-backed sluggers, Birdie may have a ringside seat at the 1956 Series.
David Russell (GUS) Bell was born in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 15, 1928. An outstanding Louisville high school player, Gus signed for a $750 bonus with the Pittsburgh organization in 1947. After three years in the minors, he came up to the Pirates in 1950.
Too devoted a family man even for Branch Rickey, Bell was sent to the minors for three weeks in 1952 for, among other things, "too much traveling with his family." He was traded to the Redlegs at the end of the season.
The Bells live in their own home in Cincinnati's suburban Mt. Airy. In the winter Gus works as a season-ticket salesman for the Redlegs. Married 6½ years and father of three sons and two daughters, Bell was awarded the title, "Sports Father of the Year for 1956."
Theodore Bernard Kluszewski was born in Argo, Ill. on Sept. 10, 1924 (weight 14 pounds). He worked two years in a local refinery after graduation from high school before going to Indiana U. on a football scholarship. It was there, while spring training on the Indiana campus, that the Redlegs discovered Klu. Before signing with Cincinnati for a $15,000 bonus, Kluszewski starred as an end on the 1945 Big Ten championship Indiana football team. He spent two years in the minors before coming to the Redlegs in 1948.
The strongest man in baseball, Kluszewski is one of the most easygoing as well. He is a light sleeper, a heavy reader of fiction and a big eater. Married 10½ years and childless, the Kluszewskis live the year round in Cincinnati.
Walter Charles Post was born in the small crossroads town of St. Wendelin, Ohio on July 9, 1929. He grew up on his father's 160-acre farm and starred as a basketball and baseball player in high school. At 16, in 1945, Wally signed to play summer pro ball for a $500 bonus. Starting out as a minor league pitcher (26-19 for four seasons), Post was converted into an outfielder in 1948. He received four different trials with the Redlegs before sticking for good in 1954.
One of nine children himself, Wally has been married 7½ years and has three daughters and one son. The Posts spend the off season in their modern split-level home on the outskirts of St. Henry, Ohio, where Wally works in his father-in-law's tomato cannery. Post's ambition: "To have my own farm."