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 238�, 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.
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.