Yesterday was all about the homer, with five of the six cards featuring a home run highlight. Today we get to see some more pitching prowess from the Reds of the past. First though, we’ll start off with a home run…
Ted Kluszewski launched a home run that represented the Reds’ sole run in a loss to the Cubs. Not really noteworthy, but it’s Big Klu.
Jim O’Toole is one of the best pitchers in Reds history. In 1961 he held the Cubs to four hits on Opening Day.
For a light-hitting shortstop, Dave Concepcion had some pretty big hits, including a grand slam against the Braves in 1979.
We will end the post with one of the most underrated pitchers in the 1990s, Jose Rijo.
One of my dad’s favorite ballplayers was Ted Kluszewski, and because of the stories he has told me since my youth, one of my favorite ballplayers was Ted Kluszewski. Big Klu passed away in early 1988, but his legacy in Cincinnati has never faded. The man got in trouble for cutting his sleeves because his arms would too big to fit through the armholes. How can you not love that?
The idea for this blogpost started on Twitter, based on a comment by @ShaneKatz73:
For ‘57, I have always liked the Ted Kluszewski card… would like to add a team card or two. Have some older Topps but started with the standard size first.
— Shane Katz (@ShaneKatz73) May 19, 2018
I decided to take a look at Kluszewski’s baseball cards, and rank the top five. This is my opinion only, so feel free to disagree if you want to be wrong. All images came from COMC.com, except for one, because there are no current listings for it. I have a few of these in my collection, but I’m at work writing this and I don’t feel like staying up when I get home in the morning to find them and scan them. Sorry for being so lazy.
5. 1982 TCMA Baseball’s Greatest Sluggers #11 This is the first Kluszewski card I ever possessed, and the image is imprinted on my brain as an all-time great card. Even though this is a “modern” card (relative to Klu’s career, as he had retired 20 years earlier), I’m honestly surprised I didn’t rank it higher. But this man has some superb cardboard.
4. 1959 Topps #35 I love the 1959 set. Sure, I wish this showed Kluszewski as a member of the Reds, but this picture is too awesome too ignore…the posed follow-through after a powerful swing, watching the ball go deep into the stands.
3. 1956 Topps #25 Here we have Big Klu crossing the plate after one of those towering dingers, congratulated by either Jim Greengrass or Stan Palys. The mugshot is reused from Topps’ 1955 issue, but the 1956 design is overall an improvement.
2. 1951 Topps #39 I don’t understand all the fuss about 1952 Topps. The little cards issued in 1951 were awesome. Sure, there were only
52 cards 104 cards issued, but those 52 cards 104 cards were the genesis of Topps. Stop giving so much credit to 1952.
1. 1957 Topps #165 This is the Ted Kluszewski card to own, if you’re only going to own one. But who would want to only own one? This card shows Big Klu’s big arms, sleeveless jersey, and the sneer that sent fear into the hearts of pitchers. What an iconic card.
I love reading about baseball history, and one of my favorite baseball biographies is William A. Cook’s Big Klu, released in 2012. I will never own every Ted Kluszewski baseball card, simply because I’m a cheapskate and there’s no way I’m ponying up for his earliest issues, but I love looking at them online and learning more about one of my dad’s favorite players.
I’m kinda proud of this one. I took an old black and white photograph and colorized it in Photoshop. It’s not perfect, but I’m happy with it.
Ted Kluszewski doesn’t get enough respect in my opinion. The dude was a monster. In a four-year span from 1953 through 1956, Big Klu smashed 171 home runs and drove in 464 runs, all while holding a .315 batting average. He made the All-Star team those four years, and in 1954 he finished second to Willie Mays in MVP voting.
For perspective, consider some other great four-year stretches…
- Willie Mays, 1962-1965: 186 home runs / 467 RBI / .308 BA
- Albert Pujols, 2003-2006: 179 / 501 / .338
- Mickey Mantle, 1958-1961: 167 / 394 / .295
- Hank Aaron, 1960-1963: 163 / 504 / .315
- Prince Fielder, 2007-2010: 162 / 445 / .281
Of course, four years does not a Hall of Famer make. Injuries beset Kluszewski, and he finished his career with 279 home runs and 1028 RBI. Still, during that four-year stretch, he must have been fun to watch at old Crosley Field.
Big Klu: The Baseball Life of Ted Kluszewski
by William A. Cook
McFarland Books, 2012
One of the best first baseman of the 1950s, Ted Kluszewski is often forgotten when discussing the greats throughout history. He didn’t have the longevity to warrant strong Hall of Fame consideration, but for a brief stretch he was one of the most intimidating hitters in baseball. In Big Klu: The Baseball Life of Ted Kluszewski, author William A. Cook takes the reader not only through Kluszewski’s reign as a star in Cincinnati, but also the time he spent at Indiana University on the gridiron before signing with the Reds, as well as his years in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Anaheim. Cook also talks about Ted’s post-baseball career in the restaurant business, and the time he spent as a coach for the Big Red Machine under Sparky Anderson, working with superstars Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, and George Foster.
Big Klu is a quick read, but it is packed with facts and anecdotes. Long-time fans of Cincinnati baseball will cherish the memories that are brought back while reading the book, and baseball historians will appreciate the references to other stars who were contemporary with Kluszewski, including Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Duke Snider, and Klu’s teammate Gus Bell. Cook wraps up the book with several charts showing football standings and baseball statistics, including how Kluszewski stacked up next to other home run hitters from 1953 to 1956.
This book would be a welcome addition to any Cincinnati Reds fan’s library.
I didn’t have a lot of information about the 1954-55 Reds Postcards when I listed them on my 1950s Reds Checklist. But I’m glad I didn’t remove that listing due to my own personal ignorance of them. A reader in Missouri happened to surf here, and sent me an e-mail that she had the “Ted Kluszewski/stretching at first” postcard, and wondered if I would be interested in it. She wanted someone to enjoy having it.
She told me that it was not in the best shape, but I look at this card and see that it was loved by its previous owner. And when I flipped it over, I saw something even cooler:
This isn’t your standard store-bought team-issued postcard…it was actually mailed to someone in 1955! I imagine the person wrote to the team and requested it, and they sent this card as a reward. There is no writing underneath the Reds’ return address, only the name (obscured for privacy purposes) and the postmarked stamp on the right side. As you know, I always enjoy getting mail from baseball teams, and I’m glad to see that it is a hobby that others have enjoyed in past generations.
This card has already found a special place in my collection. I am thrilled to have it.
I got this beauty in the mail over the weekend. I’m not a big spender; you’ll rarely see me plop down more than $10 for a single baseball card. But when I saw a 1951 Topps Ted Kluszewski on eBay with a BIN under $15 with reasonable shipping…I knew I had to have it. This is the first 1951 Topps card in my collection, and man are they tiny. There are a few creases in it, but nothing major. It’s in much better condition than the 1951 Bowman Big Klu in my collection.
Even if I eventually add a 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey to my stacks (remember, I’m not a big spender), I believe this Big Klu will remain my favorite. Not sure anything can top it.
Jim Gilliam, Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have retired only one uniform number in honor of a non-Hall of Famer: the very popular Gilliam, who served the team as player and coach during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Gilliam died in 1978 after suffering a brain hemorrhage and slipping into a coma. His uniform number was retired just two days after his death, prior to Game 1 of the 1978 World Series.
Dizzy Dean, St. Louis Cardinals
Mel Harder, Cleveland Indians
Ted Kluszewski, Cincinnati Reds
Billy Pierce, Chicago White Sox
Bob Feller, Cleveland Indians
Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers
Tony Gwynn, San Diego Padres
I recently completed a trade with Chewing Liquorice. For a stack of Expos, he sent back a treasure trove of Reds cards, many of which I had never seen, including a ton of Conlon cards from 1992-1994. This one commemorates one of Johnny Vander Meer‘s no-hitters…
These cards are fantastic as they help to keep the old stories alive, allowing us to learn about players that we never had the privilege to see.
There were a lot of other historical cards in the bunch, too. There were some 1991 Topps Archives, which were reprints of the 1953 Topps set. And some reprints of the 1954 Topps set, which I assume were released in 1992. They are not on my master checklist, so I will have to research them a little bit more to find out for sure, but they are exactly like the 1991 reprint set with glossy cardstock. Here’s the Ed Bailey card from that set:
All of the old players weren’t on newer or reprinted cards, though. Geoffrey threw in some fantastic vintage cards of Reds Hall of Famers and Baseball Hall of Famers, such as Wally Post, Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, and an O-Pee-Chee Joe Morgan:
I don’t remember the Action Packed baseball cards at all!
And a whole slew of George Foster awesomeness…
That last item is particularly cool. The Ted Williams Company made pogs that you could punch out and included them in their baseball card packs. This is something I have never seen before…but that just goes along with the rest of the package!
If you have some Expos to get rid off, you need to contact Chewing Liquorice and work out a deal. He’s a great trader!
Sorry, no ’92 Style fun card today. Lack of new photos and too much time spent at work makes for fewer Photoshop opps. But there are others out there carrying on the custom torch…check out Bob Lemke’s awesome Ted Kluszewski gridiron card! Now, if we could just see Big Klu make an appearance in the Infinite Baseball Card Set…
In all my excitement, I neglected to check if I actually needed a 1960 Gordy Coleman card. As it turns out, I’ve already got one nuzzled in a binder in between a 1960 Chico Cardenas Rookie Stars and a 1962 Eddie Kasko.
So here we go again. If you have any Reds card that predates 1965, offer it up for my 1960 Gordy Coleman (it’s a rookie card!). The only cards I will not accept are:
Those are the only Reds cards 1952-1965 that I already have. I checked this time.
UPDATE: Someone accepted my offer for a 1960 Bob Purkey. All is right in the universe.