OBSERVATIONS: Big Klu Was Baseball’s ‘Gentle Goliath’

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, proposing that Happy New Year is not on January 1, it is baseball’s Opening Day. So. . .Happy New Year, basebal fans.

—KLU HAD A CLUE: Ted Kluszewski could hit. He could hit for power and he could hit for average. And he didn’t say much, but when he did it was worth hearing.

Somebody once asked him how easy or difficult is it to hit a baseball and Big Klu said as he leaaned his massive arms on a batting cage, “ How hard is hitting? You ever walk into a pitch-black room full of furniture that you’ve never been in before and try to walk through it without bumping into anything? Well, it’s harder than that.”

One of my favorite all-time sports columnists, Mike Downey, pointed out that Opening Day in Cincinnati was 36 years to the day when Kluszewski died. Big Klu, the Gentle Giant with biceps the size of monster watermelons, would have been 100.

He began and ended his career with the Cincinnati Reds, first as Killer Klu, a power-packed first baseman and then as the team’s hitting coach whose mantra was, “See the ball, hit the ball.”

He also starred in the 1959 World Series for the Chicago Go-Go White Sox. They lost to the Dodgers, four fames to two, but it wasn’t Klu’s fault. He hit .391 with three homers, a double and 10 RBI. And Big Klu hit it the first two home runs for the expansion California Angels in 1961, his final season.

As Downey put it, “Klu could have hit a homer with a wrench, lead pipe or candlestick.” All true, but I’d include a matchstick.

—A REAL STUNNER: As former pitcher Joaquin Andujar once told writers, “I’ll say it in one word. . .youneverknow.”

And that’s why baseball is such a fascinating game. Youneverknow. Former Cincinnati Reds outfielder Travis Jankowski hit one home run all last season for the Texas Rangers.

In 2022 he hit none. In 2021 he hit one. That’s two home runs in three years.

The Rangers trailed the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, in the ninth inning on Opening Day. Jankowski pinch-hit, his first at bat of 2024, and tied the game. . .with a home run. And the Rangers won in the 10th, 4-3.

—AND TYLER, TOO: Those two home runs hit in his first two 2024 at bats by Cincinnati’s 33-year-old Nick Martini and Travis Jankowski’s pinch-hit home run were heart-warming and stunning, but there was another home run story that defines baseball’s improbabilities.

Boston outfielder Tyler O’Neill hit a home run on Opening Day. So what? Lots of home runs whistled out of major league parks on Opening Day.

Well, O’Neill’s home run was his fifth consecutive home run on Opening Days, a major league first.

Three other players had homered in four consecutve Opening Days, all catchers — Yogi Berra, Gary Carter and Todd Hundley.

While Berra and Carter are Hall of Famers and home run hitters, in six previous seasons O’Neill had 79 home runs.

To say it in one word —Whatashock.

—SAME OLD STORY: There is no doubt that former Reds outfielder Nick Senzel would injure himself eating a Cobb salad with a plastic fork.

Senzel, often injured while wiith the Reds, was in the Opening Day lineup for the Washington Nationals. He broke his thumb during pre-game drills.

As former NFL coach Bill Belichick once said, “The mark of a great champion is the one who can get up off the mat and win.”

Senzel, though, has been down on the field so often his uniforms have permanent grass and blood stains.

—QUICK NOTE: Fourteen of the 26 players on the Reds Opening Day roster were not on the 2023 Opening Day roster.

—BALK, BALK, BALK: There was a spring training game in Dunedin, Fla. in 1988 where 12 balks were called. T-w-e-l-v-e.

Seven were called in one inning against knuckleball pitcher Charlie Hough of the Texas Rangers.

Why? That year MLB decided to enforce a rule that a pitcher must come to a halt during his stretch. The rule had been ignored forever and pitchers developed quick pitches.

One was Hough. He quick-pitched, no delay in his stretch. Why? Out of necessity. His fastball was so slow the catcher could catch it with a pair of tweezers. His knuckleball was so slow the baseball arrived at home plate with moss on it.

Hough quick-pitched to keep base-runners from getting big jumps to steal and to deceived hitters.

On that day in Dunedin, when he was called for seven balks in one inning, he forced in two runs.

And the balk rule was called all season to the letter of baseball law. . .137 balks in the American League and 219 in the National League.

Did it bother Hough? Well, maybe. He was 18-13 with a 3.79 ERA in 1987, but a slowed-down 15-16 with a 4.35 ERA in 1988.

—HORSE SENSE: Another of my all-time favorite sports columnists was Bob Verdi when he penned columns for the Chicago Tribune.

And this is why. While covering the Kentucky Derby, he wrote this about a horse named Rumbo after he stumbled all over the Churchill Downs track.

“They say if you cut Rumbo’s head off, he’d be a Triple Crown winner. Of course, then he could never win by a nose.”

One person owned half of Rumbo, but he never said which half.

—QUIBBLE QUOTES?: More earthy and pithy utterings by baseball people:

From former Reds pitcher/broadcaster Sam LeCure: “MLB is a tough league to play in. But that’s why they all drive nice cars.”

From Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer the first time he saw teammate Floyd Rayford, who was 5-foot-10 and weighed a great deal: “Hey, Floyd, how many people are trapped inside your uniform?”

From Hack Wilson on facing Satchel Paige: “It starts out looking like a baseball and when it gets to the plate it looks like a marble.”

From Tony Gwynn: “The cardinal rule for a hitter with two strikes is never trust the umpire.”

From Mickey Mantle, the first time he saw Oakland’s green and gold uniforms: “They should have come out of their dugout on their tippy-toes, holding hands, and singing Kumbaya.”

From pitcher Dizzy Dean on a ball Bill Terry hit off him: “He hit the ball between my legs so hard that my center fielder caught the ball on the fly against the wall.”

—PLAYLIST NO. 33: Baseball is here, so here are songs about baseball:

Centerfield (John Fogarty), Right Field (Peter, Paul & Mary), The Greatest (Kenny Rogers), The Baseball Song (Corey Smith), Night Game (Paul Simon), Glory Days (Bruce Springsteen), Hall of Fame (The Script).

Buy A Boy A Baseball (Granger Smith), Catfish (Bob Dylan), All The Way (Eddie Vedder), Talkin’ Baseball (Terry Cashman), Wild Thing (The Troggs), Angels of Fenway (James Taylor), Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond), Mrs. Robinson (Simon & Garfunkel), The Cheap Seats (Alabama)

One thought on “OBSERVATIONS: Big Klu Was Baseball’s ‘Gentle Goliath’”

  1. My late grandfather loved the Reds. He was probably quoting Waite Hoyt when he said “Big Klu could go bear hunting with a buggy whip.”

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