Let’s take a look back at the man, the myth, and the legend – Ted Kluszewski.
Ted Kluszewski – younger baseball fans may have first heard the name watching an old movie with parents. In Rain Man, the 1988 film, Raymond Babbitt (Dustin Hoffman), an autistic savant, is thrown off his routine by a visit from his brother, Charlie (Tom Cruise). As Charlie looks around his sibling’s room in a special-needs institution, Raymond nervously recites things he’s memorized, including facts about a slugging first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds from the 1950s: “Kluszewski. Ted Kluszewski. ‘Big Klu.’ First base…. Traded for Dee Fondee [sic], 1957.”
Raymond has an impressive display of memorabilia in this scene, with Kluszewski among his baseball cards.
It took an examination of the dialogue script from the film, rendered in small part above, to remind me of a kid’s reality of the ’50s: Charlie Babbitt initially mispronounces the player’s name “Ted Kloszevski.” Raymond corrects him before giving the player’s full name, nickname, and position.
That was us kids back in the day – sort of. Some of us had learned to say Big Klu’s last name by watching and listening to games on TV and radio, but almost no one could spell it. That was the first thing we all knew about Kluszewski – a difficult name. The second, except for the kids in Cincinnati, was that this was the guy who cut off his uniform sleeves to display his big arms.
He was viewed as a showoff in my boyhood circle of friends. And this was a mistake.
While a lot of pictures exist of Big Klu wearing a sleeveless undershirt beneath the vest jersey the Cincinnati Reds sported in the ’50s, I personally recall that he frequently wore an undershirt with sleeves only somewhat shorter than other players’ short-sleeved gear.
So, it may be time to put away any suggestion of Kluszewski as an extreme narcissist of some stripe. On the other hand, the man’s biceps are reported to have been 15 inches around, fairly large in pre-steroid times, and it wasn’t as though he was ashamed of them.
In this century Kluszewski is variously recalled as “a Reds hero,” “except in communities where he made his mark…a somewhat forgotten player,” and “one of the most underappreciated players of the post-World War II era.” He is also a player who made his way into major league baseball in a way that’s nearly impossible today.