The left handed first baseman of Polish-American ancestry arrived in Los Angeles at the tail end of a career that had sparkled with regular National League All Star appearances.
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Angels fans who are not familiar with the name can be forgiven for forgetting him, having played just one injury ridden season for the Halos, the man famous for his short sleeves and big arms is hardly an iconic Angels player. But that one season just happens to be the inaugural 1961 season, and ‘Big Klu’ will forever have his named etched into the annals of Halos history, being responsible for the organisation’s first hit. Kids of the era were said to struggle not just with spelling Kluszewski but also pronouncing it, and whilst some quarters found his short sleeves to be something of a vanity issue, the sight of his well developed arms makes the adopted moniker quite suitable.
Having cemented his place in Cincinnati Reds folklore, the left handed first baseman of Polish-American ancestry arrived in Los Angeles at the tail end of a career that had sparkled with regular National League All Star appearances. In the 1955 season Kluszewski hit 47 homers, striking out 40 times, an incredible feat as demonstrated by the fact that no player has hit 40 homers and struck out 40 or fewer times in one season since, though Barry Bonds came close in 2004. His superhuman strength was widely appreciated whilst at the peak of his powers and he hit .300 seven times while on the Reds roster, whilst also leading the National League first baseman in fielding percentage for five straight years.
Battling cleanup, Kluszewski belted over right field off Milt Pappas in the first innings, in the process becoming the first Angels to hit a home run and simultaneously the first player to hit a two run home run.
In 1958 Kluszewski was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, then again to the Chicago White Sox in 1959. As a native of Chicago the trade offered Kluszewski the chance to be a home town hero, as the White Sox faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. But ultimately, despite him hitting two homers and driving in five in an 11-0 demolition of the Dodgers, the White Sox fell short of the big time. Whilst with the White Sox, in 1959, the organisation pioneered the addition of player names on jerseys, leading to a comical array of mis-spelled jerseys for Kluszewski. As the first ever expansion draft of 1960 approached, Kluszewski’s contract was left unprotected and the Angels, taking note of his 1959 World Series performance, where he hit .391 with 3 HR and 10 RBI, selected him in the draft, despite his clear back injury issues.
On the 11th of April 1961 the Angels faced the Baltimore Orioles on Opening Day. Batting cleanup, Kluszewski belted over right field off Milt Pappas in the first innings, in the process becoming the first Angels to hit a home run and simultaneously the first player to hit a two run home run. In the second innings, now facing reliever John Papa, he repeated the feat, but this time becoming the first Angels player to hit a three run home run. The name that kids, and kit men, had struggled to get right his entire career was entered forever into Halos history. Tragically Big Klu passed away at just 63 years of age, in 1988. Ten years later the Reds retired his jersey number in honour of his service and achievements.
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