Behind the Seams with Blake: Baseball Players You’ve Never Heard of, Volume 2: Hank Sauer

Shedding some light on 1952 NL MVP, Hank Sauer!

I am back with my second installment of my Baseball Players You’ve Never Heard of series. For this post, I will focus on Hank Sauer, who played primarily left field for the Reds, Cubs, Cardinals, and Giants over his 15-year career from 1941 to 1959. Sauer had quite the journey to becoming a steady performer in the MLB. He spent his mid to late 20s bouncing between the minor and major leagues for the Reds and missed the 1944 season serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in World War II. Upon his return from service, he spent the ‘46 and ‘47 seasons in the minors.

It’s safe to say that Hank Sauer was a late bloomer. Sauer never hit more than 21 homers in a minor or major league season until his age 30 season in 1947, when he hit .336 with 50 homers for the Syracuse Chiefs of the Reds minor league system. This otherworldly production in the minors finally earned Sauer a full-time job in the bigs at age 31 in 1948.

Sauer hit 35 home runs in his first full season with the Reds in ‘48, while also leading the league in strikeouts with 85. (A massive total, I know) Unfortunately for the Reds, Sauer got off to a very slow start in 1949, leading to a trade to the Cubs mid-season. The Windy City was where Sauer really took off as a major leaguer.

The Cubbies were not a great team in any of the seasons Sauer was there from 1949-1955, with the best record being an even 77-77 in 1952, Sauer’s MVP season. It’s because of this that Sauer was viewed as the reason to go see Cubs games, as he hit at least 30 homers in four of his years there, topping out at 41 big flies in 1954. In his MVP winning 1952 season, he led the NL with 37 homers and 121 RBIs. One might be curious as to why he only finished 26th in MVP voting in the 1954 season, as that season’s stats (41 HRs, 103 RBIs, .288 AVG) largely outperformed his 1952 stats (37 HRs, 121 RBIs, .270 AVG). I believe that the emergence of fellow NL 40-homer hitters Willie Mays, Ted Kluszewski (whom Volume 1 of this series chronicles), Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, and Eddie Mathews caused Sauer’s 41 homer output to not be viewed quite as highly as in 1952, and no doubt the fact that Sauer’s team was out of contention hurt his chances as well. One funny thing I must point out about the 1954 season is that both Cubs OF Hank Sauer and Yankees OF Hank Bauer received MVP votes. What a shame that the MLB never got to see an outfield shared by fellow Hanks Sauer and Bauer.

Hank Sauer ended his career with some lower performing seasons, as he was already up there in age for a ballplayer since he established himself in the MLB so late to begin with. He managed to hit 26 homers as a 40-year-old for the Giants in their final season in New York in 1957, then retired in 1959. He ended up being a longtime MLB coach and scout after concluding his playing career, so Sauer definitely had himself a nice lengthy career in baseball.

On a side note, I am proud to say that the image I provided at the top of this post is of my own signed 1959 Topps baseball card of Sauer. Every card in that year’s set came with the darker-colored signature, however my card also has the blue signature, which Hank himself signed when he was mailed the card by a previous owner. I’m really glad to own this card, and many old personally signed baseball cards like it, as it makes me feel that much more connected to baseball’s past.

Written by: Blake Koziel @thek0zy1 on Instagram

Photo Source: Blake Koziel

Album Review: Duke Deuce- Duke Nukem

The Memphis rapper delivers some fight club energy with this project.

Duke Deuce has been one of the frontrunners of Memphis’s emerging rap scene along with other artists like Blocboy JB and Young Dolph. As heard through songs like Crunk Ain’t Dead Remix and Crunk Ain’t Dead MOB, Deuce aims to evoke the rowdy vibe of 90s and 2000s Southern rap greats like Three 6 Mafia. Duke Nukem is no exception with Deuce delivering bangers on top of bangers that makes you want to throw someone through a wall.

The opening track Intro: Coming Out Hard is a strong reminder of Duke’s Memphis roots, with the title and funky sound reminiscent of the duo 8Ball & MJG and their 1992 album Comin’ Out Hard. Soldiers Steppin is arguably the album’s biggest highlight with its echoing drums and military-esque call and response rapping. Fell Up In The Club with A$AP Ferg continues the homage to Memphis with a sample of Paper Chaser by EP & Dow Jones. Gangsta Party brings energy into trap’s oversaturated trend of minimalistic piano-laden beats with a feature by Offset and Deuce’s almost sing-song delivery. Back 2 Back brings a vicious vibe with an icy beat and an even more aggressive presence by Deuce. One of the biggest strengths of the album is Duke’s presence as a rapper. Overall, the lyrics on this project are your typical gun-toting, sexual bravado, and gangbanging fare, but he elevates it through his energized delivery and ad-libs.

If there’s any weaknesses to this album, it’s simply because Duke doesn’t seek to provide anything groundbreaking to hip hop. However, this doesn’t necessarily indicate an overall weakness in his artistry. Army and Outro:Go 2 Hell are Duke’s foray into harmonized raps, but feels like tedious and odd fits compared to the album’s headbanging atmosphere. The simplistic  hook on Toot Toot with Young Dolph drags the song down despite some solid verses. Kirk with Mulatto is a solid track, but could feel repetitive with its piano-heavy production if compared with Gangsta Party.

Overall, Duke Nukem is an enjoyable project that serves a healthy heap of hardcore club bangers. If you need any music to rage out to, then this album is made for you.

Score: 7.5/10

Written by Kristian Gonzales

Picture Source: Medium

Behind the Seams with Blake: Baseball Players You’ve Never Heard of, Volume 1: Ted Kluszewski

“It was either that (I cut the sleeves) or change my swing, and I wasn’t about to change my swing”

Hello readers! I am back once again for another semester of sports blog posts. Since there aren’t a great amount of things happening in the MLB or NFL worlds at the moment, I am excited to bring you the first installment of Baseball Players You’ve Never Heard of. In these posts, I will write about fantastic sluggers from the mid 1900s who would likely only be recognized and known by about 1% of casual baseball fans.

Ted Kluszewski, nicknamed Big Klu, has got to be one of the most interesting players of Cincinnati Reds/Redlegs history, combining power with a great eye at the plate to become one of the most feared hitters of the early to mid-1950s. The left-handed first baseman had a .298 batting average in his career and hit .300 or better in 7 seasons. From 1953-55, he hit at least 40 homers each year, with 1954 in particular being his most impressive. That season, he led the National League with 49 home runs, 141 runs batted in, and a .326 batting average, en route to finishing 2nd in MVP voting behind the Say Hey Kid, Willie Mays.

Perhaps the most intriguing stat Big Klu compiled over his career was the fact that he walked (492) more times than he struck out (365). In his aforementioned 1954 season, he hit 49 home runs, while striking out just 35 times and drawing 78 free passes. That’s leading the league in homers while walking more than twice as many times as he struck out. Insane. With the exorbitant levels that modern day hitters are striking out, it would be something of a miracle to see a player put up a walk to strikeout ratio as Kluszewski did. Nowadays, players are seen as statistical outliers if they end up having more walks than strikeouts, but those totals usually differ only by very small amounts. (Barry Bonds had several outrageous walk to strikeout ratio seasons, but he was literally on a different physical level than most players, so I exclude him from this argument). Yes, I know that Kluszewski likely wasn’t facing 100mph gas every day like modern day players do, but I must give credit where it’s due, and Big Klu had an excellent eye at the plate. In fact, according to Baseball Reference, Kluszewski is the only player in MLB history to hit 35 or more home runs in four seasons while having fewer strikeouts than homers.

While Kluszewski put up some awesome numbers over the course of his career, merely looking at the statistics does not do him justice. Big Klu was feared by opponents because of his massive arms, and he actually managed to upset Reds front office personnel when he cut off the sleeves of his uniform upon arriving to the Reds in 1947. In an article for The Cincinnati Enquirer, Big Klu said he needed to cut them off because they were too tight and constricted his biceps and shoulders, interfering with his swing. Kluszewski was also a big-time tight end in college football at the time he signed with the Reds, so one could say that he wanted to keep the intimidation factor in play even though he was no longer on the gridiron.

Keeping with the humorous tone, according to a Sports Illustrated article, Kluszewski in 1959 became the first player to appear in a game with the name on the back of his jersey misspelled, with the z printed backwards, and an x instead of the second k. As a fellow Polish person with a very Polish last name that is often mispronounced/misspelled, I can empathize with the awkward feeling that comes with that type of situation.

Big Klu was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1962, but I can’t help but wonder why he didn’t get more consideration for enshrinement in the larger-scale MLB Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. His peak years from 1953-56 were about as good as it gets, as he hit over .300 with 35+ homers and 100+ RBIs in each season. Along with his offensive production, it should be pointed out that he was a standout performer defensively at first base as well, leading NL first basemen in fielding percentage for 5 straight seasons in 1951-1955. Despite these accomplishments, he failed to gain enough traction to reach the 75% induction threshold, as 14.5% was the highest percentage of votes he received in any of his 15 years on the voting ballot. 

While most people would be quick to say current Red Joey Votto is the best first baseman of Reds history, I believe Ted Kluszewski still warrants consideration to be in that discussion.

Written by: Blake Koziel @thek0zy1 on Instagram

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EP Review: Brent Faiyaz- Do Not Listen

Faiyaz returns with three new songs representing his gritty yet melodic sound.

Brent Faiyaz has had a hell of a year since the release of his EP F*ck the World. Since then, he’s been dropping singles such as Dead Man Walking and Gravity featuring Tyler the Creator along with appearances in other content such as the PGLang and Calvin Klein ad Solo. With his next album Make It Out Alive in the works, Faiyaz released his EP Do Not Listen on 2/8 as a surprise drop. This project continues to show Faiyaz’s blend of socially conscious and introspective themes with some brashness and indulgence

The track Circles featuring Purr is a reflection on independence and success in a world of social turmoil , as evident in lyrics such as “N****s dying everyday, but what can I say/They just want me to sing/ It’s like everyone wants you to think how they think and do what they say and stay out of the way/And if you don’t wanna, they got a problem with you.” The message of this track may remind listeners of the tensions surrounding 2020’s social movements like the Black Lives Matter protests and their influence on activism by public figures such as athletes and other celebrities. The track’s minimalist and claustrophobic production may be jarring to some, but fits its mood upon repeated listens. Paper Soldier featuring rapper Joony, with its funky and trap-influenced beat, is swaggering and cocky towards fame with the chorus: “I bet you wish that I was still right there, used to live right there, Now I’m everywhere, got bitches everywhere/I’m so debonair, I’m a millionaire, I act like I don’t care, that’s cause I don’t care.”

Arguably, the biggest highlight of the EP is Price of Fame, a two-part track with a bass-heavy first half slowing down into a guitar and vocal-heavy second half. Lines like “Is it cause my whip so fast you don’t see no flaws?/Is it cause my bitch so bad she blew you off?/All of the things they want” and “They don’t wanna give you time to heal, They just wanna bleed you dry for real” combined with the booming beat creates a sense of fame and debauchery crashing into you like a come down from a high. The second half enters some sort of therapeutic mood when Brent sings “You don’t need some to make you feel better than you’ve ever felt/What you need is someone who will be there when you don’t feel yourself,” which can be assumed as recognition of his music’s personal effect on people and need for fans to understand his longing for personal peace aside from his career.

Overall, Do Not Listen displays sincere songwriting skills that places Faiyaz on a much more intimate level than his peers in R&B. If the songs of this EP are signs of things to come, then we are in for a highly anticipated studio album later this year.

Score: 9/10

Written By: Kristian Gonzales