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

Photo Source: SABR.org




Behind the Seams with Blake: Active NFL Players with All-Time Great Career Stats

Some might say these stars have lost a step over the years, but that isn’t stopping them from steadily marching towards football immortality.

Hello again readers, this is the final post I will be writing this semester, and the NFL season will likely be in the postseason if not finished by the time I write again. Because of this, I’ve decided to dedicate this post to the “old men” of the NFL, who are all over the age of 35 (Ancient, am I right?) It isn’t certain that all 4 of these players will return in 2021 after this NFL season concludes, so there’s no better time than now to recognize them for their well-earned achievements.

Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Frank Gore, and Larry Fitzgerald have been stacking up numbers throughout the past 2 decades and have thrown (literally in Brady and Brees’ case) themselves into the all-time NFL record books in the process. Brady and Brees have taken control of the majority of the highly-sought-after passing statistics, while still performing like they did in their prime. The latter two players aren’t producing numbers like they once did, but Gore has slow and steadily climbed up the career rushing yards leaderboard, as has Fitzgerald in terms of career receiving yards and receptions. Let’s dive deeper into each of these players’ numbers and how they compare to the football greats of the past.

Tom Brady & Drew Brees:

I have chosen to write about Brady and Brees together because of their commonalities as fellow quarterbacks and having similar career stats. Tom Brady is now 43 years old after spending 20 years with the Patriots and is currently in his first season with the Buccaneers. Drew Brees, at 41 years old, is the “younger” of the two, and he too has enjoyed a very long career, beginning with a 5-year stint as the Chargers QB, and more-famously the Saints QB of the last 15 years. The pair of ageless quarterbacks have spent the 2020 season playing ping-pong with the all-time record for passing touchdowns, with Brady currently sporting a 4 TD lead with 569 over Brees’ 565 due in part to Brees being injured for the past 2 weeks and likely 2 to 4 more weeks. Regardless, Brady and Brees sit 1st and 2nd in all-time passing TDs, while Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, and Dan Marino round out the top 5. Keep an eye on current Colts QB Philip Rivers though, as his 413 TDs sit just 7 TDs below Marino’s 420 with 5 games still left to play this season.

Frank Gore:

“The Inconvenient Truth” is still a starting running back at 37 years old, albeit for a horrible Jets team. (Hey… you gotta get those rushing yards in any way you can.) Gore likely could have chosen to sign as a backup with a much better team in hopes of securing his first Super Bowl ring, but it’s understandable why he chose to go to a cellar-dwelling Jets team where there’s a much easier path to carries. At this point of his career, every rushing yard counts more than ever for Gore, as he currently is 3rd all-time in career rushing yards, trailing only Hall of Famers Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith. Over his 16 years playing with 5 teams in the NFL, Gore now has 15,868 rushing yards, which puts him 858 yards behind Payton who sits 2nd all-time with 16,726. Gore would likely have to play into his 40s to approach Smith’s 18,355 total, but we have all learned that it isn’t wise to bet against Gore putting up numbers each year. No, they aren’t fantastic numbers anymore, but they do still add up. By the way, (Yoda voice) “there is another (Gore) in this galaxy”, as Frank Gore Jr. is a college freshman RB for Southern Miss, so be sure to mentally prepare for a new Frank Gore to replace the current Frank Gore in the coming years.

Larry Fitzgerald:

“Larry Legend” has spent his entire 17-year career with the Cardinals, spending the majority of it as an upper-echelon wide receiver in the NFL. Fitzgerald continued to perform spectacularly even into his age 34 season with the team in 2017, when he put up 109 receptions, 1,156 receiving yards, and 6 TDs. He hasn’t approached that level of production since then, and it’s unlikely that he will return to those levels with DeAndre Hopkins now the WR1 of the team, but he has continued to be useful as a safety-net for QB Kyler Murray in the dangerous Cardinals offense. Fitzgerald has also considered retirement over the past couple years, but each time he decided to return because of his desire to win a Super Bowl before he calls it a career. Fitz currently sits in a distant 2nd place for career receiving yards with 17,419 behind Hall of Famer Jerry Rice at 22,895. He’s also 2nd all-time in receptions with 1,421, trailing only (you guessed it) Jerry Rice, who reeled in 1,549 catches in his career.

It’s fair to wonder how many years on the field these four players have left in them, but I must say that it’s been a pleasure to get to watch each of them climb up the leaderboards of their respective counting stats. It’s cool to know that some of the very best players of NFL history are playing in 2020. If I were to look into my crystal ball and predict who we could see at or near the tops of leaderboards in the coming decades, I’d expect Patrick Mahomes, Michael Thomas, Derrick Henry, and DeAndre Hopkins to show up next to Brady, Brees, Gore, and Fitzgerald.

Written by: Blake Koziel @thek0zy1 on Instagram

Photo Sources: Orlando Sentinel, Pro Football Rumors, DraftKings Nation, My Hero Project


Behind the Seams with Blake: 5 Key NFL Contributors of 2020

Greetings readers, this will be my first post on the 2020 NFL season, discussing breakout players and which players have lived up to expectations so far.

Some of the players I will be discussing qualify as big stories because of their impressive contributions to top teams, while others are included in this post not because of their team’s overall success, but because they deserve some recognition for their unexpectedly great performances so far this season.

Tom Brady – QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

This was perhaps the biggest story entering the 2020 season, as everyone wondered how Brady would fare outside of a Patriots uniform and without Bill Belichick as a coach. It was a topic of discussion whether the Patriots’ success over the past 20 years should be attributed to Belichick’s masterful coaching or Brady’s fantastic quarterback play, but that question has been answered pretty clearly throughout this season. Brady has led the admittedly-stacked Bucs to a 7-3 record, while Belichick’s Patriots have a 4-5 record, relying on aging stars left on the team, as well as a, to this point, hit or miss performance by former Carolina Panthers MVP Cam Newton, who took Brady’s place as the Pats quarterback this season. Brady is enjoying his typical strong offensive output with top 5 ranks among QBs in Passing Yards and Passing TDs.

James Robinson – RB Jacksonville Jaguars:

The Jaguars are a 1-8 team heading into Week 11, but that hasn’t stopped a previously unheralded running back from showing off his talents to the league. James Robinson latched on with the Jags in the offseason with very little fanfare as an undrafted free agent, then went on to win the starting RB job for the team out of the 0 game preseason that the players convinced the NFL to have this year because of COVID. We’ll never know just how different things could have turned out had a preseason been played, or if Robinson would’ve even ended up with the starting job in the first place, but Robinson has certainly made the most of his opportunity thus far. In 9 games played for the Jaguars this season, Robinson currently sits 5th in the NFL with 689 rushing yards, along with 5 rushing TDs. He has also been proficient in the receiving game, with 29 receptions and 2 receiving TDs. These numbers, especially the rushing yards, are quite remarkable considering the Jaguars have been on the wrong side of the scoring in most games this season, and teams tend to switch to passing once they are losing in a game. Personally, I’ve become a big fan of Robinson (pictured at the top of this post), as he is a back capable of rushing and receiving, and he is a short and stocky RB, reminding me of CJ Anderson in his prime with my favorite team, the Denver Broncos.

Justin Herbert – QB Los Angeles Chargers:

The Chargers began their year with bridge-QB Tyrod Taylor leading the team, while 2020 top draft pick Herbert watched and “learned how to be an NFL QB” from the sidelines. However, a fluke injury caused Taylor to miss Week 2’s game against the Chiefs, forcing the Chargers to put their young power-armed QB into action as their starter in just the 2nd game of the season. Much to everyone’s surprise though, Herbert did rather well, and he has since run away with the starting job for the Chargers, showing that he can already put up a good fight against even the toughest teams. However, this does not mean that the team actually won the games, as the Chargers have once again found ways to lose games at the very last moment time and time again. This season can likely be crossed off the list for postseason aspirations for the Chargers, but it seems like the franchise has found a worthy successor of longtime QB Philip Rivers, who left for the Colts after the end of last season. I have watched every Chargers game this season, so I have seen a lot of Herbert’s abilities on display, and I have a feeling he has a very bright future ahead of him.

Chase Claypool – WR Pittsburgh Steelers:

The Steelers drafted Claypool in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft, and he has lived up to expectations, flashing crazy athleticism and producing boatloads of numbers for the Steelers. He did not begin the season as a starting WR, as the team also has Diontae Johnson and Juju Smith-Schuster as WRs. After the first few weeks, injuries to the WR depth chart allowed Claypool to get more targets from Big Ben Roethlisburger, and in Week 5, Claypool burst onto the scene, catching 7 passes for 110 yards and scoring 3 receiving TDs and another TD rushing. Claypool and the Steelers have dominated this season, as they are currently 9-0, and many think they have a chance at going undefeated this season.

Russell Wilson – QB Seattle Seahawks:

“Danger Russ” has been on fire this season, especially through the first 8 weeks, as he was on pace to finish with a Passing TD total in the neighborhood of Peyton Manning’s single season record 55 in 2013. After a few less than spectacular passing performances in Weeks 9, 10, and in this week’s Thursday Night Football game against the Cardinals, he is no longer on the same blistering pace. He does still have a chance to hit the 50 TD mark though, as he leads the NFL with 30 Passing TDs through 10 games played. Overall, Wilson’s splendid QB play has helped the Seahawks to a 7-3 record in a tough NFC West division, and they will hope to see Wilson return to his Week 1-8 form for the final stretch of the season to secure Seattle a playoff spot.

Written by: Blake Koziel @thek0zy1 on Instagram

Photo Source: SI JaguarReport


Behind the Seams with Blake: 2020 MLB Season Wrap-Up/Breakout Players

Dodgers Capture First World Series Win Since 1988, Controversial Undertones Ensue.

Greetings readers, it truly is a crazy time right now politically, but you can count (pun intended) on me to bring you some insight about the latest baseball news. First and foremost, congratulations to the Los Angeles Dodgers for securing their first title in over 30 years. Teammates are happy for Kerton Clayshaw (Clayton Kershaw, but an MLB analyst called him that instead by mistake prior to a game in a recent postseason, and no one noticed) who finally got his first World Series win in his magnificent career. Dodgers fans haven’t felt this great since a hobbled Kirk Gibson did the impossible and hit a walk off homer off of Oakland A’s dominant closer Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series. Unlike Gibson’s famous fist-pumping celebration, this season’s world series champions likely won’t be remembered for plays they made during the game, but events that occurred after the conclusion of the game.

Unfortunately, this long-awaited win comes with an extra side of controversy. Dodgers 3B Justin Turner left Game 6 due to a positive test for COVID-19, only to come mask-less onto the field and celebrate the win with his teammates after the game. Lucky for Turner, the league announced Friday that he will not face any discipline for his unsafe actions. Nothing like this has happened in recent memory, where something unrelated to the game itself was the biggest topic of discussion in the days following a World Series win. It was only fitting that in a season where it was such an added struggle to keep players healthy, that something would happen in the biggest game of the season and the virus would steal the show instead of the actual plays on the field.

Looking back on the season, some will say that it was less than stellar, but all things considered, we as fans are pretty lucky that we still got to watch a MLB season happen, even if it was just 60 games. We knew we wouldn’t see Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton race for 70 homers, but we still did get to see some great stat lines put up. We learned that it’s possible for players to experience breakout seasons even in less than half the length of a regular baseball season. I will now discuss some of the players who I believe fit into this category.

Breakout Players: 

Cleveland Indians RHP Shane Bieber – Bieber was largely considered the top starting pitcher in all of baseball in 2020, as he dominated batters from day 1 of the season. Bieber had the gaudy strikeout numbers in 2019, but 2020 was when he really stepped into the spotlight and solidified his case as a consensus top 3 pitcher. He was still quite unknown by most baseball fans at the start of 2020, as he was buried behind Corey Kluber in Cleveland’s starting rotation for his first few years in the major leagues, but now it’s safe to say the MLB and fans are aware of his presence at the top of the Indian’s rotation, where he will hope to remain their ace for years to come.

San Diego Padres SS Fernando Tatis Jr. – Tatis started his rookie season in 2019 with a bang, as his gifted physical tools were on full display for the Padres for the first half of the season. Unfortunately for the team and himself, he was injured on an awkward over-extension covering 2nd base, and he missed the remainder of the season as the Padres dropped out of contention. This year was a different story, as he lit up the league and led in most offensive categories through the first months of the season and looked like the obvious MVP of the National League. The final month of the regular season wasn’t the same though, as Tatis endured a lengthy slump, and it ended up allowing other top NL players like Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and even his infield buddy Manny Machado to match his level of offensive performance, and those three ultimately pushed Tatis out of the MVP running. Tatis and Padre Faithful will hope that he can carry his fantastic production through the entire season in 2021.

New York Yankees 1B Luke Voit – Voit came to the Yankees in a 2018 trade with the Cardinals in exchange for Relief Pitcher Giovanny Gallegos, a rare example of a trade that has worked out for both teams. Voit had shown his great raw power in prior seasons with the Yankees, but 2020 was a step above his previous production. He led the league with 22 home runs in just 56 games, which is equivalent to around 60 home runs in a full 162 game season. The fact he plays for the Yankees makes the thought of him continuing to produce at that rate in 2021 simply incredible. The Bronx Bombers already have 2 players (Judge and Stanton) capable of hitting 50+ home runs in any full season, so the addition of Voit to the annual 50+ homer threat list makes the Yankees even more of a horrifying offense to face, and should further prove that their 2021 offense will be a must-watch for all home run loving fans in the MLB.

Written by: Blake Koziel @thek0zy1 on Instagram

Photo Source: Niles West News