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Willie Keeler

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Title: Willie Keeler  
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Subject: HistBaseHitLdr2, Joe Kelley, John McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Baltimore Orioles (19th century)
Collection: 1872 Births, 1923 Deaths, 19Th-Century Baseball Players, American People of Irish Descent, American Roman Catholics, Baltimore Orioles (Nl) Players, Baseball Players from New York, Binghamton Bingoes Players, Binghamton Bingos Players, Brooklyn Grooms Players, Brooklyn Superbas Players, Burials at Calvary Cemetery (Queens, New York), Harvard Crimson Baseball Coaches, Major League Baseball Right Fielders, National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees, National League Batting Champions, New York Giants (Nl) Players, New York Highlanders Players, Toronto Maple Leafs (International League) Players
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Willie Keeler

Willie Keeler
Right fielder
Born: (1872-03-03)March 3, 1872
Brooklyn, New York
Died: January 1, 1923(1923-01-01) (aged 50)
Brooklyn, New York
Batted: Left Threw: Right
MLB debut
September 30, 1892, for the New York Giants
Last MLB appearance
September 5, 1910, for the New York Giants
MLB statistics
Batting average .341
Hits 2,932
Home runs 33
Runs batted in 810
Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Baseball Hall of Fame
Inducted 1939
Vote 75.5% (fourth ballot)

William Henry Keeler (March 3, 1872 – January 1, 1923), nicknamed "Wee Willie", was a right fielder in Major League Baseball who played from 1892 to 1910, primarily for the Baltimore Orioles and Brooklyn Superbas in the National League, and the New York Highlanders in the American League. Keeler, one of the best hitters of his time, was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.


  • Biography 1
    • Career 1.1
    • Death and legacy 1.2
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4



Keeler's advice to hitters was "Keep your eye clear, and hit 'em where they ain't"—"they" being the opposing fielders. His .385 career batting average after the 1898 season is the highest average in history at season's end for a player with more than 1,000 hits (1,147 hits).[1] He compiled a .341 batting average over his career, currently 14th all time. He hit over .300 16 times in 19 seasons, and hit over .400 once. He twice led his league in batting average and three times in hits. Keeler had an amazing 206 singles during the 1898 season, a record that stood for more than 100 years until broken by Ichiro Suzuki. Additionally, Keeler had an on-base percentage of greater than .400 for seven straight seasons. When Keeler retired in 1910, he was third all-time in hits with 2,932, behind only Cap Anson and Jake Beckley.

He was one of the smallest players to play the game, standing 5' 4½" and weighing 140 pounds (64 kg), resulting in his nickname. Keeler was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. He appeared on The Sporting News' list of the "100 Greatest Baseball Players," ranking in at number 75.[2] In 1999, he was named as a finalist to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Having played his last game in 1910, he was the most chronologically distant player on both Top 100 lists.

Baseball card of Keeler

Keeler had the ability to bunt practically any ball sent his way. He was the impetus for the rule change that made a third-strike foul bunt into a strike out. With Ned Hanlon's Baltimore Orioles he perfected the "Baltimore Chop," in which he would chop the ball into the ground hard enough for it to bounce so high he could reach base before the fielder could throw the ball to first. Bill James has speculated that Keeler introduced the hit and run strategy to the original Orioles and team-mate John McGraw. James found that Boston's Tommy McCarthy was the first manager to make wide use of the hit and run. McCarthy then taught the tactic to John Montgomery Ward, who introduced the strategy to Keeler.[3]

In forming the powerful original Baltimore Orioles of the late 19th century, manager Ned Hanlon was given a piece of the team and a free rein to form his team. In one of the most one-sided trades in baseball history, Hanlon obtained Dan Brouthers and Keeler from Brooklyn. Keeler and six of his teammates from the Orioles eventually were inducted into the Hall of Fame.[4]

In 1897, Keeler had a 44-game hitting streak to start the season, beating out the previous single season record of 42, set by Bill Dahlen. Keeler had a hit in his final game of the 1896 season, giving him a National League record 45-game hitting streak. This mark was surpassed by Joe DiMaggio in 1941, who had a 56-game hitting streak. In 1978, Pete Rose tied Keeler's single season mark of 44 games. No other player in baseball has ever matched this feat. Keeler also had eight consecutive seasons with 200 hits or more, a record broken by Ichiro Suzuki in 2009.[5]

In 1901 when Ban Johnson formed the American League, one of the first acts was to raid the National League and offer their stars big contracts. In 1901, Keeler received offers from six of the eight new American League clubs, including an offer from Chicago for two years at $4,300 a season. Keeler remained in Brooklyn and did not actually jump to the new league until 1903, when he signed with New York. In 1905, Keeler set the Yankees team record for most sacrifice hits in a season with 42.[6]

Death and legacy

Keeler suffered from endocarditis for the last five years of his life. By late 1922, his condition had worsened and it was doubtful whether he would live into the new year. Seriously ill by New Year's Eve, he heard bells and sirens in the streets when the new year arrived. Keeler sat up and said to his brother, "You see, the new year is here and so am I—still."[7] He enjoyed a drink and a smoke, then said that he was ready for a long sleep.[7] A short time later, Keeler died; he was 50.[8] He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York.

Keeler is mentioned in the poem "Line-Up for Yesterday" by Ogden Nash.

Line-Up for Yesterday

K is for Keeler,
As fresh as green paint,
The fastest and mostest
To hit where they ain't.

Ogden Nash, Sport magazine (January 1949)[9]

See also


  1. ^ Progressive Leaders & Records for Batting Average -
  2. ^ 100 Greatest Baseball Players by The Sporting News : A Legendary List by Baseball Almanac
  3. ^ Rader, Benjamin G (January 2002). Baseball: A History of America's Game by Benjamin G. Rader ISBN 0-252-07013-5, pg. 75.  
  4. ^ Okrent, Daniel (1989). Baseball Anecdotes by Daniel Okrent, Steve Wulf, ISBN 0-19-504396-0, pp. 32.  
  5. ^ Baseball’s Top 100: The Game’s Greatest Records, p.46, Kerry Banks, 2010, Greystone Books, Vancouver, BC, ISBN 978-1-55365-507-7
  6. ^ Spatz, Lyle (2004-01-01). Bad Bill Dahlen: The Rollicking Life and Times of an Early Baseball Star by Lyle Spatz, ISBN 0-7864-1978-4, pp. 102-104.  
  7. ^ a b Mele, Andrew Paul (ed.) (2005). A Brooklyn Dodgers Reader. McFarland. pp. 14–15.  
  8. ^ Willie Keeler Dies of Heart Disease, New York Times (January 2, 1923). Retrieved on April 30, 2013.
  9. ^ "Baseball Almanac". Retrieved 2008-01-23. 

External links

  • Willie Keeler at the Baseball Hall of Fame
  • Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
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