Ken Keltner Essentials

Positions:
Bats: R Throws: R
Height: 72 Weight: 190
Born: Tuesday, October 31, 1916 in Milwaukee, WI USA
Died: 12 12 1991 in New Berlin, WI USA
Debut: 10/2/1937
Last Game: 5/25/1950
Full Name: Kenneth Frederick Keltner

 

“My man on the Cleveland club is Ken Keltner, who so far outstrips every other third baseman in the league that it is no contest,” gushed Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich in 1941. “[He] not only is the best fielding third baseman but he is the biggest batting threat among ’em.” The 1941 season had been a memorable one for Keltner: he hit .269 with 23 HRs, 13 triples, and 84 RBI while leading AL third sackers in assists, double plays, range factor, and FLD%. However, it was the events of July 17—the day Keltner’s defensive wizardry quelled Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak—that made him a household name. “Joe blasted a couple at me,” recounted a 73-year-old Keltner for what must have seemed like the millionth time, “and I managed to grab both of them and throw him out.” Said by Lou Boudreau to rank among the all-time greats, for Keltner, the pair of nifty plays would serve as both a blessing and a curse.

A Milwaukee native, Keltner began his career as a 19-year-old in the Bi-State League in 1936, hitting .360 with 32 HRs. The 6-foot, 190-pound phenom had no trouble adjusting to big league pitching when he joined the Indians in 1938; the rookie hit .276 with 26 HRs and 113 RBI. Keltner followed that by hitting .325 with 13 HRs, 11 triples, and 97 RBI while leading AL third basemen in putouts, double-plays, and FLD% in 1939. Keltner slumped a bit in 1940 (.254 w/ 15 HRs) but was nonetheless selected to his first of five consecutive All-Star Games. Keltner’s toughest competition at the hot corner—in terms of power and defense—was the slick-fielding Harlond Clift, whose home run prowess and astronomical on-base percentages have led many to call him “the first modern third baseman.”

Following a pair of subpar seasons, Keltner hit .295 with 41 doubles, 13 HRs, and 91 RBI in 1944 before beginning a year-long stint in the military. He struggled upon his return, hitting .250 during the 1946-47 seasons. Keltner found his stroke in 1948, setting career-highs in HRs (31), RBI (119), and walks (89); “Butch” topped off the year by hitting a decisive HR versus Boston in the first ever one-game playoff to determine the AL pennant. Sadly, a severe leg injury would put an end to the 33-year-old’s MLB career two years later. A .276 hitter with 163 HRs and 308 doubles to his credit, Keltner ended his 12-year career having led AL third sackers in positive single-season defensive categories at least 22 times; he ranks among the top-40 at the position in career putouts (31st), assists (40th), double plays (26th), and FLD% (37th).