Tim Keefe Essentials
Bats: R Throws: R
Born: Year: 1857 in Cambridge, MA USA
Died: 4 23 1933 in Cambridge, MA USA
Last Game: 1893-08-15
Hall of Fame: Inducted as a Player in 1964 by Veterans
Full Name: Timothy John Keefe
”Tim Keefe was a wizard,” declared Billy Sunday. “He was the first to develop the slow ball; that is, he developed a motion so that when he pitched, a batsman could never tell whether his delivery was a fast ball or a floater. . . . Keefe could fool the best batsman that ever stood at the plate.” Cap Anson agreed with Sunday’s assessment, describing “Sir Timothy” as an undisputed “master of the change-of-pace.” Aside from changing speeds, Keefe – cited by The Boston Globe as “one of the most scientific pitchers in the country” – employed a myriad of release points (sidearm, submarine, etc.) while galavanting around the pitcher’s box, taking several steps or exaggerated hops before releasing the ball. The eventual 342-game winner once described his peripatetic delivery – which was outlawed in 1887 – as “a series of gymnastics” designed “to terrify the batter.”
A Massachusetts native, Keefe burst onto the scene with the 1880 Troy Trojans (NL), posting a minuscule 0.86 ERA in 105 innings of work. Though effective over the next two seasons (35 wins, 2.87 ERA), Keefe received little run support, as evidenced by his 53 losses. In 1883, the 26-year-old joined the New York Metropolitans (American Association), with whom he won 41 games while leading the circuit in complete games (68), innings (619), and strikeouts (349). The guileful righty followed that by going 37-17 with a 2.25 ERA and 334 Ks in 1884. As a member of the 1885 New York Giants, Keefe won 32 games while pacing NL hurlers with a 1.58 ERA. In 1886, he fanned 297 batsmen and led the league in wins (42) and complete games (62).
The 1888 season would be one for the ages: “Smiling Tim” paced the league with 35 wins, 335 strikeouts, and a 1.74 ERA as New York captured the NL pennant. The big righty (5-foot-10, 185-pounds) was even better in Gotham’s 1888 “World Series” victory over the St. Louis Browns (AA), finishing with four wins, 30 Ks, and a 0.51 ERA in 35 innings of work. Keefe’s sublime performance led the New York press to dub him “the king of pitchers.” The 32-year-old’s last full season with the Giants came in 1889 (28-13 with 225 Ks and a 3.36 ERA). A prominent figure in the Players’ League movement, Keefe joined that circuit’s New York entry in 1890, posting 17 wins and a 3.38 ERA. The 35-year-old’s last hurrah came in 1892 when he compiled 19 victories and a 2.36 ERA as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.
All told, Keefe amassed 342 wins, 225 losses, 554 complete games, and a 2.63 ERA over parts of 14 big-league seasons (1880-93). Noted for his impeccable control, “Sir Timothy” paced the league in WHIP four times and fewest-hits-per-nine innings on six occasions. Keefe, who won a then-record 19 consecutive games in 1888, was the first pitcher to fan 300-plus batsmen on three occasions and retired as MLB’s all-time strikeout king (2,564 Ks). Buoyed by a career that spanned three separate major leagues, Keefe won games in 47 different big-league ballparks, which stands as the all-time record. Of hurlers active between 1871 and 1892, the “Duke of Deception” ranks among the top five in wins (2nd), complete games (2nd), innings pitched (3rd), and shutouts (4th).
“I never saw a better pitcher! True, [Keefe] did his best work from 50 feet, but he still would have had no superior at 60 feet, six inches.” — Mickey Welch
◾Sources: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov + https://sabr.org + https://www.baseball-reference.com + https://baseballhall.org