Willie Keeler Essentials
Bats: Left Throws: Left
Height: 5′-4″ Weight: 140
Born: March 3, 1872 in Brooklyn, NY USA
Died: January 1, 1923 in Brooklyn, NY USA
Buried: Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, NY
Debut: September 30, 1892
Last Game: September 5, 1910 vs. BRO 1 AB, 0 H, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB
Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 1939. (Voted by BBWAA on 207/274 ballots)
View Willie Keeler’s Page at the Baseball Hall of Fame (plaque, photos, videos).
Full Name: William Henry Keeler
Nicknames: Wee Willie or Hit ‘Em Where They Ain‘t
View Player Bio from the SABR BioProject
A master with a bat, Willie Keeler was a demon at the top of the lineup for Ned Hanlon’s Orioles in the 1890s. Keeler led his team to four pennants, two each in Baltimore and Brooklyn, winning two batting titles. As a member of the 1890s Orioles’ teams that revolutionized the way baseball was played, Keeler was adroit at laying down a bunt, chopping the ball into the ground to beat it out for an infield hit, performing the suicide squeeze, and parlaying the double steal. Keeler’s 44-game hitting streak in 1897 was a record until surpassed by Joe DiMaggio in 1941.
Best Season: 1897
Just 25 years old and weighing approximately 135 pounds, Keeler enjoyed one of the finest seasons in history. This was the season he produced his record-setting 44-game hitting streak, while winning the batting title with a .424 mark. He paced the loop with 239 hits in just 129 games, scored 145 runs, and produced 27 doubles and 19 triples. Amazingly, 193 of his 239 hits were singles, many of those infield or bunt hits. He swiped 64 bases, drove in 74, and had a .464 on-base percentage for the Orioles, who hit .325 as a team but still finished second to Frank Selee’s Boston Beaneaters.
As a Manager
Unlike several of his famous teammates, such as Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson, Joe Kelley, and John McGraw, Keeler never managed in the big leagues.
Keeler finished less than 100 hits away from the 3,000-hit mark, which of course meant little in his day. Had he played his whole career when the schedule was 154 games long, he would have easily topped the landmark.
Keeler hit safely in 44 straight games in 1897, setting a major league record that lasted nearly a half-century, until eclipsed by Joe DiMaggio in 1941. Keeler’s streak encompassed the first 44 games of the season, the longest such streak in history. The slap-hitting Keeler was halted by Frank Killen, who posted a losing record in 1897, but stymied Willie and the Orioles 7-1, on June 19. Keeler, who employed his “Hit where they ain’t” strategy throughout a Hall of Fame career, posted a 26-game hitting streak in 1896, and another 26-gamer in 1902 with Brooklyn. He hit .408 (82-for-201) during his 44-gamer.
Injuries and Explanation for Missed Playing Time
With six weeks left in the 1908 season, Keeler left the Highlanders (Yankees) and returned home. The team had floundered for months, and Keeler was tired of manager Kid Elberfeld’s “surly managerial style,” according to Jim Reisler’s book Before they were Bombers. Elberfield was gone in 1909, and Willie was back.
44 games (1897)
26 games (1896)
26 games (1902)
Before the 1903 Season: Jumped from the Brooklyn Superbas to the New York Highlanders.
Best Strength as a Player
“Hitting ’em where they ain’t” and bat control. An example of Keeler’s keen ability to think fast and use the bat, comes from this report from the Washington Post, January 12, 1908:
“Boston was playing at Hilltop Park in 1904 and Jack Chesbro was on third, and Keeler at bat. Chesbro broke for home on the pitch, and Keeler, not having been tipped off of Chesbro’s daring intention to steal home, chucked his bat at the sphere and the ball fell out of reach of both the pitcher and third baseman, Keeler getting first and Chesbro scoring. After the game [N.Y. Manager] Griffithasked Chesbro why he had started to run home. He replied that he thought he had seen the signal. Then Griff asked Keeler why he hit the ball, and Willie answered, ‘I didn’t see what else there was for me to do to prevent Chesbro from committing suicide.’ ”
Thanks to baseball historian/researcher Bob Schaefer for sharing this nugget.
According to some sources, this was the first instance of the “suicide squeeze” being used in baseball history. Though it’s impossible to verify if that’s true, the story was retold for years and years as if it were.