Simply Baseball Notebook's Legends

Wee Willie Keeler

Josh Gibson
Hack Wilson
Roger Maris
Cool Papa Bell
'Home Run' Baker
Satchel Paige
Cy Young
Eddie Mathews
Henry Aaron
Mickey Mantle
Ted Williams
Frank Robinson
Willie Mays
Lou Gehrig
Babe Ruth
Dan Brouthers
Joe Jackson
Walter Johnson
Honus Wagner
Ty Cobb
Wee Willie Keeler
John M. Ward
Grover C. Alexander
'Old Hoss' Radbourn
Warren Spahn
Hank Greenberg
Tris Speaker
Napoleon Lajoie
Jimmie Foxx
Christy Mathewson
Mel Ott
Harry Heilmann
Stan Musial
George Sisler
Roy Campanella
Rogers Hornsby


New York Giants 1892-93; 1910
Brooklyn Grooms 1893
Baltimore Orioles 1894-98
Brooklyn Superbas 1899-1902
New York Highlanders 1903-09

"Hit 'em where they aint."  That was the overwhelming philosophy of major league hitters during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The man that coined the phrase, "Wee" Willie Keeler, became the symbol of that era by carefully placing base hits around the diamond with precise skill.

Born in Brooklyn to a trolley switchman on March 3, 1872, William Henry Keeler must have been the family runt.  As a full grown adult, he stood just over 5-4 and weighed a mere 140 lbs, hardly the stature of a topflight athlete.

He broke into the big leagues in 1892 with the New York Giants, but played in just 21 games during parts of two seasons before joining the Brooklyn Grooms in 1893.  An injury limited the young outfielder to just 20 games that season and he was sent packing again following the season.

Keeler found a home with the National League's Baltimore Orioles in 1894 and helped propel them to the first of three straight pennants by hitting .371 with 219 hits.  After hitting .377 and .386 for pennant winners the next two seasons, Keeler was primed for his finest season in 1897.

In 129 games, the 25 year old Keeler slapped out 229 hits, scored 145 runs, batted .424, and collected at least one base hit in a record 44 consecutive games (still an NL record shared by Pete Rose).  In the nine year period between 1894-1902, Keeler averaged .378, with 215 hits and 134 runs per season.

Handling his tiny bat like a wand, the diminutive outfielder perfected the art of bunting and developed what he called the "Baltimore chop" -- a bouncing ball that would hit the hardened dirt in front of home plate, float high in the air, and not come down until Keeler was too close to first base for a play to be made.

In February 1899 a "joint ownership agreement," that basically acted as a trade, sent Keeler and several of his Baltimore teammates to the newly formed Brooklyn Superbas.  "Wee Willie" didn't miss a beat, hitting .379 and scoring 140 runs for the pennant winners.

1900 brought another pennant for Brooklyn and Keeler continued his fine play, batting .362.  In 1901, the team fell to third place as Keeler hit .339, his lowest since 1893.  After another season in Brooklyn, Keeler jumped to the American League's New York Highlanders in 1903 (the franchise became known as the Yankees in 1913).

While Keeler played well upon joining the Highlanders, the team was unable to capture the pennant, and by 1909 his days as a productive player were all but over.  The veteran began the 1910 season playing for former Oriole teammate John McGraw, now manager of the New York Giants, but retired after appearing in 38 games.

Keeler's career totals include a .341 career batting average, 2,932 hits, 495 steals, and 1719 runs.  A lifelong bachelor, Keeler dabbled in real estate following his playing days.  He died in his Brooklyn home after a two year battle with heart disease on New Years Day, 1923 at the age of 50.  Sixteen years later, the master of placement hitting was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

-David Zingler, August 2003


Simply Baseball Notebook

DISCLAIMER: All pictures are assumed to be in the public domain. No violation of copyright is intended here. If one of the photos above is not in the public domain, please notify us and it will be removed.