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.
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.
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
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