Friday, June 18, 2010

Willie Keeler

K is for Keeler,
As fresh as green paint,
The fastest and mostest
To hit where they ain't.

-Ogden Nash

William Henry Keeler was born on March 3, 1872 in Brooklyn, New York, and played professional baseball from 1892 to 1910. At 5' 7”, Wee Willie, as he was nicknamed, holds the distinction of being one of the shortest players in the history of professional baseball. Keeler also has the distinction of being one of the best hitters to play the game as well.

From 1892 to 1910 Keeler played for the New York Giants, Baltimore Orioles, Brooklyn Superbas, and the New York Highlanders, which would later become the Yankees. As arguably the best hitter in the league at the time, Keeler used to advise other hitters to, “Keep your eye clear, and hit 'em where they ain't”.

Keeler began the 1897 season with a 44-game hitting streak, beating out the previous single season record of 42, set by Bill Dahlen. Since Keeler had a hit in his final game of the 1896 season, he set a National League record with a 45-game hitting streak. In 1942 this mark was broken by Joe DiMaggio, who compiled a 56-game hitting streak, which is a record that many in baseball feel may never be broken. In 1978, Pete Rose tied Keeler's single season mark of 44 games. No other player in baseball has ever matched this feat. Keeler also set the record for consecutive seasons with 200 hits or more with eight, which was finally broken by Ichiro Suzuki on September 13, 2009, when he recorded his 200th hit for the 9th consecutive season.

Keeler would finish his baseball career with a .341 batting average, 2,932 hits, and 1,719 runs scored. His 2,932 hits was second all-time at the time of his retirement in 1910. William Keeler passed away January 1, 1923 in Brooklyn New York. He is interred at Calvary Cemetary in Queens, New York.

Willie Keeler would be posthumously be elected into the Major League Hall of Fame in 1939. Keeler would also appear on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, where he ranked number 75. Then in 1999, Willie was named as a finalist to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Having played his last game in 1910, he was the most chronologically distant player on both Top 100 lists.

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