March 3 – Happy Birthday Wee Willie Keeler
Of all the incredible things I’ve learned about Wee Willie Keeler during my research for today’s post, I was most impressed by the fact that it is now called a third strike when a Major League hitter fouls off a two-strike bunt attempt because of this guy. Evidently, Willie never ever failed to make contact with the ball when bunting so he could just foul two strike bunts off all day long and run the opposing team’s pitcher and infield ragged in the process.
At just 5’4″ tall, Willie had to learn how to bunt, slap-hit and high-hop his way into baseball immortality. He developed and refined these skills as a member of the great Baltimore Oriole clubs of the 1890s, where he teamed with future Hall of Famers, John McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Hughie Jennings and Dan Brouthers to win three straight NL Pennants.
Keeler joined Brooklyn in 1899 and jumped to the Yankees (then called the Highlanders) in 1903 before retiring as a player with the Giants and his old friend McGraw, in 1910. His record of eight straight seasons with 200 or more hits was only just broken in 2009, by the great Ichiro Suzuki. Willie batted a remarkable .341 lifetime and was considered one of the baseball’s all-time great base-runners and defensive right-fielders. He died in Brooklyn in the same apartment he was born in, at the age of fifty, in 1923. He was one of the most beloved figures in Big Apple sports during his era.
Wee Willie shares his birthday with this WWII hero and this former Yankee starting pitcher.