Year Inducted: 1939 (BBWAA, ballot #4, 207/274)
There are some players that live and die by their batting averages. They must because they don’t draw many walks and don’t hit for power, so if they don’t have high batting averages they don’t produce much value. Ichiro is the modern example, and before this season his shortcomings were much more evident. Before him, there was Tony Gwynn, who hit for a high average basically every year. Back in the Harmon Killebrew post, as well as the Hughie Jennings post, the value of batting average as a stat was criticized. And, that still is true, but it is fair to point out when a player consistently puts up a high average and deserves to be inducted. And, back before Gwynn and Ichiro made their livings on batting average, there was Wee Willie Keeler.
Keeler played for 19 seasons, mostly in the Dead Ball Era. He hit .341/.388/.415 with a wRC+ of 124 in that time. Keeler banged out nearly 3000 hits, including 33 homers, 241 doubles and 145 triples. Keeler’s main claim to fame was collecting singles, and he was great at that. Keeler used a short, heavy bat and would always choke up on it and focus on making contact with the ball. He was famous for the saying “Hit it where they ain’t” when asked about his hitting philosophy, and it was fairly accurate. Keeler excelled at just making contact, finishing with the second most hits of all-time at the end of his career to only Cap Anson. He also wrapped up his career in the top 10 in batting average and top 20 in stolen bases.
Being based on batting average, Keeler would need to be able to consistently put up a high average to be valuable. And he did for most of his career. Unlike Jennings, who would follow up a high batting average season with a low one, Keeler maintained a batting average above .300 from 1892-1906, without getting below .310 until the last few years of that time span. Of course, once a player does drop below .300, his value tends to plummet without secondary skills, of which Keeler was lacking. He didn’t hit for a lot of power and didn’t draw many walks. He did steal nearly 500 bases in his career, and managed to score over 1700 runs, so he did provide some value on the basepaths. In the field, he was solid for most of his prime before age and injuries started to affect his speed.
Keeler was the original batting average guy, and was great at doing just that. He was an excellent hitter, one of the best ever at just making contact, and was able to do that for nearly 20 years. He gained election to the Hall of Fame posthumously in 1939, as he had passed away due to a heart condition in the 1920’s. A great player, and great addition to the Hall of Fame.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/1/16, as October opens and the regular season wraps up, let’s look back at one of the greatest second basemen of all-time, and a silent captain for his team.