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Charlie Keller

Charlie Keller

Position(s):
OF
Nicknames:
King Kong
Born:
September 12, 1916
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 10"
Weight:
185 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-22-1939 with NYA

Charlie Keller, known as "King Kong Keller", is remembered as part of an outfield that is sometimes considered to be the greatest outfield ever (along with Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich). Yankee fans adored them, while fans of other teams often hated them. Keller might possibly have made it into the Hall of Fame if his career had not been troubled by chronic back problems.

Keller demonstrates his swing to baseball students.
Keller demonstrates his swing to baseball students.

Keller was a stand-out player in a short time in the minor leagues. He began his professional career by winning the Minor League Player of the Year award from The Sporting News after hitting .353 with 13 homers and 88 RBI for the Newark Bears, helping the 1937 Bears become one of the greatest minor league teams ever. He led the International League in average, runs (120), triples (14) and hits (189). A year later, with no openings in the Yankee outfield of DiMaggio, Henrich and George Selkirk, King Kong was returned to Newark and did even better. He hit .365/~.465/.569 and paced the IL in hits (211), runs (149), walks (108) and OBP. He was second to Buddy Rosar in average, second to Ollie Carnegie in RBI (129), struck out just 56 times, was third in the league in homers (22) and had 15 outfield assists.

Keller appeared in 111 games as a major league rookie in 1939, hitting .334 with 81 walks, giving him an on-base percentage of .447, and had a slugging percentage of .500. As a rookie, his batting average was fifth in the league (DiMaggio was first) and his on-base percentage was fourth in the league (one point behind DiMaggio's .448). The 1939 Yankees have been called the best team of all-time by some prominent sources, such as the book Baseball Dynasties.

In 1940, he hit .286 with 106 walks, giving him a .411 on-base percentage. He had 21 home runs and 15 triples. He was named to the All-Star team, led the league in walks, and was second in the league in triples.

In 1941, DiMaggio's big year with the hitting streak, Keller had 33 home runs (his career high), with 10 triples and 122 RBI. He had a .298 batting average with 102 walks, for a .416 on-base percentage and a .580 slugging percentage. On the All-Star team again, he was fifth in the league in the MVP voting. He was in the top five in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He was second in the league in home runs and third in the league in RBI.

He continued to hit in the war years, although the league averages went down. In 1942 he had 26 home runs and 108 RBI, with 114 walks and a .417 on-base percentage. He was second in the league in on-base percentage and also in slugging percentage. He was third in the league in home runs and RBI.

In 1943 he hit 31 home runs and had 106 walks. Named again to the All-Star team, he was again in the top three in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and was in the top three in runs scored, total bases, home runs, triples, and walks.

He missed 1944 and much of 1945. He served in the Merchant Marines in World War II, entering in January 1944 and being released in August 1945.

Coming back for 44 games in 1945, he hit 10 home runs with a .301 average, a .412 on-base percentage, and a .577 slugging average. Both the on-base percentage and the slugging percentage would have led the league if he had had enough plate appearances to qualify.

In 1946, as the league resumed play after the war, Keller hit 30 home runs with 101 RBI. He added 10 triples and 101 walks. Named to the All-Star team once more, he was again in the top three in the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, as well as in triples, home runs, and walks. It was, unfortunately, to be his last full season. He was only 29 years old.

In 1947, he appeared in only 45 games with a .238 batting average. However, he produced value with a .404 on-base percentage and a .550 slugging percentage. Those percentages would have been in the top three in the league if he had had enough plate appearances to qualify. In 1947 he was named as part of the inaugural class of the International League Hall of Fame.

In 1948 he appeared in 83 games, and his hitting slipped. In 1949 he appeared in 60 games, and was released by the Yankees after the season ended. He joined the Detroit Tigers, as a bench player, appearing in 50 games with 51 at-bats in 1950, hitting .314 with a .453 on-base percentage and a .569 slugging percentage. Those great numbers represented his last hurrah in the majors. The next year, 1951, he didn't perform as well for the Tigers in 62 at-bats, and was released after the season. He came back in September 1952 for one final at-bat (a strikeout) with the Yankees, and his career was over.

In all, he appeared in 13 major league seasons, of which he was able to play 100+ games in only six of them. He had 3,790 major league at-bats, with a .286 batting average, a .410 on-base percentage, and a .518 slugging percentage. He had 189 lifetime home runs.

He appeared in four World Series, hitting .306 and slugging .611 with five home runs. The Yankees won three of those four Series. He appeared in five All-Star Games.

His career on-base percentage puts him at number 36 on the all-time career list (a little above Harry Heilmann and a little below Hank Greenberg), and his career slugging percentage puts him at number 61 on the all-time career list (a little above Eddie Mathews and a little below Mike Schmidt).

In terms of similarity scores, the most similar players are an interesting bunch: Al Rosen, the 1953 MVP and two-time American League home-run leader who had a short career, Keller's outfield teammate Tommy Henrich, 1989 NL MVP Kevin Mitchell, and the first nine seasons of Magglio Ordonez's career.

After retiring from the majors, Keller was a Yankees coach in 1957 and 1959. He was also a horse breeder in Maryland. Keller's brother Hal Keller was a major league catcher and later GM of the Seattle Mariners.

 Notable Achievements

  • 1937 Minor League Player of the Year, Newark Bears, International League
  • 5-time AL All-Star (1940, 1941, 1943, 1946 & 1947)
  • AL OPS Leader (1943)
  • 2-time AL Bases on Balls Leader (1940 & 1943)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 5 (1940-1943 & 1946)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 3 (1941, 1943 & 1946)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 3 (1941, 1942 & 1946)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 3 (1940-1942)
  • Won four World Series with the New York Yankees (1939, 1941, 1943 & 1949; he did not play in the 1949 World Series)

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