Historical Hitter

Historical Hitters September 3 1897: Jack Doyle & Willie Keeler

If September 2 was a day to forget for natives of Charm City as yesterday’s post noted, September 3 is a day to celebrate Baltimore’s baseball heritage. So grab a six pack or two of Natty Bo and a bushel of the finest Chesapeake crustaceans. After all the best part of September baseball is the chase for the Pennant as the 1897 season illustrates.

Today in 1897 in the middle of the first Baltimore Orioles dynasty team, the batters of the day are Jack Doyle and Wee Willie Keeler. There is a short list of batters who have achieved the magic number of six hits in one game, about 100, and even a shorter list of teammates doing so in one game: it’s Jack Doyle (6 for 6) and Willie Keeler (6 for 6). And Joe Kelley just missed joining the six hit club going 5 for 6. And the official record of a nine inning game was set by their teammate Willie Robison with 7. Even though the club had five Hall of Famers in the lineup, they faded down the stretch losing seven out of ten and the pennant too, finishing two games back.

For all you Cardinals fans better duck and cover, for the final score was 22-1 in favor of Baltimore’s birds, and that lone charity run was scored in the top of the ninth. It also begs the play by play detail of what happened in the sixth inning when they failed to score a run.

Jack Doyle and Wee Willie Keeler Box Score

Tradition tells us that this was a raucous club. In fact they earned this description and wore it as a badge of honor. They played with confidence accompanied by a healthy dose of impertinence and bluster matched by few teams. In the midst of their 1897 Pennant Race with the old Beaneaters, Albert Mott had some nineteenth century preaching to this troublesome flock of Orioles.

Benchings and fines flew around as thick as mosquitoes in a Jersey swamp, and as Nick Young says all fines shall go, the boys will be eating “snax” this winter or starve to death…..But don’t let them be profane or vulgar “before spectators, or publicly impeach the honesty of the umpire, his intentions or his administration.

Curb that. …

It is very difficult to know just where to draw the line, but it certainly should be drawn, and exceedingly tight, a long ways on the right side of making the men automatons. …

There is public pride, local pride, the excitement of getting all worked up and in touch with the players. Give the boys some little latitude or you will eventually have no game, …

but make them observe the rules of decency.

Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle

Like many of the Nineteenth Century players, Jack Doyle was born overseas in Kilorgin County, Kerry, Ireland in 1869 and immigrated as a child with his family to the US. He played baseball at Fordham University which was a good training ground for his journey into the majors. Jack was called “Dirty Jack” by many as recognition of his aggressive base running. Spikes up and head down, Jack Doyle was demon of the base paths and currently he is number 31 on the all-time list with 518. His initial arrival to Charm City raised the eyebrows of many of his new teammates, he was known to assault umpires and fans alike- including forays into the stands administering a tad bit of fightin’ Irish two-fisted justice and thus getting arrested. Even his most famous detractor one fellow feisty Irishman John McGraw, the Orioles soon learned he was a natural leader and the missing puzzle piece to this team’s dynasty. He was named captain on three different teams, and also named interim manager on two other occasions. Ironically, his only non-baseball job was, in spite of his marked record, Police Commissioner of Holyoke Massachusetts. But his heart mind and soul was baseball, and he spent 70 years of his involved in the game including being an umpire in several minor leagues. His last role was perhaps his best one of a baseball scout for the Cubs during their pennant years in the 1930’s working for then GM Bill Veeck, Sr. Before the Giants played their last game in the Polo Grounds in 1957, Doyle was paid tribute as being the oldest living ex-Giant.

He was a good above average hitter but in age of great hitters Doyle batted sixth in the potent O’s lineup and was a career.300 hitter. For the 1897 season he batted .354 a career best.

Wee Willie KeelerHall of Famer Willie Keeler was perhaps the most famous of those Orioles.

His patented catch phrase, “Hit’em were they ain’t” is still relevant today. Actually the phrase as told to Brooklyn Eagle baseball writer Abe Yager was more complete batting instruction:

“I have already written a treatise and it reads like this:

‘Keep your eye clear and hit ‘em where they ain’t; that’s all.’ ”

He was one of the smallest players all of 5’-4” and 140 pounds yet he swung a unique bat just 30 inches long but weighing in at 40 something ounces. His stance was just as unique as he choked up about half way. His batting prowess was unrivaled during his career, which includes: 8 200-hit seasons, scored 100-runs 8 times, batted over .350 seven consecutive seasons, three time hits leader and twice league batting champ. He was almost an exclusive singles hitter, and has the record of most hits without a home run, 230 set in 1897. He still holds the record for consecutive games with a hit from the beginning of the season with 44. He was the originator of the Baltimore chop and had perhaps the best strike out ratio of any player, in the 1899 season he struck out only twice with 633 at bats. The most times he struck out in his 19 year career was thirteen times which he did twice, for fourteen season he struck out less than 10 times. He was also a skilled bunter and laid down 366 sacrifice bunts, fourth in the all-time leaderboard. (Derek Jeter is the current leader with 96 sacrifices, and number 435 on the list). He was a career .341 hitter with the 1897 season his finest: he hit .424 and lead the league with 239 hits, 6 of which came on September 3.

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