Today I present to you who was the first luminary to wear a New York Yankees jersey: Willie Keeler.
Known as “Wee Willie,” Keeler was barely 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds, yet his talent as a player was incredible. Watching Keeler hitting was very striking. Not just because of his small-game skills, being an expert ball hitter, or enjoying his incredible touch that rarely allowed him to strike out, but his bat’s weight was 46 ounces, one of the heaviest ever. So much so, that I tell those who are not understood in the matter of the weight of the bats, that nowadays no player uses a bat of that caliber, in fact, the heaviest ones do not reach 40 ounces.
When Ben Johnson created the American League and began to recruit stars for the new circuit, it was not until 1903 that Keeler decided to leave the National League and sign with the new franchise that had been created. Willie accepted the offer of the newly appointed owners, thus becoming the first star to wear the uniform of the New York Americans, then the Highlanders and finally the Yankees for the first seven seasons of the franchise’s life.
This little baseball giant made popular his phrase: “Keep your eyes on the ball and hit it where no one is,” Keeler once told a reporter.
Willie was the perfect player for the “Dead Ball Era.” For 13 consecutive seasons, the talented outfielder batted .300 or more on average, achieving this in 16 of his 19 contests in the best baseball in the world.
His batting average was .345 and for seven consecutive years, his OBP was .400 or higher. To this, they can add that, for eight consecutive seasons, Wee Willie Keeler hit 200 or more hits, a record he held for more than 100 years until Ichiro Suzuki surpassed him.
His best season was in 1897, where he hit .424, the highest batting average for a left-handed hitter in Major League history. In that same contest, Keeler hit 44 straight games, being one of the most legendary brands in baseball and standing for 44 years, until another Yankee, Joe DiMaggio, surpassed it.
Other curious facts about Willie’s career show us that 30 of his 33 home runs were on the field and in the first baseball park the Yankees had (Hiltop Park that we told the story of last week), the area of the right field came to be called “Keeler’s Hole”, since the land in the first year of the team’s life (1903), had damage and that area precisely, had a slope (like a drop) and this left-handed batter, feasted sending balls to that space that the referees decreed as automatic doubles.
When Willie Keeler hung up the spikes in 1910 playing for the Giants and not the Yankees, his 2,932 career hits were second in all of baseball, second only to Cap Anson. Despite being elected to the Hall of the Immortals in 1939, the skilled player could never enjoy that achievement, having died in 1923, a victim of tuberculosis.
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The Yankees’ first star was …