William H. “Wee Willie” Keeler was one of the smallest players ever in major league baseball at 5-foot-4, 140 pounds. But he had one of the biggest bats in the game, both figuratively and literally, weighing up to 46 ounces.
His motto is legendary: “Keep your eye on the ball and hit ‘em where they ain’t,” and it certainly worked for him. Keeler had 13 straight seasons in which he batted over .300 and he reached the mark in 16 out of 19 seasons he played. Keeler had a lifetime average of .345 and for seven straight seasons he also had an on-base percentage that registered above .400.
Ted Williams often cited Keeler as a major influence when it came to hitting. In fact, a New York Times article from March 19, 1946, penned by Arthur Daly, christened Williams “A Modern Day Wee Willie Keeler”
In 1894, Keeler batted .371 while scoring 165 runs and notching 94 RBI. He also hit 22 triples that year – his first with the Baltimore Orioles. It was the same season in which he began his streak of eight consecutive years with 200-or-more hits, a record that held for more than 100 years, until Ichiro Suzuki, another lil’ dude that played big, broke it.
Keeler was the leadoff man in Baltimore and Brooklyn for nine seasons, winning five pennants over that span and seeing his teams take second place three times. We won’t talk about that one year. During those nine years, however, he averaged 212 hits and 134 runs per season. He hit .373 during that span.
His best season happened in 1897. “Wee Willy” batted .424, which is the highest average for a left-handed hitter in baseball history, and blazed through the National League competition with 239 hits in only 129 games, or an astounding 1.85 hits per game! He also started the season with a 44-game hitting streak, beating the previous record of 42. Talk about a hot start! His new mark stood for 44 years before being broken by Joe DiMaggio.
Keeler was known to handle the bat very well, placing hits wherever he wanted and dropping perfect bunts on a whim. He was also smart on the base paths and had some speed to go with it, totaling 495 career stolen bases. Of his 33 career long balls, 30 of them were inside-the-park home runs.
Keeler retired from playing professional baseball in 1910, finishing his career with 2,932 big hits.
Click here to view his career stats.
Keeler passed away on Jan. 1, 1923. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939.