Tuesday, October 14, 2008

William Henry "Wee Willie" Keeler

Recently, on a 19th century baseball mailing list, a request came across for information on any living family members of "Wee Willie" Keeler.

I've heard the name before, but wasn't readily familiar with him. I won't rewrite all of his feats, but he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, having played from 1892-1910, with a lifetime batting average of .341 (or .343, or .345, depending on which site you look at).

So, to find if there are any living family members, it makes sense to look at the family.

I went to wikipedia to get some basic information about him (born March 3, 1872. died January 1, 1923, both in Brooklyn, NY). Then I hopped on Ancestry.com and found some census records.

I couldn't find the family in the 1880 census, either at Ancestry.com or at FamilySearch.org.

The bulk of the 1890 general population census is missing. I didn't even try to look for it.

His parents (William and Mary) were born in Ireland. He and his brother, Thomas, were born in New York. But the 1900 census says that he was born in 1873 (not 1872 as other sites claim) and is 27 years old. His occupation was "professional ball-player" working 8 months out of the year. The family lived on Pulaski Street in Brooklyn. Other information to be gleaned from this census is that his parents were married for 38 years, making their marriage date to be about 1862. Mary had 5 children, but 2 of them had died.

Source Citation: Year: 1900; Census Place: Brooklyn Ward 21, Kings, New York; Roll: T623 1058; Page: 4A; .


A decade later, Mary has died. Both boys still live with their father on Pulaski Street. William is now 38 years old and continues to be a "professional player" in the industry of "baseball".

Source Citation: Year: 1910; Census Place: Brooklyn Ward 21, Kings, New York; Roll: T624_969; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 519; Image: 956.


William has moved out of the family house and is a boarder on Gale Street, still in Brooklyn. His age is listed as 48, which is consistent, since this census was enumerated in January of that year. He's a "ball player" in the "American League", despite not having played since 1910. And that was with the New York Giants, a National League team. Of the 19 seasons that he played, 12 of them were for NL teams.

Source Citation: Year: 1920;Census Place: Brooklyn Assembly District 5, Kings, New York; Roll: T625_1151; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 259; Image: 334.

I couldn't find any more from a quick search on Ancestry. World Connect at Rootsweb.com wasn't fruitful.

Then I did some general web searching (google is your friend).

Here are some sites about William Henry "Wee Willie" Keeler...
These sites helped me find out a bit more, specifically the obituary and the FindaGrave pages.

From the photos on the FindaGrave site, it appears that he had two other siblings (Ellen and John), both dying young.

From this information, there does not appear to be any direct descendants of "Wee Willie" Keeler. I have made only cursory glances to try to find when and where his parents came to the US. There is more research to be done, but I figured that I should set out what I have learned already.


Angie said...

I always "glaze over" when your brother gets all "computerish" on his blog.

I have to admit I got a bit glazed on this one. . .but then again, it's after midnight. :)

Dan said...

Mark, you're older than I thought if you were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame way back in 1939.

Steve said...

Angie, glazing is for donuts.

But I know what you mean.

Mark, good post. Decent amount of work involved.

Dan said...

Wee Willie was a player that was great from 1893 to 1899. After that from 1900 to 1910, he was only average. Foul balls were not counted as strikes and he would foul them off forever until he got on base.What makes him famous today is the fact that A famous photographer captured lots of his images in the finest photos of the day of him and you could still see them every where. He was a wealthy man who died losing everything during the real estate freeze during WW1 and needed to take money from Majo League baseball because he had nothing. He never married ! Was he Gay?

Dan said...

That wasn't me. That's some other guy named Dan.

I'm Dan formerly of Sierra Vista.

Anonymous said...

I am a relative of Mr. Keeler. He was a cousin to either my grandfather of grandmother. He was the best man at their wedding in 1904 and they all lived on Pulaski Street at the time. I do have a copy of his obit which may answer some questions that you have which I will post in the next post since it goes over the character limit


Anonymous said...

Willie Keeler (January 1st 1923)

Inline image
Inline image

Willie Keeler Dies Of Heart Disease
Famous Oldtime Baseball Player Succumbs to Malady
at His Brooklyn Home
Photo: http://www.ebbets-field.com/ CareerLeaders/Keeler.jpg
FROM: The New York Times (January 2nd 1923) ~
William H. ("Wee Willie") Keeler, one of the most
famous of old-time baseball players, died yesterday
at his home, 1010 Gates Avenue, Brooklyn. He
had been a sufferer from heart disease for more
than two years.
Keeler had expressed a desire to live until the
beginning of the new year, and on Sunday he
remarked to his brother, Thomas F. Keeler, that he
was fighting a losing fight but would live to see 1923
ushered in. On New Year's Eve several members
of his family and some friends visited him at his home.
Just before midnight all the members of the party left
the room where Keeler was lying and stepped
outside to hear the bells. They came back a few
minutes later to find the sick man sitting up in bed
ringing in the new year with a bell he had for the
purpose of calling his attendant. He was playing the
game of life as he played the game of baseball - until
the last man was out in the ninth.
Keeler was one of the greatest batsmen of all time.
He first became noted as a great hitter while playing
in the outfield with the famous Baltimore Orioles in the
nineties. Several of the records he set while with that
organization, thrice a pennant winner of the old
National League, remain unbroken. Some of his
nineteen years in the majors were spent with the Giants
and Brooklyn Nationals and the New York Yankees.
He was not a batsman of the slugging type, such as
Ed Delehanty and the late Pop Anson, but was a
pioneer in the art of place hitting, the philosophy of
which he explained in the simple and now famous
utterance, "Hit 'em where they ain't."
While with Baltimore, Keeler twice led the National
League in batting, in 1897 with .432, a mark second
only to Hugh Duffy's .438 in baseball annals, and in
1998 with .379. His greatest year was 1897, his feats
that season including six hits in one game and records of
199 one-base blows and hitting safely in 44 consecutive
games, both of which still stand as major league high
marks. His total hits that year, 243, also stood as a
National League record until the past season, when
Rogers Hornsby, great second baseman of the St. Louis
Cardinals, established a new standard with 250. The
nearest approach to his consecutive game hitting was
made last season by George Sisler of the St. Louis
Browns, who reached 41 before going hitless.
Over a stretch of eight seasons, from 1894 to 1901,
Keeler hung up two other unique marks, scoring more
than 100 runs and rapping out more than 200 hits in each
of these seasons. By gathering 211 safe blows last
season Ty Cobb equaled Keeler's hitting mark, but the
Detroit star's record was not made in consecutive seasons.
National League records show Keeler's life-time batting
mark, for nineteen years, to be .305, but for fourteen
seasons, from 1893 to 1906, inclusive, when he was at
his best, his average was close to .350.
Keeler was born in Brooklyn, March 3, 1872. He
played his first major league game Sept. 30, 1892, with
the Giants, who secured him from Binghamton, N.Y.
The following year he played with the Giants and
Brooklyn. From 1894 to 1898 he patrolled right field
with Baltimore, a team on which other stars were John
McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Hugh Jennings and Joe
Kelley. He returned to Brooklyn in 1899, the Dodgers
winning pennants that year and the next. He was with
the New York Yankees from 1903 to 1909 and signed
in 1910 with the Giants, who released him the same year
to Toronto. That year marked the end of his major
league career.
Ill health coupled with financial misfortune some years
later, brought Keeler's circumstances to a low ebb and in
1921 he was aided by a joint gift of $5,500 from the
National and American Leagues.