“The Official Table of the Slaughter”

Oh, for crap’s sake. Can nothing go right for the Orioles?

Yesterday, I shared one of those “On This Day In Baseball” stories. It’s here.

How, on September 3, 1897, two Baltimore Orioles – outfielder “Wee” Willie Keeler and first baseman “Dirty” Jack Doyle – both went 6-for-6 in a single game.

This, historians agree, would be the only time in baseball history that two teammates went 6-for-6 in the same game.

I checked the story out. I checked the box score. I knew that there was a very brief time that walks counted as hits in baseball. But, that was 1887. And this was 1897.

box score 9 3 1897 keeler 6 for 6

Keeler — 6 At Bats, 5 Runs, 6 Hits

I should have left it at that. I should have said, “Wow. Cool.” I should have walked away.

But, no.

Because, come to find out, box scores don’t always agree.

Especially box scores that are nearly 120 years old.

So, out of curiosity, I checked the Baltimore Sun’s report from the game.

And, wouldn’t you know …

Baltimore Sun Box Score 9 3 1897 Keeler 4 for 6

Keeler — 6 at bats, 5 runs, 4 hits

“The official table of the slaughter” that day shows Keeler with just four hits.

Not that this stopped the Baltimore Sun from also accepting the legend of 6-for-6.

In a 1997 story on Keeler, the Sun’s Mike Klingaman wrote:

“Seven times [in 1897], he got four hits in one game. Four times, he got five hits. Once, Keeler went 6-for-6.”

But, the Internet can be a wild and wonderful place, and I found this buried deep in its archives:

Joe Kelley Letter jan 3 1940

Robert Edwards Auctions, 2008

A letter from Orioles outfielder Joe Kelley about the 1897 game

(Kelley, you may remember, went 5-for-6 in that game. He was also known as a something of a cutie pie ladies man who would slip a comb under his cap, so he could tidy up in the outfield before flirting with the gals during games.)

In 1940, Kelley, then 68, responded to historian Albert Kermisch’s inquiry about the game:

“Your letter with the summary of game played in 1897 received and you are going a long way back on me to think and be right. But I am pretty sure that the Sun paper’s account is right and Billy Keeler did not make six (6) hits in that game. Frank Patterson was the Sun reporter at that time and am kind of certain but not real sure that he was the official scorer that season.”

(This letter, by the way, was authenticated and sold at auction for nearly $10,000 in 2008. It was, according to the auctioneers, an extremely rare handwritten letter from the future Hall of Famer.)

Keeler McGraw Jennings Kelley 1894

By BPL CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Orioles Keeler, John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, and Kelley, circa 1895 (clockwise from top left)

So, who’s right?

The general press account and box score of the game that appeared in newspapers throughout the country that show that Keeler went 6-for-6?

The Baltimore Sun’s “official table of the slaughter” that says 4-for-6?

Baseball Almanac that gives him six hits?

Or, Kelley, who, thinking about a long-ago game, is “pretty sure” it wasn’t six?

The Baltimore Sun’s report gives a somewhat clear rundown of Keeler’s day. Batting second, behind McGraw, Keeler:

  • Singles, steals second, and scores in the first;
  • Reaches first on a questionable play in the second that includes an error that allows the man on third to score. That error would not necessarily negate a single by Keeler, but it looks like the Sun believes it does. Keeler takes part in a double steal and scores on a double from Kelley;
  • Triples in the third;
  • Is hit by a pitch in the fourth, takes part in another double steal, and scores on a wild pitch;
  • Singles in the sixth; and
  • Singles in the eighth.

There you go. Keeler was on base in all six of his appearances. But, it looks like he reached on an error in the second and his hit-by-pitch negates his at-bat in the fourth.

Ergo, Keeler was 4-for-5. (I don’t know why The Sun reports six at-bats. Maybe they counted the hit by pitch as an at-bat, which we don’t today.)

Doyle’s 6-for-6 day checks out, by the way. But, Keeler’s doesn’t. Two major league teammates have never gone 6-for-6 in the same game.

But, I can tell you this. Keeler began the 1897 season with a 44-game hitting streak, a record that stood until DiMaggio. His 206 singles in 1898 was a record until Ichiro Suzuki broke it in 2004.  His .424 average in 1897 is the best for a left-hander, ever. Over his 19-season career he batted .341.

And, good grief! 22 runs, 28 hits, double steals. Must have been quite a game.

19 thoughts on ““The Official Table of the Slaughter”

  1. Pingback: 6 for 6. 6 for 6. | The Baseball Bloggess

  2. Perhaps you should consider changing your moniker to Baseball Sleuth and Bloggess? Thanks for another interesting baseball history tidbit.

    • Well, 6-for-6 … or 4-for-5 … either way, I think Wee Willie Keeler was amazing. And, maybe his spirit lit a fire under the O’s last night. They beat the Blue Jays 10-2. If the ghosts of that amazing 1890s-era Orioles can get these 2015 guys to the Wild Card, then I’ll happily keep digging up the fun facts! :)

    • The news reports of games back then were so beautifully told, with just the right amount of editorial comment and flowery hyperbole. But, since there was no TV or radio, the reporters also had to relay the game, play-by-play. And, isn’t it wonderful to relive an old game in your head? That game in 1897 was sort of a nothing game — the Orioles were battling for #1 in the league, but St. Louis was horrible. It should have been the laugher that it turned out to be. But, still … man! Double steals, scoring on wild pitches, all sorts of hitting (but not a single home run). What a game.

      P.S. I love Gerardo Parra and I never want to give him back. Plus, he did the Wave with the fans at a game that I was at last month. I put the photos up to prove it. I’ve never seen a player do that before. I won’t even do the wave at games. But, I thought it was sweet to see him do it — if a bit odd. And, I love his spirit. Can we keep him?

  3. Can you just imagine what they were dong AFTER that game! i think having a great re-tell of the game and a couple of brews! Wonder what the box scores were in their re-telling! Thanks for bringing it back to life!

    • Wouldn’t that have been an awesome game? 22 runs and not a single homer. Double steals, scoring on wild pitches! And, fewer than 2,000 at the game … we would have had great seats!

      Sometimes I read these old recaps and think … what I wouldn’t give to have seen just one of those games from the 1890s.

  4. Excellent follow up! In addition to Baseball Almanac, my “go to” source lately has been Baseball Reference. Both sources show him with 239 hits that season. So they are either both wrong (doubtful) or both right but attribute additional hits to make up for the shortage reported by The Sun. I have a couple other sources, although one is still in a packing box, as I moved this week. Ill try to find it today. Fear not, I think your first story was correct. This post just adds extra spice!

    • Yes! 239 hits was Keeler’s total for the season … but the record I mentioned (that Ichiro broke) was not for hits, but for just singles … of which he had 206. (Keeler loved the Baltimore chop, bunts, and infield singles!)

      I believe now, based on the new information, the official record from the Baltimore Sun, Joe Kelley’s letter, and some discussion by other SABR members, that Keeler did not go 6-for-6 that day.

      That a historian back in 1940 thought it necessary to write to Kelley to confirm the 6-for-6 for Keeler (but didn’t bother to ask about Doyle’s 6-for-6 day) suggests to me that Keeler’s record had been in dispute for some time. The Internet provides easy access to the general box score of the day (I think it is from “Associated Press” as I saw it in several papers that are archived online), but the Baltimore Sun’s record is harder to come by. Once I pulled that old article up, and was reasonably sure that the Sun usually provided the official scorer for the Orioles back then, I knew the jig was up. I think the general box score was just an honest mistake … and a gentle reminder to me to not believe everything I read in the ether! :)

      I’m with you … I am very confident of Baseball Reference’s stats, too. What a wonderful resource!

      • Oh I wasn’t referring to Ichiro’s record. I meant that if two sources both report him with the same number of hits in 1897, and both credit him with 6 hits in that game, they are either both right or both wrong. No I am going down rabbit holes this morning. I know baseball reference has game by game lines for hitter (I’ve looked up my blog site’s namesake, Ed Kranepool, before) but maybe not going back to 1897. Then again I am just on my Kindle on my porch with coffee this morning, too lazy to actually get my laptop!

        • Does Baseball Reference note his 6-for-6 game? I couldn’t find that, but may not have looked in the right place. Let me know if you see something on there. Baseball Almanac does have him on their 6-for-6 list. I’m pretty confident that he did not go 6-for-6 that day based on the official score from the Baltimore Sun. I’m guessing his total hits that season was compiled from the official scores of games, so is likely correct, as it would have used the 4-hit total from the Sun.

          That the 6-for-6 game is not mentioned in SABR materials or in the Hall of Fame’s induction also leads me to believe that they were not confident of it either.

          6-for-6 or not … I still LOVE Willie Keeler! We could use a Wee Willie Keeler on the Orioles today! :)

            • Well, as I learned last year when I uncovered proof that Buttercup Dickerson, heralded as the game’s first Italian-American ballplayer, wasn’t of Italian heritage after all, legend often wins out over facts. And, maybe that’s not such a bad thing, really. After all, so what if Keeler didn’t go 6-for-6 that day? It’s still a fun story and he’s still one of the greats! :)

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