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.
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.
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 …
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:
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.)
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.