It’s about time you met Wee Willie Keeler, equipped with one of baseball’s best nicknames, who played many generations ago but someone who brought an approach to his at-bats that would make him very comfortable in today’s version of baseball.
Keeler was called “Wee’’ because he was just a little fellow, standing 5-foot-4 and weighing a mere 140 pounds. He did not resemble an athlete in any way, shape or form, but he was one of the best players of his time, inducted into the Hall of Fame after assembling an impressive statistical resume.
Keeler batted over .300 16 times in 19 seasons, over .400 once, and finished with a career batting average of .341. He won two batting championships and led the league in hits three times.
He had an on-base percentage of over .400 for seven straight years and collected a remarkable 206 singles in 1898, a record that stood for over 100 years until it was broken by Ichiro Suzuki. There were eight straight seasons of 200 hits or more and a National League record 44-game hitting streak in 1897 that stood until it was matched by Pete Rose in 1978. Keeler batted .424 that season, a record for a left-handed hitter, accumulating 239 hits in just 129 games. He did all this while lugging around one of baseball’s shortest but heaviest bats, a model that stretched 30 inches long and weighed 46 ounces.
Wee Willie was a great contact hitter, almost impossible to strike out. In 1899, he went to bat 570 times and struck out just twice. He was a wizard with the bat, easily one of the best hitters of his time. He also was blessed with speed, stealing 495 bases. Although hardly a slugger, Keeler also hit the occasional home run. Of the 33 he hit in his career, 30 were inside the park.
And when he was asked about his approach to hitting, he had a simple piece of advice.
“Keep a clear eye,’’ he explained, “and hit ‘em where they ain’t.’’ That bears repeating,
“Hit ‘em where they ain’t.’’
Keeler’s philosophy was made for the modern day defensive shifts that leave huge gaps on one side of the field or the other, daring hitters to “hit ‘em where they ain’t.’’ Keeler did that all the time. Modern hitters, enamored of launch angles and home runs, either can’t or won’t follow that simple piece of advice.