Remembering Charlie “King Kong” Keller
Charles E. â€œKing Kongâ€ Keller was born on September 12, 1916 in Middletown, Maryland. An outfielder, Keller played baseball and basketball at the University of Maryland where he earned a degree in agricultural economics before signing with the New York Yankees in 1937.
Not surprisingly, he was with the Yankees the following year, making his major league debut on April 22, 1939 against the Washington Senators. Keller played 111 games that year and batted .334 with 83 RBIs. In the World Series against Cincinnati, he batted a remarkable .438 with three home runs, six RBIs and eighth runs scored. In the third game of the series, Keller became the first rookie to hit two home runs in a World Series game.
In 1940, Keller was an American League all-star, the first of three all-star selections before he entered service in December 1943. He was commissioned an ensign with the Merchant Marine on December 30, 1943, and began training at St. Petersburg Maritime Training Station in Florida on January 21, 1944, where he was in charge of the physical fitness program. He was assigned to Maritime Training Station at Sheepshead Bay, New York in the spring of 1944, where he trained as a purser-pharmacist’s mate. Of all the sports stars stationed at Sheepshead Bay, officers said Keller was the most serious, the most conscientious, and the most eager to get about the task of ending the war quickly.
While stationed at Sheepshead Bay, Keller sought to play with the Yankees on a part-time basis. However, that was vetoed because Ed Barrow (general manager of the Yankees) and other club owners contended that professional clubs could not carry part-time employees and remain within the player limit.
Beginning in the summer of 1944, Keller, with the rank of ensign, served at sea on board the United States Navy troop transport USAT John L. Clem, which had been the commercial ocean liner Santa Cecilia before the war. The John L. Clem was used mostly as an Army transport and operated in the western Mediterranean. Keller was the shipâ€™s purser, responsible for financial accounting. In December 1944 he was transferred to the Pacific where he performed similar duties.
|The U.S. Navy transport ship USAT John L. Clem. Ensign Charlie Keller was the ship’s purser on the John L. Clem|
Keller was discharged from service on August 17, 1945, in time to play 44 games for the Yankees before the season ended. Despite his time away from the game he batted .301 and clouted 10 home runs. He remained with the Yankees through 1949 and was a two-time post-war all-star. Following two years with the Detroit Tigers (1950 and 1951) he ended his playing days â€“ due to chronic back problems – with the Yankees in 1952.
Charlieâ€™s son, Charlie Jr., led the Eastern League in hitting while playing for Binghamton in 1961 (.349, 19 HRs, 104 RBIs) before succumbing to the same congenital back problem that had plagued his father.
Keller was elected to the Frederick County and Maryland Sports Hall of Fame, the Kinston Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, the International League Hall of Fame and the University of Maryland Hall of Fame.
Aged 73, Charlie Keller passed away on May 23, 1990 in Frederick, Maryland. He is buried at the Christ Reformed Cemetery in his hometown of Middletown.