August 21, 2014

Remembering Charlie “King Kong” Keller

May 1, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

Charles E. “King Kong” 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.

Keller played for the Newark Bears of the Class AA International League his rookie year and led the circuit with a .353 batting average. He hit 13 homeruns, drove in 88 and also led the league in runs (120) and hits (189). Back with the Bears in 1938, Keller again led the league in batting average, this time with a .365 mark, and earned the top spot in runs (149) and hits (211).

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 ship’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 – due to chronic back problems – with the Yankees in 1952.

Keller coached the Yankees before retiring to run his Yankeeland Horse Farm near his hometown of Middletown. He named many of his horses after the New York team: Fresh Yankee, Handsome Yankee, Yankee Slugger and Guy Yankee.
His brother, Hal, was a catcher with the Washington Senators from 1949-1952, going on to serve in front-office positions with the Washington Senators and Texas Rangers (1961-1978), and Seattle Mariners (1979-1985). Hal served as the Mariners’ Vice President, Baseball Operations/General Manager from 1984-1985.

Charlie’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.

Gary Bedingfield

http://baseballinwartime.blogspot.com/

www.baseballinwartime.com

 

Comments

3 Responses to “Remembering Charlie “King Kong” Keller”
  1. Paul macdougall says:

    Hi folks
    Mind if I use that picture of charlie keller for a newspaper article i am writing on the famous racehorse Fresh Yankee. keller was the breeder of FY.
    Thanks
    Paul

  2. Paul macdougall says:

    Me again. If you could email me and let me know that would be appreciated. Great website by the way.
    Paul

  3. @Paul macdougall

    Hi Paul, I’d be happy for you to use the image of Charlie Keller although I do not actually own the original.
    Gary Bedingfield

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