Hal Keller Remembered
Hal Keller, former catcher for the Washington Nationals and baseball executive for the expansion Washington Senators and Seattle Mariners, died this week at the age of 85. Hal was a local product, born in Western Maryland–Middletown to be exact–and started his career at Hagerstown, MD playing in the baseball organization just down the road in DC. He went to the University of Maryland as well. His SABR biography, linked to here, was written by Chip Greene, Seamheads writer and Podcaster.
Hal was part of a baseball family whose brother, Charlie “King Kong” Keller enjoyed a 13-year career as a slugging outfielder for the New York Yankees beginning in 1939. As a player Hal managed only 57 plate appearances in three seasons with the Nationals. He started his career as an outfielder with a rifle for an arm, but was converted to catcher by the Nationals. He spent eight seasons in the minors, playing for seven different teams, with a lifetime minor league slash line of .291/.301/427.
Hal’s baseball skills may have played best in the front office where he excelled as a talent scout and organizational genius. The expansion Washington Senators lacked many things, but Keller’s eye for talent was on a par with anyone’s. He began as a minor league manager for the Washington Senators in 1958 in Superior Nebraska., but quickly was promoted to Assistant Farm Manager the following season working for the Griffith family.
Hal only worked for the organization for three years, but maintained great respect for the family. Chip and I had Hal on the “Outta the Parkway” show last February for one of our most popular shows ever. He and I spoke after the show about Clark Griffith and what it was like playing for the Old Fox and working for the family. He told me as he did Chip for his SABR biography, “”The Griffiths had a reputation for being cheap. They were never cheap. They did everything first class — what they could afford.”
He described the family atmosphere of lunches under Griffith Stadium taken at a large table where Clark, Calvin and Sherry Robertson were likely to be in attendance at one time or another along with the team secretaries and everyone else working for the team. He went with the team to Minnesota where he scouted Rod Carew among others. He returned to Washington in 1964 as Farm Director and stayed with the franchise through their relocation to Texas.
In 1979 he moved over to the Seattle organization with Dan O’Brien who had been the General Manager in Texas and took the same position with the Mariners. After two dismal losing seasons, O’Brien was out and Hal Keller was in. The year was 1983, but the pressure of being responsible for the entire organization at a time when it was struggling took its toll on Keller. He retired after two seasons, though he continued to scout for Detroit and the Angels.
Hal will be remembered for his innovations such as pioneering the use of the radar gun in scouting and coaching in the early 1970′s, for bringing along young players like Bill Madlock, Dave Rhigetti, Mark Langston, Harold Reynolds and Bud Black. But the reason so many will remember him fondly is his commitment to players as people, who said the thing he was proudest of was “never telling a lie to a player. I always felt like at that stage you were screwing around with a man’s life.
In 2010 Keller received the George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award from the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation for “long and meritorious service in the world of professional baseball scouting.” After receiving the award, Keller said, “When you recognize talent, you like to see them develop. That’s the fun part of the business.”
Hal was someone who made baseball a sport worth the name, “the National Pastime.” He will be missed. We are dedicating this Friday’s “Outta the Parkway Show” to Hal and replaying an interview we did with Hal back when the show was new and the switchboard a mystery. We will always be grateful to Hal for sharing his life in baseball with us. Listen in tomorrow night as always by dialing 347-945-7172 or download the show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/seamheads/2012/06/08/outta-the-parkway