August 1, 2021

Killefer Brothers 9th and 10th in Monument Series Honoring the Deadball Era

October 11, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

On Saturday, August 8, 2009 in the midst of Paw Paw, Michigan’s sesquicentennial celebration, a monument was unveiled honoring two former residents, baseball legends Bill and Wade Killefer. Members of the Killefer family and baseball historians traveled to join Paw Paw residents for the event.

Wade was born on April 18, 1885 and his younger brother Bill followed on October 10, 1887. They were both born in Bloomingdale, Michigan and moved to Paw Paw with their parents in 1888. This is where they grew up, attending school and graduating from Paw Paw High School.

Wade, better known as “Red,” was captain of the high school state championship team of 1900-1901. Bill, also known as “Reindeer Bill,” followed in his brothers footsteps, as catcher for another Paw Paw state championship team of 1904-1905.

After the two legends left Paw Paw with their lives dedicated to the game they loved, they had long, outstanding careers. Careers that I am very pleased to recognize in my series of memorials, which honor players and teams from the Deadball Era (1901-1919).

Prior to the dedication of their monument, the public was invited to the Carnegie Center in downtown Paw Paw. Manager of the center Larry Nielsen gathered a large display of the players’ baseball photos, which included originals that were donated by the Killefer family and Charles Weatherby. Exchanging information and answering questions along with many members of the Killefer family were Paw Paw residents Robert Hindenach, Larry Nielsen and Roman Plaszczak Also joining the group were baseball historians Peter Morris, David Stalker and Charles Weatherby.

Roman Plaszczak

Plaszczak, the village president, served as the master of ceremonies. Roman welcomed those attending and introduced the speakers as follows:

David Stalker

Honored to attend, baseball historian Stalker gave thanks. “The monument was made possible through the efforts of many, along with a passion for baseball and its history, admiration for the Killefer brothers Bill and Wade.” He spoke about his Deadball Monument Series that began in 2005, and mentioned that Wade and Bill became the 9th and 10th players honored. “I often find that players from this era, who have fallen short a few numbers to make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame as an official member, have almost been forgotten about in history. I consider them being honored in their hometown on a memorial, the next best thing.”

Peter Morris

Baseball historian Morris spoke of Bill as a prototype of the new catcher, smaller, more agile and brainy. He cited a story by Billy Evans, who was behind the plate umpiring when Bill’s collarbone was broken by a foul ball late in the 1909 season in NY. He advised Bill to remove himself from the game, but Killefer refused and soldiered on, throwing out a base runner on an attempted steal in the process. When Bill went to the bench between innings, he nearly fainted and a doctor was called out of the stands. He missed the last few games of the season. Of this incident, Evans said, “Killefer has the spirit and the nerve that makes great players (which) was proved by (this) very unfortunate accident.”

Morris also commented on Red’s desire to prove himself by playing in the minors and read the following piece:

In a 1909 article, sportswriter Paul H. Bruske contrasted the attitudes of Tiger reserves Davy Jones and Wade Killefer to being subs. Jones admitted that the role was an ‘unwelcome assignment’ but said that team president Frank Navin assured him his pay would not be cut and was philosophical that at least he was getting paid well. However, Wade Killefer was frank about his unhappiness: ‘there I sit, year after year, like a turkey buzzard on a limb, waiting for somebody to get hurt. My soul craves action and I think I’m getting there with the ability to act, if I get the regular chance. No man can duck into a game and play a day or two at the speed, which he should be able to show, when given a regular assignment. Philosophy? Well, that is all right for a player like Davy Jones who is drawing the stipend of a regular. I can’t philosophize on the wage scale of a Southern Michigan league graduate, though, and that is what I’m regarded in this league. I wasn’t in any rush about signing in the winter and I haven’t signed yet. After I showed my reluctance, Mr. Navin wrote me, advising me to sign up in a hurry, lest I be sent down to Jersey City instead of Jerry Downs. I wrote back, advising him to do his worst. A regular assignment to Jersey City would give me a chance to show whether I am there or not and would be regarded by me in the nature of an investment. If I made good, I’d be back in the big league somewhere, getting what I could earn. If I’m only a minor leaguer, I can always console myself by the thought that perhaps I can do something else than play ball and make more money at it. But here I am’ (Detroit Times, March 17, 1909).”

Charles Weatherby

Killefer historian Weatherby, spoke in depth about both players, and included a story about his personal experience with Bill Killefer. Charles and Bill were neighbors and met when Charles worked at a drug store while attending high school. Bill would come in the store, and they formed a friendship. On June 30, 1960, Bill asked Charles to give him a ride to the VA Hospital in Elsmere, Delaware. Charles stayed with him during the admissions process and accompanied Bill to his room, where they said their good byes. Two days later Bill passed away from hemorrhaging in the digestive tract. Bill’s body was taken to Paw Paw, where he is buried in the family plot at Prospect Hill Cemetery.

Robert Hindenach

Long time Paw Paw sports historian Hindenach, told a story from his youth. In 1952, my parents took me to a movie in Paw Paw called “The Winning Team” starring Ronald Reagan and Doris Day. It was the story of the life of Grover Cleveland Alexander and actor James Millican played Bill Killefer. Ola Killefer, the sister of the Killefer boys attended the movie that night also. Afterward as Robert’s parents were good friends with her, he approached her and asked her what she thought of the man who portrayed her brother. “He was all right I guess,” she said. “But he wasn’t handsome enough.

Wade & Campbell Killefer

The grandsons of Wade Killefer gave their thanks to those that made the memorial possible. Campbell recently acquired an old baseball glove, which has the name Bill Killefer inscribed in the leather. He donated the glove to the Carnegie Center.

wadekill.jpg

The unveiling followed with one side of the monument reading:

This memorial is dedicated to the life of Wade Killefer.

Born in Bloomingdale, MI, April 18, 1885 and moved to Paw Paw (1888). “Red” was captain of the Paw Paw HS state champions in 1900-01. A speedy, versatile and hard-hitting utility man, he debuted with Detriot on September 16, 1907 and was a member of the AL champion Tigers in 1908. His seven year, 467 game career included stops in Washington, Cincinnati and New York (NL). In 1917 he began a career as a player-manager in the Pacific Coast League and manager in the American Association, notching 1,940 wins, 13th in minor league history. Inducted into the PCL Hall of Fame as a player and manager in 1957. Killefer was known for his fiery outbursts and run-ins with umpires.

Donated August 8, 2009 by

Charles Weatherby, The Killefer Family, Robert Hindenach, David J. Stalker & Archie Monuments

billkill.jpg

The opposite side reads:

This memorial is dedicated to the life of William Killefer Jr.

Born in Bloomingdale, MI, October 10, 1887 and moved to Paw Paw (1888). “Reindeer Bill” Killefer played catcher for Paw Paw HS state champions of 1904-05. One of the great catchers of all-time, he had a career as a player (1,035) games, coach, manager and scout that spanned 48 years. Bill debuted with the St. Louis Browns on Sept. 13, 1909 and later played for the NL Champion Phillies (1915) and Cubs (1918) in the World Series. Best known as one of “The Most Famous Battery in Baseball,” with Hall of Fame member Grover C. Alexander, he led the league in fielding four years. Killefer managed the Cubs from 1921-25, the Browns from 1930-33 and was a coach for the World Champion Cardinals of 1926.

Donated August 8, 2009 by

Charles Weatherby, The Killefer Family, Robert Hindenach, David J. Stalker & Archie Monuments

The Carnegie Center is collecting donations of any information, articles, photo’s, baseball cards and other memorabilia related to the Killefer brothers, to make available to the public.

Carnegie Center
Attn: Manager Larry Nielsen
129 S. Kalamazoo St.
Paw Paw, MI 49079
269-657-7919

The monument may be viewed at Maple Lake Park, the south shore near the amphitheatre, on the 100th block of West Michigan Avenue. Next to the sidewalk on a busy street, it overlooks the lake, which was once a ball field where the young Killefers played.

“In memory, the Killefer brothers are once again back in their hometown of Paw Paw, Michigan, where they will be remembered forever.”

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