Tim Keefe

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Timothy John Keefe
(Smiling Tim or Sir Timothy)

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1964

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Biographical Information[edit]

Tim Keefe, who used to pitch his head off for old Jim Mutrie for $3,200

"Keefe was one of the first pitchers celebrated for his head work. Teaming with...Mickey Welch, he assured the Giants of a well-pitched game almost every day." - Lee Allen, Hall of Fame historian

Hall of Famer Tim Keefe won 342 games in the majors. He was on the same teams as fellow Hall of Fame pitcher Mickey Welch for a decade. From 1883 to 1888 he won at least 32 games each season. He led the National League three times in ERA and twice in wins. In 1886, he had a 42-20 record with a 2.56 ERA. He had the first great change-up in the major leagues. He holds an obscure record, as he won games in 47 major league ballparks; second on the all-time list is Randy Johnson, with 41.

As a rookie with the Troy Trojans in 1880, he posted an 0.86 ERA in 12 starts - all complete games -, leading the National League and achieving the all-time best ERA for a league leader. The league ERA was 2.38. He pitched for Troy until the team disbanded following the 1882 season, then moved to the newly-formed New York Metropolitans of the American Association while teammates Welch, Roger Connor and Buck Ewing, moved to another new team, the New York Gothams of the National League. Both of these teams were owned by John Day, who thus ensured that both of his teams had adequate pitching. He had a couple of outstanding seasons with the Metropolitans in 1883 and 1884, leading the team to a first-place finish the second year, which was the first pennant won by any New York team. After that season, John Day maneuvered so he could transfer Keefe's contract to his other team, the Gothams, who had by now become known as the Giants, in 1885, and he thus reunited with his close friend Mickey Welch.

In 1888, Keefe won 19 consecutive games pitching for the Giants. While this was not widely recognized at the time, it was the major league record which Rube Marquard tied with his own 19-game winning streak for the Giants in 1912. The streak includes one problematic win: on August 16th, he left a start against the Chicago White Stockings after two innings with a commanding 9-0 lead, and Bill George pitched the remainder of the 12-4 win. This was a deliberate tactical move: Giants manager Jim Mutrie figured he had that game in the pocket, and decided to save Keefe so he could pitch the next game a day later (which he also won). Under modern scoring rules, that win would belong to George, but at the time, it was credited to Keefe, giving him a share of the record.

He studied business in his spare time and in 1884 opened a sporting goods company, Keefe & Becannon, with fellow pitcher Billy Becannon. The venture was successful. He also became the brother-in-law of teammate John Montgomery Ward when he married Clara Gibson Helm in 1889; the young widow was the sister of Helen Dauvray, a well-known actress who was Ward's wife. When Ward started the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, Keefe was named its secretary and drafted the organization's rules. He was a major player in the fight that led to the creation of the Players League by the Brotherhood in 1890, and like most of his teammates defected to the New York club in the upstart league. He also managed to have his sporting goods company be chosen as the official equipment supplier to the new circuit. Unfortunately, the whole venture soon turned sour: he broke a finger in August and as a result started only 30 games that season, then the league folded due to financial losses. His sporting goods company lost its contract and soon went bankrupt.

While the Giants took him back in 1891, one of their owners was now Walter Spalding, brother of Al Spalding, the main opponent of the Brotherhood, and owner of a rival sporting goods company that did everything it could to bring Keefe's business venture to a quick demise. Walter Spalding made sure that Keefe would no longer have a starring role in New York, giving him few opportunities to play, before Keefe managed to secure his release and join the Philadelphia Phillies. He had one last good season in him, going 19-16, 2.36 for the Phillies in 1892. But the league decided to move back the pitching mound in 1893, he had difficulty adapting at the age of 36 and retired after the season.

Although he was born and died outside of Boston in Cambridge, MA, he never pitched for a Boston team in the majors.

He was not a strong hitter, but showed some power with 9 triples in 1883, leading his team in triples that year. He umpired games occasionally almost every season starting in the National League in 1880, then became a full-time ump from 1894 to 1896. He had been known as a true gentleman in the field in his playing days, respected by everyone for his integrity and never arguing with the umpires, but he became disgusted with the lack of respect paid umpires in the mid-1890s, a decade known for its outrageous rowdyism. He quit midway through a game in 1896, never to come back. He umpired for a time in the minors after that, and also was a coach with some top-notch college teams, but eventually retreated completely from baseball by the early 1900s. He worked in real estate, lived quietly, and even before he died in 1933 at the age of 76, had become completely forgotten. That changed when he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1964, but only to an extent. His name is most often mentioned as a member of the very exclusive 300 Wins Club, and for some of the strikeout records he holds (he was the first man to have three season of 300+ strikeouts until Sandy Koufax came along).

His cousin, John Keefe, pitched one season in the majors.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • NL Pitcher's Triple Crown (1888)
  • 3-time NL ERA Leader (1880, 1885 & 1888)
  • 2-time NL Wins Leader (1886 & 1888)
  • NL Winning Percentage Leader (1888)
  • 2-time League Games Pitched Leader (1883/AA & 1886/NL)
  • 2-time League Innings Pitched Leader (1883/AA & 1886/NL)
  • 2-time League Strikeouts Leader (1883/AA & 1888/NL)
  • 2-time League Complete Games Leader (1883/AA & 1886/NL)
  • NL Shutouts Leader (1888)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 7 (1883-1889)
  • 30 Wins Seasons: 6 (1883-1888)
  • 40 Wins Seasons: 2 (1883 & 1886)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 11 (1881-1890 & 1892)
  • 300 Innings Pitched Seasons: 10 (1881-1889 & 1892)
  • 400 Innings Pitched Seasons: 7 (1881 & 1883-1888)
  • 500 Innings Pitched Seasons: 2 (1883 & 1886)
  • 600 Innings Pitched Seasons: 1 (1883)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 6 (1883-1886, 1888 & 1889)
  • 300 Strikeouts Seasons: 3 (1883, 1884 & 1888)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1964

Records Held[edit]

  • Lowest ERA, season (before 1893), 0.86
  • Most consecutive wins, season, 19, 1888 (tied)
  • Errors, pitcher, career, 166

Further Reading[edit]

  • Charlie Bevis: Tim Keefe: A Biography of the Hall of Fame Pitcher and Player-Rights Advocate, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2015. ISBN 978-0-7864-9665-5
  • David L. Fleitz: "Tim Keefe", in More Ghosts in the Gallery: Another Sixteen Little-Known Greats at Cooperstown, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2007, pp. 91-107. ISBN 978-0-7864-3133-5
  • Brian Marshall: "A Pitching Conundrum", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 46, Nr. 1 (Spring 2017), pp. 70-77.

Related Sites[edit]