Biography: Tim Keefe

3 Jan

Tim Keefe, also known as “Smiling Tim”or “Sir Tim”, was born in Cambridge Massachusetts on January 1, 1857. While much about his childhood remains lost or unknown as he played baseball long before the details of seemingly every detail of every players life was documented outside of the game, we do do know plenty about his career and the way he conducted himself on the field. Over the years people have argued the validity of his statistics, sometimes they even argue the game he played was too different from that of today to even be compared fairly, but regardless of that he was a legend of the sport and is now enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y. as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Keefe began his career on August 6,1880, with the Troy Trojans and the retired in only 1893 after playing with five teams; The Trojans, New York Metropolitans, Philadelphia Phillies, and both New York Giants teams. The fact that there were two different New York Giants franchises wasn’t the only thing different about the era Keefe played in, the pitching mound was only 50 feet from the plate (Only his final season was from the modern 60’6″, and his first season was from 45′), the spitter, oil ball, and gasoline ball were all legal as there were no rules regarding illegal pitches. It was said Keefe made use of each to a varying degree, but only when he felt he needed to. Also Keefe played in an era when some teams relied on only two or three primary starting pitchers with a spot starter or reliever for emergencies only. As such, Keefe regularly tossed a pile of innings, having gone over 600 in 1883 when he went 41-27 with 361 strikeouts.

Keefe’s statistics are hard to argue regardless of what anyone thinks of the rules or competition of the time. In 14 seasons he piled up 342 wins with a 2.62 ERA. What is amazing is to consider is he started 600 games and finished 594 of those for an amazing 99% completion rate. Compared to the pitchers of today that get the stud tag for tossing 3 or 4 complete games in a year, it is a laughable comparison. He was also never called for a balk in his entire career, and faced a total of 20,975 batters before hanging it up. Add in 39 shutouts, 2,562 strikeouts, a career winning percentage of .603, and over 5,000 innings tossed, and you have a legend.

Consider he did all that, and that when he began pitching he did so underhanded rather than over the top or sidearm and that demonstrates how good he really was. How well would a modern pitcher fare tossing the ball underhanded? He did eventually switch to a more traditional delivery which is when he enjoyed the most success incidentally, but it is still something amazing to consider. He was the second pitcher to win 300 games, and although no awards like the Cy Young existed yet, he did compile the statistics which would have won pitching’s Triple Crown. As can be seen by his nicknames of “Smiling” and Sir Tim”, he was a well liked teammate and favorite of the fans because he appeared to enjoy playing the game and had a kind demeanor. This reputation changed later , at least in the eyes of some when he helped form the first Player’s Union which nearly killed the league.

Aside from that, Keefe appeared in 3 World Series in 6 years with his team winning two, including the famed 1888 series in which he won all four games for the Giants tossing 35 innings to the tune of a 0.51 ERA with 30 strikeouts. He surrendered only two runs the entire series, earned or unearned. It is considered by many the most dominating performance by a pitcher over the course of a full World Series ever.

Despite six consecutive seasons with 30 or more wins (Just missing a seventh only winning 28 games) and his slew of accomplishments, Keefe didn’t make it to the Hall of Fame with ease. It took a vote by the Veteran’s Committee in 1964 to make that happen finally. Of course the Hall of Fame didn’t even exist when he played, or even when he died in April of 1933, but many cite that his failure to reach the hallowed grounds earlier was an oversight caused by a push to induct living players that could promote the Hall of Fame as a destination to visit. Whether that is true or not, all things considered it seems at least plausible.


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