Winter 2020 Catalog Auction Ending Feb 22
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Despite his nickname, “Wee Willie” was a giant of the Deadball Era. As one may guess, his name derived from his size - 5 feet 4½ inches and 140 pounds – but that didn’t stop Keeler from becoming one of the most feared hitters of his day. Before a guy named Ty Cobb came along, Willie Keeler was second only to the great Cap Anson in career hits (2,932). Many of those hits were accomplished using a unique batting method the diminutive outfielder perfected himself called the “Baltimore Chop.” If you’re not familiar with the “Baltimore Chop,” that’s when you take a bat – just like this Keeler Spalding Gold Medal Auto Model – and hit the ball with a downward, slashing motion, thus pounding the ball into the ground hard enough to make it bounce high above the infielder’s head. While the fielder was waiting for the ball to fall into his mitt, Keeler would use his blinding speed to beat the throw to first.

Utilizing the “Baltimore Chop,” Willie won back-to-back batting crowns in 1897 and 1898. In 1897 Keeler set the record for longest hitting streak with 44 games, a mark that held until Joe DiMaggio surpassed it in 1941. Keeler also held the record for most consecutive seasons of 200 hits with eight, unbroken until Ichiro surpassed it almost a century later. Opposing pitchers found that Keeler was almost impossible to strikeout, averaging more than 60 at bats between whiffs. There’s one record he still holds today that will most likely never be broken:  an at bat-per-strikeout ratio of 285. Accomplished with Brooklyn in 1899, Keeler came to bat 570 times and struck out just twice! With his batting prowess and often-quoted mantra of “keep your eye clear and hit ‘em where they ain’t," it’s obvious why Wee Willie has a plaque hanging in Cooperstown today.

Due to his place as one of the game’s most prolific hitters, Willie Keeler contracted with Spalding in 1908 to produce his own autograph model bat for both his use in games and for retail sale. What makes one edge this to the professional game use is the bat’s specifications: 30 ½” length and 34.3 ounces in weight. Contemporary Spalding catalogs show the Keeler model available in lengths varying from 31 to 35 inches, with no half-inch models sold. The presence of the Spalding logo stamped into both the knob and barrel end show that the bat’s length was not altered to a half-inch size. The store model weights ranged from 36 to 39 ounces, again, different from this model’s 34.3-ounce weight. PSA/DNA has also determined that this bat’s specs are consistent with those known to have been used by Keeler. As far as condition, this bat is a stunner. The ash has aged to a golden brown, and the factory stampings on the barrel are deep and clear. The bat shows outstanding use and is un-cracked. Ball marks line the barrel and there are abrasions throughout from contact with the ground and other equipment. There are spike imprints visible and the top barrel has three nails present. A museum-quality bat that is one of the earlier examples of a signature model ballplayer-endorsed bat from a Deadball Era Hall of Famer.

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