There is word many of us use that is sure not grammatically correct. That word is ain’t and it has been a bane for educators and other erudite people for a long, long time. In baseball terms, the word “ain’t” shows up in two of the most famous quotes in history. The first is probably a bit apocryphal as after giving testimony before a Chicago grand jury in 1920 regarding his alleged involvement in the 1919 World Series scandal a young boy is said to have come up and said to Jackson: “Say it ain’t so, Joe”. Considering Jackson was well-known for his inability to read and write, the usage of ain’t made perfect sense. That whole statement also summed up the feelings of baseball fans toward anyone who may or may not have been involved in any of the pre-1920 gambling scandals.
The second most famous usage of “ain’t” in baseball terms actually was a generation earlier. “Wee” Willie Keeler, a diminutive Hall of Fame outfielder, primarily for the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Highlanders (later known as the Yankees) was the team’s best hitter. Those 1890’s Baltimore Orioles teams featured several Hall of Famers who later became successful managers. Hughie Jennings, John J. McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, among other personalities, were feared both for their ability as well for what they could with almost no umpire supervision. Keeler was not fated to have a post-playing career in baseball.
But what Keeler could do was hit. Man he could hit. Willie was such a proficient hitter he once had a 44 game hitting streak which established what was then a major league record, unbroken until Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game streak in 1941. Keeler also retired with 2,932 hits and of course in today’s world he would have hung around to get those final 68 hits to join the 3,000 hit club. Keeler was once asked about his success at the plate and his full quote was “Keep your eyes clear and hit them where they ain’t”, a reference to placing the ball out of reach of opposing fielders. With the great bat control Keeler had, it was easy for him to hit balls where he wanted and he retired with a career .341 batting average.
Finding a Wee Willie Keeler baseball card isn’t difficult. For collectors, Keeler appears in a relatively small number of sets issued during his career but fortunately he hung around long enough to be featured on two different T206 cards which we can date to 1909. He was featured as a Highlander in what would turn out to be his final season with the team. His cards are among the best values in the T206 set.
You’ll find Keeler in a few rare 19th century sets but he’s more likely to be snared by collectors in the 1902 Sporting Life Cabinets series, the 1903 Breisch-Williams set, the 1909 American Caramel series, the 1906 Fan Craze game card, the 1909 Ramly and on what might be his most attractive card, the Turkey Red (T3) cabinet card that shows him squaring to bunt—appropriate for the guy who liked to “hit ‘em where they ain’t”.
Less expensive options include the 1940 Play Ball Greats set, the 1950 Callahan set issued through the Baseball Hall of Fame and the relic cards found in the 2012 Panini National Treasures boxes.
See all of Keeler’s cards on eBay right now by clicking here.
We’d like to thank Stan Sutton of Vista, California for his suggestion that we write about Willie Keeler. If you have a player or a card you’d like feature please include your name and home town.