Keltner Leading New Power Surge on the Lake
Mike B. | On 12, Nov 2015
May 24, 1948
There is something different with this year’s Cleveland Indians. You can feel it in the air at Municipal Stadium, with a new sense of electricity in the seats and a confidence on the field.
Part of that new electricity comes from a new power surge from the Indians, namely third baseman Ken Keltner. After a split in yesterday’s doubleheader with the New York Yankees, the Indians sit atop the standings in the American League and in the home run category. The Tribe is a half game ahead of the Philadelphia Athletics and leads the league in home runs with 40 in just 24 games.
Keltner’s home run yesterday in the first game of the doubleheader off Allie Reynolds’ was his 13th home run of the season. He’s already exceeded his total from a year ago; last season Keltner hit .257 with eleven home runs and 76 runs batted in. Team president Bill Veeck offered Keltner a bonus if he could hit .270 and drive in 100 last season. Although he did not reach the goals, Veeck honored the bonus regardless.
If Keltner has an incentive in his contract for production this year, Mr. Veeck may want to start finding the money for that check. Through 24 games, Keltner is hitting .322 with 13 homers and 29 runs batted in. The Tribe was second as a team in homers a year ago with 112, but with 40 already logged into the box scores, it seems Keltner and the Indians have higher expectations than last season.
Scouts and fans both seem to think Keltner might be making a concerted effort to try and pull the ball. However, Keltner thinks the reason for his and Tribe’s power surge is a simple explanation.
“No I’m not pulling the ball any more than I ever did,” Keltner originally told Harry Jones of The Plain Dealer. “I don’t try to hit to right field as much as I used to, but the big difference is this:”
Keltner took one hand, holding it up like a fence. First he used his other hand to make an arc that stopped before getting to the fence. Then, he used the same hand to make a larger arc, this time carrying all over the fence.
“That’s what used to happen. And this is what’s happing now,” Keltner said. “I don’t try to explain it. I just try to hit ’em.”
Keltner’s best season as a professional, before this season, was his rookie season in 1938 when he hit 26 home runs with 113 runs batted in and a .276 batting average. As a younger player, Keltner was often asked to hit the ball to the opposite field and try to advance runners. Trying to take the ball to right field may have cut into Keltner’s power. When Keltner was able to pull the ball, he had power success, but since his rookie season the Milwaukee native has only hit more than 20 home runs twice.
“Johnny Bassler, who was a coach when I came up taught me how to hit to right field,” Keltner said. “I got so I could hit out there pretty good, so I was always shooting for that right field wall at League Park and I was always ordered to hit behind the runner. Even then I was pulling the ball though. I hit most of my home runs by pulling the ball.”
While Keltner’s power and average have increased this season, he still remains a notorious sure-handed fielder at third base. Keltner made two diving plays in 1941 on Joe DiMaggio to help snap his 56-game hitting streak. Joe Gordon was in the lineup for the Yankees that July day in 1941 and had a career year himself the next season in 1942. He doesn’t think a breakout season is that amazing for Keltner. In Gordon’s eyes, Keltner has always been a quality hitter and has just had luck on his side this season.
“People seem surprised that he’s hitting so well this year, but I think he hit just as well a year ago, except for the home runs of course,” Gordon said. “In my book, he was a .300 hitter last year, but the official averages showed he hit around .260. They caught enough line drives on him to make the difference. When a guy busts out suddenly with one of those big years like I had in ’42 it means that a lot of balls are going between the fielder instead of right at ’em.”
Tomorrow, the Indians and Keltner will open a two-game series against the Washington Senators at the Stadium. They’ll face little southpaw and knuckleballer Mickey Haefner (1-4, 3.89). Keltner will need more of his current luck against an opponent he often struggles with.
“I don’t know why, but I just can’t hit that guy,” Keltner said of Haefner. “He looks so easy to hit that I can’t wait until I get up there to the plate but I can never hit him. I’m glad I don’t see him very often.”
If Keltner continues his success tomorrow and all season, his early start could have historic results. He has a chance to break the record for home runs by a right-handed hitter, set by Gordon last season, at 29 dingers. If he continues his torrid pace, Keltner could challenge the Indians’ all-time homer mark of 42 bombs, held by Hal Trosky.
In Keltner’s eyes, his success can only lead to greater team success.
“If I can do that I think that would be a pretty good season and I think we’d have a good chance to win the pennant. I think we have a good chance anyway.”