September 10, 1948
Just like he had hoped, Ken Keltner has been with the Cleveland Indians for a long time now.
When Keltner joined the ballclub in 1937, the only other current Indian was an 18 year old Bob Feller. The baseball world was talking about the collapse of the Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig-built Yankee dynasty and the rest of the world was talking about the Marihuana Tax Act that had just become a law the day before Keltner first donned a Tribe uniform.
It was just two months before Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered, three days before President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his famous “Quarantine Speech” in Chicago and just weeks after President Abraham Lincoln’s head was dedicated at Mount Rushmore. It certainly has been a long, long time.
A lot has changed over the past 11 years but the man his teammates call “Butch” has remained consistent. After dazzling Cleveland crowds at both League Park and Cleveland Stadium during his breakout 1938 season, Keltner has been a constant presence in the Tribe lineup.
Keltner slammed career highs in ’38 with 26 homeruns and 113 RBI, and then had a career best .325 batting average in ’39. He stayed steady for the following decade—outside of 1945, his one year of Navy service during the war—but was never able to top the numbers he set so early in his career.
With just under a month left in the season, Keltner is having perhaps his greatest season as a professional. Through Thursday’s victory over the Tigers, Keltner is batting .284 with 96 RBI. He has also tied his career high with 26 homeruns. Keltner made his seventh All-Star team and will undoubtedly garner some MVP votes. The Cleveland Indians—who are the only team that Keltner has ever played for—have taken notice of Keltner’s excellence, and deservedly so.
The Tribe honored Keltner at the Stadium on Thursday by calling the game against Detroit “Ken Keltner Night”. As a thank you, Keltner received a Chevrolet station wagon, a television set, airplane luggage and other gifts from the Indians including three $1,000 checks from Bill Veeck for himself and his two boys. Keltner, whose wife Evelyn, eldest son Randy and mother Alma were also in attendance, was obviously moved by the organizations generosity. Randy was especially moved when the nine year old was presented with a beautiful young collie dog.
“It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to play for Cleveland,” Keltner said in a quote originally from The Plain Dealer. “This is a night that I will remember for the rest of my life.” Keltner also responded by scoring the game winning run in the ballgame as well.
Keltner’s success has not come as a surprise to anyone, especially his mother. “Ken was a good ball player when he was just a little fellow,” Alma said. “Yes, even then I thought he might someday be a big league player. I was the real baseball fan in our family and I guess I had something to do with getting Ken interested.”
Ken has certainly remained both interested and interesting during his tenure with the Tribe, recalling his fondest memory from the 1941 season as Yankee Joe DiMaggio brought his record 56 game hitting streak to Cleveland.
“Joe blasted a couple at me that day and I managed to grab both of them and throw him out,” Keltner remembers. “I got a real kick out of those plays.”
Those plays came in the early part of his outstanding career and could probably only be topped if the Indians can somehow overcome the Red Sox and Yankees to win the American League pennant and possibly the World Series. It’s something that Keltner predicted was possible long ago and the third baseman still has a chance to fulfill his prophecy.
“We can win the pennant if I have a good year,” Keltner claimed shortly after the season started. He has done just what he set out to do and the Indians remain less than a handful of games out of his first place projection.
Reaching the ultimate goal would be the perfect way to wrap up what may be Keltner’s last few days as a regular. Assuming everything goes to plan, phenomenal third base prospect Al Rosen is waiting in the wings, ready to take the veteran Keltner’s spot; probably as early as next season. Knowing that Rosen is ready and waiting, Keltner simply reflects on the good times that he has already had.
“When I first broke in as a pinch hitter back in 1937, I started hoping that I’d stick around for a while,” Keltner recalled. “Guess I succeeded in that at any rate.”
He certainly did. Congratulations and thanks for all of the great memories Butch.