On This Date in Sports June 18, 1897: Hit it Where They Ain't

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Wee Willie Keeler of the Baltimore Orioles extends his hitting streak to 44 games, extending the National League record. Keeler's streak will end the following day. He had gotten a hit in each of the Orioles' first 44 games. The streak actually was 45 games, as he had a hit in the final game of the 1896 season, but all streaks end when the season ends, so the streak was recorded at 44 games. The diminutive Keeler, listed at 5'4", was famous for saying, "hit it where they ain't." Keeler's record has only been topped by Joe DiMaggio in 1941, while Pete Rose equaled the streak in 1978. 

William Henry O'Kelleher Jr. was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 3, 1872. The son of Trolly Switchman, O'Kelleher Americanized his name to Keeler when he began playing semi-professional baseball in New York. Keeler made his debut with the New York Giants in 1892; later playing with the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, he found stardom with the Baltimore Orioles. Despite his diminutive stature, standing at 5'4", Wee Willie Keeler was the era's best hitter, helping the Orioles win three consecutive pennants. Keeler, who came up with the saying, "Hit it Where They Ain't," was famous for chopping the ball on the ground for an infield single. Such hits became known as the "Baltimore Chop." The previous record was 42 games set by Bill Dahlen of the Chicago Colts. 

In 1897, Wee Willie Keeler had his finest season, helped by the 44-game hitting streak batted .424, the third-highest batting average in National League history. Only Hugh Duffy (.440) with the 1894 Boston Beaneaters and Ross Barnes (.429) with the Chicago White Stockings in 1876 had higher averages than Keeler. In the American League, Nap Lajoie hit .426 with the Cleveland Blues in 1901. 

Wee Willie Keeler won a second batting title in 1898 before the Orioles merged with Brooklyn to become the Superbas. In 1903, Keeler was a member of the inaugural New York Highlanders, the team that a decade later was renamed the New York Yankees. He finished his career in 1910 with the New York Giants. Wee Willie Keeler finished his career with 2,932 hits, which was second behind Cap Anson at the time of retirement. Keeler posted a .341 average and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, among the first to be enshrined when the Hall of Fame opened.