News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 30, 2012

RONN MOTT: Wee Willie Keeler

Ronn Mott
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — I have told my radio friends for years that Wee Willie Keeler is my programming mentor. Now, that’s a plain, old-fashioned English macguffin. You say what this person, or thing, is … when in reality it may not even exist.

Two guys on a train, as an example. One says, “What is that strange package you have?” “It’s a macguffin for trapping lions in Scotland.” And quickly, the person who asked about the package says, “There are no lions in Scotland.” “Oh,” says the package holder, “then this is no macguffin.”

I have told this over a cold one, and in very serious conversations, that William Henry Keeler, “Wee Willie” to the press because he was only 5’4” tall, was the guy who guided my programming thinking. For me, Wee Willie Keeler is a pure macguffin. He was one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He batted .341 for a career, he hit .300 16 times for 19 seasons, and one time he hit over .400. He hit an amazing 206 singles during the 1896 season, a record that would stand for more than 100 seasons until broken by Ichiro Suzuki (then playing for the Seattle Mariners). When asked about his success in batting, Wee Willie said, “It’s nothing, I just hit ’em where they ain’t.” Of course, if you hit ’em where they ain’t, they can’t catch it and you end up on first base.

Willie played for the New York Giants, the Brooklyn Grooms, the Baltimore Orioles, the Brooklyn Superbas, the New York Highlanders (they would change their name later to the New York Yankees), and then, once again, the New York Giants. Even when they have selected the greatest teams of baseball, no matter how long it has been since Wee Willie played (it was 1910), he almost always is selected.

He made famous the “Baltimore Chop,” where he would chop the ball so hard against the ground it would be in the air so long, or be over someone’s head, he would be on first base before the defense could get to it. The men of baseball with the longest continuous hitting streaks are Keeler, at 45 games, Pet Rose with 44 games, and Joe DiMaggio with 56 games.

So in spite of my admiration for this amazing baseball player, Keeler is my macguffin. He probably did not hear a radio broadcast until he was older. He died at the age of 50 in 1923. To those I have tried to dazzle with my broadcasting macguffin, you have pretty much read the real story of a little guy who defied size and hard-throwing pitchers, and certainly was one of the greatest players of all time. And you can listen to the radio stations of today and hear they are not paying any attention to my favorite macguffin, Wee Willie Keeler.

I borrowed the term “macguffin” from Alfred Hitchcock when he was explaining to an interviewer why his movies were successful.  

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.