The World Series Slugger: Charlie “King Kong” Keller

Once a year, baseball fans flock to the ballparks and TV screens to watch the battle of the American League and National League champions as they go head to head for THE WORLD SERIES TITLE! In honor of this year’s World Series showdown between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers, University Archives thought we would share the story of an early University of Maryland baseball dynamo, Charlie “King Kong” Keller.

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Charlie Keller Day at Yankee Stadium, Sept. 25, 1948

A native of Middletown, Maryland, Charlie Keller (1916-1990) was a standout in high school, both as a guard on the Middletown High School basketball team and bouncing between pitcher and catcher on the baseball team. As a two-sport athlete at the University of Maryland, he was instantly recognized as quite the slugger, finishing his first two varsity seasons with batting averages of .500 and .495. By 1936, Keller came back to campus for his senior year with an accepted offer from well-known scout, Gene McCann, to play for the New York Yankees.

As a left fielder for the Yankees, he was praised for his ability to hit massive, wall- reaching fly balls and home runs, earning him the nickname “King Kong.” He played with right fielder, Tommy Henrich, and center fielder, Joe DiMaggio, forming one of the best-hitting outfields in baseball history. This feared slugger hit .334 with 11 home runs and 83 RBI’s in 111 games! “King Kong” Keller was a 4-time World Series Champion (1939, 1941, 1943, 1958) and 5-time All Star (1940, 1941, 1943, 1946, 1947). In his 13- season career with the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers, Keller played in 1,170 games, hit .286  with 189 home runs and 760 RBI. Upon his retirement, he was elected to the Frederick County and Maryland Sports Halls of Fame, The Kingston Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, the International League Hall of Fame, and the University of Maryland Hall of Fame in 1982. 

We are also celebrating Charlie Keller as part of the commemoration of the 100th season, of Maryland men’s basketball this year, #Terps100. He is best known for his baseball exploits, but he did hit the hardwood as a guard for the Terps for 4 seasons, 1933-1937.  The yearbook from his senior year contains a great description of his accomplishments:

Keller was one of the most accurate potshot artists from long range Marylanders have ever known. Keller was the lone consistent marksman on the team and frequently sent long arches through the hoop to start an Old Line rally.

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1934-1935 Maryland men’s basketball team, Charlie Keller at right in second row

Charlie Keller definitely knew what it took to win a series like the one that starts tonight! This Dodgers vs. Red Sox face-off is the first in the World Series since 1916, the year “King Kong” Keller was born! May the best team win!

 

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