SABR

Bob Keegan

This article was written by John Gabcik.

When Bob Keegan finally made a major league roster with the Chicago White Sox in 1953, he was 32 years old, a husband and father, and a long-time minor leaguer with enough credibility as a person and a ballplayer to have had a day in his honor at an opponent’s ballpark.

Keegan didn’t have a lot of time to make his mark in the big leagues--a six-year career with 644 innings pitched--but his achievements are worth remembering. He had a 16-win season in 1954 and made an appearance in that year’s All-Star Game. In 1957, at age 37, he pitched a no-hit game against the Washington Senators. When the White Sox no longer saw him in their plans for 1958, he returned to the minor leagues and posted an 18-10 record for his hometown Rochester Red Wings at age 38.

Robert Charles Keegan was born on August 4, 1920, in Rochester, New York, the older of Charles and Mabel Keegan’s two sons. Charles Keegan was a salesman at the Hires Turner Glass Company and a semipro pitcher for various Rochester company teams. The young Keegan emulated his father, playing for local semipro teams over his schoolboy summers. A lifelong resident of Rochester, Bob Keegan raised his family there, and remained a staunch supporter of local athletic teams throughout his lifetime.

Keegan played both baseball and basketball at Marshall High School in Rochester. As a heavy-hitting infielder, he led the baseball team to the county championship as a senior in 1939. Occasionally, he was asked to pitch and did well. He was approached by New York Yankees’ bird dog Herbie Moran and offered a contract. Keegan had begun his college career at Fenn College in Cleveland, Ohio, but aspired to attend Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where he could participate in the school’s broader athletic program; when Bucknell accepted his application, he continued his education there before embarking on a pro career.1 Sensing a prospect, Yankee scout Paul Krichell signed Keegan to an agreement committing him to the New Yorkers after college.2

At Bucknell, Keegan played for both the Bison baseball and basketball teams. In the 1941 varsity baseball opener, Keegan played shortstop and homered in a losing effort against Susquehanna University. When Bucknell coach John Sitarsky was short a pitcher against Gettysburg later in the season, Keegan stepped in; the Bison lost 6-2, though Keegan fanned 14.

Keegan captained the 1942 Bucknell squad, hitting .420 at shortstop, but entered the U.S. Army Air Force in February 1943 to fight in World War II. He rose to the rank of first lieutenant and flew missions as navigator of a B-24 bomber squad serving in New Guinea.

On May 20, 1944, while in the service, Keegan married his sweetheart, Lois Hansford.

He was stationed at an air base in Monroe, Louisiana, when he phoned Lois: “Honey, I’m lonely. Let’s get married.”3 Lois took a plane down. The couple had two children, a son, Robert Jr., born in 1947, and a daughter, Lynn, in 1948.

After the war, Keegan considered returning to Bucknell to complete his education but at age 25, decided it was then or never for a baseball career.4 He reported to the Yankees and was assigned to the Binghamton (NY) Triplets (Class A, Eastern League) for 1946. There manager Garland Braxton quickly determined that the six foot, two-inch, 207-pound righty was not going to be able to hit professional pitching adequately but that his arm showed promise; Keegan dutifully took this direction to the mound, stifling his personal belief that he could make it as a hitter.5

He compiled a 5-6 record over ten starts in that first professional season. When Keegan improved to 10-5 for the Triplets in 1947, the Yankees moved him up to Newark (Class AAA, International League) near the end of the season. The elevated level was more difficult for Keegan at Newark and later at Kansas City (AAA, American Association) where he was 22-39 from 1947 through 1950. This didn’t merit much consideration from the Yankees with a pitching staff featuring Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat and a young Whitey Ford. Keegan was dangled as trade bait during spring training in 1949 and 1950, but his arm tended to soreness at the start of each spring, so there wasn’t much to showcase.

The Yankees returned Keegan to their Kansas City affiliate for 1951, but after two appearances there he landed with the Syracuse Chiefs, an unaffiliated International League club. He compiled a 13-9 record, showing some improvement, but apparently not enough for the Yankees to retain him. In early April of 1952, the Yankees sold Keegan’s contract outright to Syracuse.

There the big righty became the dominant pitcher in the International League.

Keegan led the 1952 Chiefs to an 88-66 record, good enough for second place behind league-leading Montreal. With a 20-11 record, he led the International League in wins, innings pitched (273), complete games (27), and shutouts (7).6 The league had no award for the best pitcher; Keegan finished fourth in the MVP race behind three position players with Junior Gilliam of Montreal the top vote-getter. But Keegan didn’t go unrecognized that year. On June 22, Keegan’s many Rochester friends organized a “day” in his honor at the Rochester ballpark when Syracuse visited. He, his wife and family were showered with gifts.

Keegan’s 1952 success put him on major-league radar. The Phillies, Yankees, and Braves showed interest throughout the season, and on October 22 yet another club, the White Sox, purchased his contract.

Syracuse general manager Gene Martin was a friend of White Sox general manager Frank Lane. Martin offered Lane a choice between Keegan and the other top pitcher, Bobo Holloman. Holloman threw a bit too wildly for Lane’s taste, so he opted for Keegan. When asked about the viability of a 32-year-old rookie, Lane replied: “We know he’s no kid but after all, he’s three years younger than Marv Grissom and four years the junior of [Joe] Dobson. And they did all right for us last season.”7

As was often the case, Keegan’s arm was sore in 1953 spring training; he made the roster and was finally in the major leagues, but listed by the White Sox as disabled.8. He didn’t make a game appearance until May 24, the White Sox 36th of the season. (In the meantime, Holloman got his first major league start on May 6 with the St. Louis Browns--and threw a no-hitter against the A‘s.)9

Keegan’s debut came in Detroit against the last-place Tigers. Chicago had started Mike Fornieles. Fornieles had allowed six base runners early in the game, when Paul Richards pulled him for Gene Bearden with one out in the third inning and the White Sox trailing 1-0. But Bearden was wild, and when he walked two in a row in the next inning, Richards yanked him. After 12 years of waiting, Bob Keegan saw big league action--and with great success. He got Harvey Kuenn to end the inning with a grounder to second, then pitched five scoreless innings, allowing only two infield singles. The Sox generated some support with two runs in the top of the ninth, and Keegan then finished off the Tigers for his first major league win.

Richards rewarded the big righty’s effort with a start five days later against the Cleveland Indians. Keegan pitched well, giving up long solo home runs to Dale Mitchell and Al Rosen but no other runs. The Sox offense, however, was typically moribund and Chicago lost 2-1. Keegan’s record stood at 1-1.

Keegan’s spring arm woes returned throughout the summer, and by mid-August, he had only pitched 36 innings. What was most distressing to Keegan was his inability to pitch a complete game. Then, on August 22, he threw an 11-inning gem against Detroit, giving up one earned run. Keegan and the Sox lost the game 2-1, but at last he looked like the pitcher who had starred at Syracuse the year before. Keegan finished the season with an impressive September, winning four more times, and completing his last three games, two of them shutouts. Keegan finished 1953 with a 7-5 record and a 2.74 ERA. Over the course of the season he had picked up a nickname: “Smiley.” White Sox ace Billy Pierce remarked: “It always looked like he was smiling, even when he wasn’t.”10

After the season, Richards conferred with Keegan and suggested a new strategy: Keegan was to begin preparing for the 1954 season well before the start of spring training. If he could work the kinks out of his arm before the exhibition games, he would be in top condition for the season in April. Richards’ idea worked. Though Keegan did have his usual springtime sore arm, it came earlier, subsided, and he was ready to compete that April.

Keegan began the 1954 season in the White Sox rotation. He started the fourth game of the season and beat Cleveland 8-1 with a four-hitter. Then, in his third start, he shut out the Boston Red Sox despite yielding eight hits and four walks. His success continued with a 9-4 win over Philadelphia on June 9, at which point his record stood at 9-1 with a 2.29 ERA. Keegan’s mastery was reflected in the White Sox record. With a third of the season complete, the Sox were 35-16 and in first place, a game ahead of Cleveland.

That summer, Yankee manager Casey Stengel picked Keegan for the American League’s All-Star squad. He joined five White Sox teammates for the July 13 gala in Cleveland. Keegan opened the eighth inning, pitched two-thirds of an inning, and gave up a two-run homer to Gus Bell along with the AL lead. His teammates rallied in the bottom of the inning to take Keegan off the hook.11

Despite their success, the 1954 White Sox had one frustrating weakness--they couldn’t buy a pinch hit. Through May 14, when the Sox faced Philadelphia, Chicago pinch hitters were 0-for-35 on the season. With the Sox trailing, 1-0, in the fifth inning that day, there were two on and one out when first baseman Bob Boyd was due to bat. Boyd was nicknamed “El Ropo” because the only things he usually hit were line drives. But not this year; Boyd was in a slump, batting .179. Keegan didn’t hit a lot of ropes in his career, but he’d found enough holes the prior season to rack up nine singles in 28 at bats, a .321 average. Richards didn’t have much to lose by sending Keegan to the plate, except perhaps a blow to Boyd’s self-esteem.12

Keegan faced veteran pitcher Alex Kellner and singled to left, driving home Cass Michaels from second with the tying run. Keegan was removed for a pinch runner, and the White Sox went on to win the game, 4-3. In later life, Keegan still recalled the situation vividly. “Kellner threw me a curveball and I took it, and I said ‘I bet that son of a gun’s going to throw me another one. He thinks I can’t hit the curveball.’ And I got a curveball and I whacked it. So that was a big thrill.”13

Keegan’s effectiveness as a pitcher continued for another month, but the Sox as a team began to falter. When the right-hander started against the Indians on July 9 and went seven innings to get the win, his record rose to 12-3, but Chicago was six games out of first place. Cleveland was en route to a 111-win season, while the White Sox faded to third, 17 games back despite 94 wins.14 Keegan missed several starts late in the season with a pulled leg muscle. He finished at 16-9 with a 3.09 ERA and a career-high 209 2/3 innings pitched.15

At the end of the season, Paul Richards announced that he was moving on to take over as both field manager and general manager for the Baltimore Orioles, reborn in 1954 when the St. Louis Browns franchise moved east. White Sox coach and former Browns manager Marty Marion was hired to take his place in Chicago for 1955.

Keegan’s pitching arm wreaked its usual havoc during 1955 spring training. The sore arm limited Keegan to only one exhibition game, and Chicago began shopping him around the American League without takers.16 When the arm finally rounded into form in April, Keegan developed a bone spur on his right heel. The White Sox supplied a pair of custom high-top shoes to lessen the pain, but Keegan struggled with the ailment, and was limited to sporadic appearances throughout 1955. He won only two games, both within a week’s time in August and September. His ERA of 5.83 almost doubled from the previous season. But despite Keegan’s struggles, Chicago had another excellent season. They won 91 games and staff ace Billy Pierce rebounded with 15 wins and the American League ERA crown.17

Keegan might have been expendable that winter if the White Sox had seen just the right opportunity. But Frank Lane had left for the general manager’s job with the St. Louis Cardinals, and the mania to trade he had displayed in Chicago dissipated. The White Sox farm system had some jewels, such as shortstop Luis Aparicio, but all were position players.18

Keegan retained a position in the nether regions of the Sox rotation for 1956. He languished on the bench at the start of the season, and did not make an appearance until May 6, in relief. Although he wasn’t getting much action, Keegan did well when he did pitch. In a start on May 15, he notched a 5-1 complete-game win over Washington; the Senators’ lone run was unearned. In fact, Keegan had an early lead in the American League ERA derby with a clean slate over 22 innings pitched. Still concerned about Keegan’s viability over a long season, White Sox brass looked for help. They obtained 35-year-old Gerry Staley on waivers from the Yankees, and Jim Wilson, just a year younger, in a trade with the Orioles, giving Chicago a three-pronged--if somewhat ancient--back end to its rotation. The trio started 47 games for the Sox, and relieved in 27 others.

Concern about Keegan’s health proved well-founded, this time from a different and somewhat radical direction. On July 4, Keegan was hospitalized with a severe case of hemorrhoids, requiring surgery. He lost 20 pounds and made only two appearances during the next 40 White Sox games. Keegan finished the season with a 5-7 record but an acceptable 3.93 ERA. The geriatric Keegan-Staley-Wilson trio was 22-22 and devoured 367 innings over the season. The White Sox finished third again, but with six fewer wins than the year before.

The decline produced unrest in Chicago.

Toward the end of the 1956 season, Al Lopez, manager of the Cleveland Indians, let it be known that he and the Indians would part company after the season, and that he was looking for a managerial job. When Marty Marion got wind that the White Sox were interested in Lopez, he tendered his resignation. The wind soon became reality as Lopez signed a Sox contract.

Lopez used Keegan in 1957 much as Marion had the year before. Keegan made two relief appearances in April, then was bombed by the Washington Senators in his first start on May 3. His first win did not come until his third start, on May 31 against the Detroit Tigers, a four-hit shutout. Finally, on June 19, he got a place in the Sox starting rotation which he retained throughout the remainder of the 1957 season.

On August 20, Keegan reached the epitome of success for starting pitchers--a complete game no-hitter against the Washington Senators in the second game of a twi-night doubleheader. Keegan was always a pitch-to-contact specialist who relied on a sinking fastball, walking few and striking out even fewer. This tendency was amply demonstrated in the no-hitter as Keegan walked only two, and struck out but one.19 Keegan recalled the game vividly: “As I remember, there wasn’t anything close to being a hit. They didn’t hit more than one or two balls good. They didn’t talk much in the dugout, and of course I knew I had a no-hitter going. Right from the first inning. The pitcher always knows.” And catcher Sherman Lollar remarked, “I believe he threw only about 85 pitches. He was throwing almost all strikes. He never shook me off, throwing mostly fastballs and a few sliders.”20

Keegan finished 1957 with a 10-8 record in 142 2/3 innings. With 14 starts over the last three months of the season, he seemed to be assured a place in the 1958 White Sox rotation. Lopez’s leadership had helped move the White Sox up to second place, their highest finish since 1920.

But Lopez was not satisfied with second place; he wanted to make up the eight games by which the Sox trailed the Yankees --and then some. Lopez persuaded the White Sox brass to make two deals in early December, landing Early Wynn, a Lopez favorite, from the Cleveland Indians and Ray Moore from the Baltimore Orioles. Chicago gave up an array of position players to make the trades, but only one starting pitcher, Jack Harshman, whose back was questionable. The new Chicago rotation consisted of Dick Donovan, Pierce, Wynn, then Wilson and Moore, with no room for Keegan.

Keegan was miffed that Lopez preferred Wynn at Keegan’s expense. Wynn had posted a losing record with Cleveland in 1957 with an ERA almost a run higher than Keegan’s. Recalling his chagrin in an interview with Gene Fehler, Keegan stated: “Early Wynn came over from Cleveland, and he was Lopez’s pet, he couldn’t do anything wrong. All managers have their pets. But I thought I deserved the chance anyway, having a winning year the year before.”21

Lopez started Keegan only twice in 1958. Most of the aging righty’s appearances were mid-game relief stints of one or two innings. Then, on July 27, three days after he pitched in relief against the Baltimore Orioles, the Sox optioned Keegan to their Indianapolis Indians AAA affiliate. Chicago promoted 22-year old pitcher Barry Latman from Indianapolis to replace Keegan. Keegan pitched in only ten games for Indianapolis, and, although he turned 38 in August, still hoped to return to the Sox or catch on with another major league team.

When 1959 spring training began, the White Sox told Keegan they planned to send him back to Indianapolis. Keegan was willing to pitch in the minors, but only in his home town of Rochester. Happily, both the White Sox and the Rochester Red Wings (AAA, International League) were amenable to this request. Keegan, at age 38, had a solid season back home in Rochester, with an 18-10 record, and a 3.04 ERA in 234 innings. The Red Wings as a team had a bumpy 1959. In the midst of a long losing streak, manager Coot Deal resigned. It took the franchise a few days to find a replacement (Clyde King); meanwhile, elder statesman Keegan was appointed as interim manager.

His Rochester success gave Keegan hope that the St. Louis Cardinals, the Red Wings parent club, would offer a roster spot. But after spring training in 1960, the Cardinals passed; Keegan went back to Rochester for his final professional season. There he logged a 6-9 season over 123 innings, and was done.22

Keegan made his mark as both a pitcher and a person. Of Keegan’s return to Rochester after his time in the majors, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle columnist George Beahon remembered “A lot of guys would have acted like big shots in that situation, but not Bob.”23

Keegan went to work in Rochester as a purchasing agent for the Warner Lambert Company, a manufacturer of optical and dental chairs, and retired in 1981. He was named to the Bucknell University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1982, and the Rochester Red Wings Hall of Fame in 1993. Throughout his lifetime, he was a staunch supporter of athletics at all levels in Rochester. In retirement, both Bob and Lois, who celebrated 57 years of marriage in May 2001, enjoyed the game of golf and time with their family.

Bob Keegan died following a long illness at age 80 on June 20, 2001, in Rochester. He was survived by Lois, a son, Robert Jr.,24 a daughter, Lynn Belgiomo, and three grandchildren.25

 

Sources

Corbett, Warren. The Wizard of Waxahachie (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2009).

Fehler, Gene. When Baseball Was Still King (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2012).

Gittleman, Sol. Reynolds, Raschi and Lopat (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2009).

Holtzman, Jerome and George Vass. Baseball, Chicago Style (Los Angeles: Bonus Books, 2005).

James, Bill and Rob Neyer. The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers (New York: Ballantine Books, 1998).

Lindberg, Richard C. Total White Sox (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2006).

Marazzi, Rich and Len Fiorito. Baseball Players of the 1950s (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2004).

Vanderberg, Bob. Frantic Frankie Lane (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013).

Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, Numerous issues.

The Sporting News, Numerous issues.

L’Agenda, 1941, 1942 (Bucknell University yearbook).

Baseball-Library.com

Baseball-Reference.com

BillJamesOnline.com

Retrosheet.org

 

Acknowledgments

In addition to the listed Sources, I had exceptional help with information and reference leads from Isabella O’Neil of the Bucknell University Archives Department, Marcie Thompson of the Transylvania (NC) County Library, the Archives Department of the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, and Lynn Belgiorno, daughter of Bob Keegan.

 

Notes

1 Several sources, including the Bucknell University yearbook (L’Agenda, 1942), indicate that Keegan attended Fenn College; there are no indications that Keegan participated in athletics there. Fenn College is now Cleveland State University.

2 Nothing specific can be determined about the terms of this “agreement.” Several Sporting News articles make reference to the Yankees’ paying expenses for Keegan at Bucknell. The Yankees had an arrangement with Vic Raschi and his family when Raschi was still in high school. Raschi was a year older than Keegan, so it seems to have been a Yankee practice at the time. Sol Gittleman, Reynolds, Raschi, and Lopat, 32-34.

3 The Sporting News, March 2, 1955.

4 Keegan’s daughter, Lynn Belgiorno, stated that her father regretted never having completed his degree. The Sporting News of June 25, 1958, indicates that Keegan did attend the University of Rochester at one point, perhaps Keegan’s attempt to pick up where he had left off at Bucknell. Author’s telephone interview with Lynn Belgiomo, March 24, 2014.

5 Keegan reflected to baseball historian Gene Fehler on the lost opportunity to be a hitter: “I would like to have tried out at third base, because in college and high school I always played third base or shortstop. I knew I could have hit in the big leagues. I wasn’t too good a runner, so I might have had a problem there. Despite hitting over .300 in two of his major league seasons, Keegan wound up with a .163 career batting average. Gene Fehler, When Baseball Was Still King, 250; Retrosheet.org.

Practicality also was a factor in Keegan’s career track to the mound. In a 1953 spring training interview Keegan told writer Edgar Munzel: “Yankee scout Herb Morgan recommended that I switch to pitching. I took his advice because I figured I would have a better chance to make the grade as a pitcher since age isn’t as big a handicap there.” The Sporting News, March 4, 1953.

6 Keegan’s seven shutouts equaled a Chiefs record set by Connie Murphy in 1889. The Sporting News, December 19, 1952.

7 Joe Garagiola once remarked about Lane: “He was a general manager who wasn’t afraid to trade; he was afraid not to. The roughest job on his club belonged to the guy who had to take the team picture.” Bob Vanderberg, Frantic Frank Lane, 4.

8 In The Sporting News, New York sportswriter Dan Daniel reported the White Sox had paid $40,000, and that Keegan was now listed as “voluntarily retired.” The Sporting News, May 20, 1953.

9 Holloman would make nine more starts with a 3-7 record over 65 1/3 innings pitched. His major league career ended when the Browns sold him to Toronto (Class AAA, International League) on July 23 that year. Retrosheet.org.

10 Not only did he smile. Keegan had a reputation as the “best dressed” and “most intelligent” player on the White Sox. Baseball-Library.com; The Sporting News, March 30, 1955.

11 Dean Stone relieved Keegan with Red Schoendienst on third and Al Dark on second. When Schoendienst was out trying to steal home, the inning was ended and gave Stone what may have been the easiest win in All-Star history. Baseball-Reference.com.

12 Boyd was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals on May 25, then traded the following season to Paul Richards’ Orioles where he played five more years. He hit over .300 in four of them, and enjoyed batting against Keegan, hitting .421 lifetime. Retrosheet.org; Fehler, 140.

13 Fehler, 140.

14 The Yankees, who finished second in 1954, had an interesting take on the Sox through the eyes of Yogi Berra. He told The Sporting News that August: “The White Sox don’t bother us too much because we have an idea their pitching will fade. Still, that Keegan can’t be a false alarmand them birds run! They dash here and they dash there, and they keep you on alert like you were fighting a bunch of mosquitoes.” The Sporting News, August 16, 1954.

15 Baseball statistical guru Bill James wrote an article, “Thirty-Three Rotations,” for his website listing his estimation of the top pitching rotations in major league history. The Chicago White Sox staff of 1954 --Keegan, Virgil Trucks, Jack Harshman, Billy Pierce, and Sandy Consuegra--are18th on James’s list, one slot below the 1954 Cleveland Indians staff of Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia, Art Houtteman, and Bob Feller. The ‘54 Sox group outranks such notable staffs as the 1966 Dodgers (Sandy Koufax, Claude Osteen, Don Sutton and Don Drysdale) and the four twenty-game winners anchoring the 1971 Baltimore Orioles (Jim Palmer, Pat Dobson, Dave McNally, and Mike Cuellar). James, “Thirty-Three Rotations,” BillJamesOnline, accessed April 1, 2014.

16 The Orioles and Richards reportedly backed off a trade of Keegan for outfielders of Johnnie Groth and Gene Woodling. The Sporting News, April 13, 1955.

17 Keegan did manage another decent year at the plate in 1955, with six singles in 18 at bats (.333). Baseball-Reference.com.

18 The White Sox did not have Triple-A minor league affiliation in 1955-56. At AA Memphis, Barry Latman was the best pitching prospect, and he was two years away from the majors at the time. Baseball-Reference.com

19 The White Sox scored five early runs in a 6-0 win. Keegan walked Lou Berberet on a 3-2 count in the fifth inning, then walked Faye Throneberry in the sixth. The no-hitter was the first for the White Sox since Bill Dietrich’s on June 1, 1937. Baseball-Reference.com; Richard C. Lindberg, Total White Sox, 458.

20 The Sporting News, August 28, 1957.

21 Fehler, 74.

22 Keegan was 40-36 over his career with a 3.66 ERA. He started 87 games and completed 29. His 233 walks and 198 strikeouts in 644 2/3 career innings are remarkable examples of pitching to contact.

23 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, June 22, 2001, 1D.

24 Robert Keegan Jr. was President and Chief Executive Officer of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company from July 1, 2003 through October 1, 2010.

25 Lois Keegan passed away on June 17, 2007.

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.