SABR

Marty Keough

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Marty Keough came from a family with a deep sports tradition that so far encompasses four generations and both genders. His father was Cecil D. “Zeke” Keough, a star right-hander at the University of California at Berkeley. Marty said, “He beat USC, I think, two or three times in one year. That was his claim to fame. The Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League wanted to sign him but he did not want to be sent out, so he told them to forget it.”1

Marty’s mother, Eleanor, played softball in Glendora, California, “way back when they had very good women’s softball teams.” One of her teammates was Bertha Ragan Tickey, inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame in 1972. Marty and his brothers, Tom and Joe, were all raised in Pomona, but Marty was born on April 14, 1934, in Oakland, while his father was a student at Cal.

Eleanor Keough was a homemaker but also worked in the orange-packing plants in the area. Zeke chose not to pursue a professional career in sports and the family returned to Pomona, where both parents encouraged their sons at athletics.

“When we were kids, we were brought up watching [our father] play … overhand softball, underhand softball…. Since he worked for the Water Department, he had the freedom and probably appeared at almost every ballgame. He was very supportive, and my mother was a great athlete, too, so that’s all we did,” Marty remembered with a laugh. Both parents are members of the Chaffey College Athletic Hall of Fame, both inducted in its 1995 inaugural year.

Marty had an older brother, Tom, who played baseball, if only briefly. Signed by the Red Sox, he got in 11 at-bats in eight games for the 1954 San Jose Red Sox, but then decided to pack it in.2 Joe Keough, 11 years younger than Marty, was a second-round draft pick of the Kansas City Athletics in 1965 and played parts of six seasons in the majors, at outfield and first base, leaving the game with a .246 major-league career average

Even before high school, Marty played both American Legion and some semipro ball in an advanced league based in San Bernardino. An early mention of Marty Keough appeared in the Los Angeles Times of September 23, 1950. Pomona pounded Bonita, 27-0, and quarterback Keough kicked three conversions and made a 40-yard touchdown run. He was the leading scorer in the 20-30 Club Invitational Basketball Tournament held in Chino; playing for Pomona as a forward, Keough topped all scorers with 35 points.

The following spring, Pomona won the Citrus Belt title for his school by beating San Bernardino, 15-2. Keough threw a three-hitter while collecting three hits – one of them a “tremendous 400-foot homer.”3 He was the first baseman on the All-Southern California interscholastic team.

In 1951, Pomona concluded its first undefeated football season, and Braven Dyer noted in the Los Angeles Times, “Pomona is a one-man team, so my spies report, but that loner, Marty Keough, is a ball of fire.” Playing left halfback in the CIF semifinals, he ran for three touchdowns in a 27-6 rout at Santa Monica. With just seconds to play, “Keough was roughed” and players and some 500 fans joined in a “fist-tossing fracas.” Police restored order, and no one was hurt. The “sturdy halfback” was 5-feet-10, 165 pounds at the time. His major-league playing weight was 180 and he stood an even 6 feet tall.4

One week later, on December 14, 1951, Keough earned a three-column headline, MARTY KEOUGH LEADS POMONA TO SOUTHLAND PREP GRID CROWN. The Pomona Red Devils beat Monrovia, 26-13, in front of an overflow crowd of 17,500. On Christmas Day, the Times reported that “Marvelous Marty” had been selected as Player of the Year, thanks to the undefeated season and his 2,789 yards gained. He also averaged 44½ yards per punt, better than any college kicker in the nation. He had made the interscholastic first team in three sports as a junior in high school – football, basketball, and baseball.

Keough batted .525 in his senior year for Pomona coach Stan Acres. A “Marty Keough Day” was held on May 9, his last home game. He pitched a two-hitter and was 5-for-6 at the plate – a home run, a triple, and three singles. The Times acknowledged that this would boost the price of any signing, adding, “And ’tis said the Yankees will top any figure.” Keough finished the season 6-1. He was rated the No. 1 schoolboy prospect on the West Coast.

Six days after his June 13 graduation, despite offers in hand from both the Dodgers and the White Sox, and after declining an offer of $65,000 from Branch Rickey, then the Pirates’ general manager, it was the Red Sox who made Keough the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse. “The Red Sox knew I wanted to play football at UCLA so finally they asked me how much it would cost to sign me.”5 He signed in his home with Boston Red Sox scout Ted McGrew, for $100,000.

Keough had been recommended by Red Sox area scout Tom Downey, who joined McGrew at the signing. San Francisco sportswriter Jack McDonald wrote a few years later, “The competition among major clubs to get him is said to have been the greatest in the history of baseball in California.”6 The bonus the Red Sox gave Keough included an automobile for him and another for his family, a paid-up life insurance policy, the cost of five years of college, and guaranteed salary levels in the minor leagues, and the majors if he made the parent team. “I had every intention of getting my college degree and the Red Sox even paid for four years at Southern Cal but after 2½ years I had to give up college.”7 When pitcher Frank Sullivan heard of the deal Marty got, he cracked, “What, no cabin cruiser?”8

Keough was one of 17 high-school and college players signed by Boston in a three-week burst under the aegis of farm director Johnny Murphy. The same day they signed Marty, the Red Sox gave pitcher Frank Baumann a reported $125,000. Catcher Haywood Sullivan and infielder Don Buddin were also signed in this same period.

Keough was assigned to the San Jose Red Sox, listed as an outfielder/pitcher with the Class C California League team. The San Jose team was nicknamed the Little Millionaires.9 Money aside, Marty had a good season at San Jose. By mid-August, The Sporting News ran a photograph of him labeled “Meteoric Marty,” dubbing San Jose’s new right fielder a “flash on the bases,” adding, “He draws fans at San Jose just to see him run.”  Manager Red Marion called Keough the best young baserunner he’d ever seen. Scoring from first base on a single to right field against Bakersfield was one thing, but there was also the time he scored from second base as Modesto’s shortstop fielded a routine grounder and flipped the ball to his second baseman to retire the oncoming runner, who’d been on first. “He has improved steadily at the plate,” the paper noted.10 By year’s end, Keough had a half-season under his belt and a .289 average in 70 games. Keough played the full 1953 season at San Jose, hitting .330. He hit four homers, and saw his team win the league playoffs.

Keough trained with the Louisville Colonels in 1954 in Deland, Florida, and in April manager Pinky Higgins called him the “biggest surprise” of the Colonels’ spring training camp. He was improving at the plate and Higgins believed him a sure bet for Triple-A, though he took some credit for himself when talking to sportswriter Tommy Fitzgerald in late April. The writer said that when he’d first seen Keough, Higgins “turned away, deeply disappointed. The kid batted from an awkward crouch, as if he was trying to hit while sitting in a rocking chair. In the field he was slow in getting a jump on the ball.” Higgins started talking with him, and told Fitzgerald that Keough had bought a book on how to play and was following its lessons. Higgins told him to go back to his natural style, and the youngster began to blossom. Higgins also urged him to pull the ball while he was at the plate, hitting to right field. Defensively, he began to play better, tracking down balls and adopting a different throwing style – Higgins said he “throws more like a catcher now. … I don’t see how he can miss.”  Keough won the starting slot in center field for the Colonels.11

Keough batted a club-leading .292 for the Colonels in 1954, and led all outfielders in the American Association All-Star balloting. He was described as the best center fielder in Louisville history. Voted the fastest runner in the league by the managers, he even pulled off a successful steal of home against fastballer Herb Score on July 30. His speed also factored in his inside-the-park three-run homer in the eighth inning of a playoff game against Indianapolis. The rookie center fielder starred in the Little World Series, hitting .478, with five doubles and a homer, driving in four runs. Within 48 hours of winning the Series, Higgins was promoted to become field manager for the Boston Red Sox, succeeding Lou Boudreau.  

Immediately after the playoff victory, on the very evening that the Colonels returned to Louisville from Syracuse, October 10, Keough married Sharon Lee Davis. Their son Matt was born nine months later.

There wasn’t immediate room for Keough in center with the Red Sox, who had Jimmy Piersall there and Jackie Jensen in right, and a promotion for Keough probably would have been premature. A few weeks after the ’54 season had ended, Higgins declared, “He really came fast last year. When the season opened at Louisville, it seemed as if it might be too fast for him, but he proved at once that he belonged in Triple-A company. He’s a real fine prospect.”12

Hy Hurwitz reported that the Sox front office “was tossed into a fright” when Keough’s name mistakenly turned up on a list of players subject to draft off the Louisville roster. Farm director Johnny Murphy and his assistant, Ed Kenney, discovered the error, let GM Joe Cronin know, and Cronin wired Commissioner Ford Frick to correct the error.13

In March 1955, Keough let the team know he had been classified 1-A by his draft board and was probably destined to be taken into the Army. It never came to pass, though, and he was an All-Star once again in center, leading the American Association in triples for the second year in a row, in good part due to his speed.. Marty finished the season hitting .303 with increased power evidenced by his 12 home runs. On October 13, the Red Sox purchased his contract from Louisville.

In 1956 the Red Sox ran a three-week rookie school in Sarasota, Florida, prior to spring training, and Keough impressed many, but where he could possibly fit in, with Ted Williams, Piersall, and Jensen covering the outfield, remained a good question, and trying to take Piersall’s spot only spurred Piersall to play better – it was a tough outfield to crack. “He can play in the American League right now,” Piersall told Ed Rumill of the Christian Science Monitor. “But I was here first. When he gets a little more experience, he’ll be great. But this is my job until somebody takes it away from me, and I don’t think anybody is going to do it this spring.”14 Piersall followed the spring with his best year in major-league ball. Marty showed enough that he opened the season with the Boston club.

At Yankee Stadium on April 21, Marty was sent up to pinch-hit for catcher Sammy White with the bases loaded and one out. He grounded out to the shortstop, but the run scored – his first RBI. The next day he popped up to short in a pinch-hit reprise, and a few days later he drew a base on balls in his third pinch-hit cameo. He was optioned to the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals on May 4. That was it in the majors for a long time, until September 15, 1957, the next season, when he was recalled and appeared in both halves of a doubleheader against Detroit. It wasn’t until his 10th game that he secured his first big-league hit, a single against Yankees starter Bob Turley on the 27th. It was the only hit he had in his first 19 at-bats, and he’d have to wait until 1958 to get another.

The ’56 Sox were well set in the outfield, and Keough was competing with some other talented outfielders in Faye Throneberry and Gene Stephens. The Washington Post’s Bob Addie opined that any of the three of them could be a regular on almost any club but the Red Sox and the Yankees. Marty’s season was cut short in early August when he chipped an ankle bone in Portland and was out for the duration. He was leading the Seals in hitting with a .315 average at the time.

He continued to impress on his return in 1957, still just 21 years old when he was optioned out again in early April. Seals manager Joe Gordon saw Keough as major-league caliber: “It’s not for me to say he should be in the Red Sox outfield, but Marty could help a number of major-league clubs right now, as a leadoff man.”15 His fielding continued to improve. San Francisco writer Jack McDonald remembered him as “a somewhat inept wanderer in the outfield, despite his great speed” who had become a “polished workman.” His running, Gordon felt, appeared effortless. “He floats. Other outfielders tell me they can’t even hear him run. He just seems to float over the top of the grass and you can’t hear him coming.” Keough praised Gordon as the kind of manager who was “always kind of pushing you”16

On June 14 a freak injury threatened to put a crimp in Keough’s year, when he was spiked in the hand by an umpire as he tried to steal. Despite eight cuts, he was able to continue, and Marty was voted by fans to the Coast League’s All-Star team. He appeared in nine Red Sox games in September, with one hit in 17 at-bats.

During the offseason, starting in October 1957, Keough played for Caguas in the Puerto Rican League. He hoped it would help him in 1958. “I’ve always been a slow starter in the spring,” he explained in late March of ’58. “Maybe winter ball will help me get going.”17

That second major-league hit finally came in New York on April 21, 1958, a leadoff single. The following day, his fourth-inning double drove in two runs and tied the score. In Boston on June 6, Keough’s pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth gave the Red Sox a 3-1 lead over the White Sox and won the ballgame. Marty’s first homer came on the 18th, another leadoff hit and the first of three hits on the day, with a single and a triple mixed in, driving in three runs, and earning him an eight-column headline: MARTY KEOUGH MAKES SPECTACULAR DEBUT AS REPLACEMENT FOR JIM PIERSALL. The eighth-inning triple was the game-winner.18

Gene Stephens was back as the fourth outfielder in 1958, but Keough was kept on as well and moved his family into a home in Milton, Massachusetts. Daughter Staci-Linn was born in November 1958. Sharon herself had been a softball star in high school, and one of the cheerleaders for a school that was Pomona’s rival, according to a profile by Jenny Nourse in the March 18, 1959, Hartford Courant. The journalist wrote, “It’s not an uncommon sight to see Marty, Sharon, and Matt engaged in a fast game of catch.” [Matt’s proud mother added, “He can hit a ball better than any of us.”] Sharon and Marty later had two other daughters, Raeini and Dale Lee. Dale Lee was another one of the family athletes, Marty later said, “She played professional volleyball in Italy, and played professional beach volleyball in the States. Her daughter [Kiley] is just graduating as a senior; she was on the volleyball team at the University of Texas.”19

Keough stayed with the Sox all season long in 1958, appearing in 68 games and accumulating 118 at-bats with a .220 average. In 1959 the Sox trained in Scottsdale, Arizona. Keough and Gene Stephens both survived spring-training trade rumors and it was Piersall who was packed off to Cleveland for Vic Wertz and Gary Geiger. Keough started most of the games from early May through July; he played in 96 games and hit .243, driving in 27 runs and hitting seven homers. He made just one outfield error in 1958 and one more in 1959.

All told, Keough didn’t get as much work in 1960 for the Red Sox – Vic Wertz handled first base, with Ray Boone to spell him. On June 13, 1960, just two days before the trading deadline, the Red Sox sent Keough and pitcher Ted Bowsfield to Cleveland for catcher Russ Nixon and outfielder Carroll Hardy. Marty was hitting .248 for the Red Sox at the time of the trade; by the time the season was over, he had hit .248 for the Indians.

With Piersall having a good season in center and Tito Francona and Harvey Kuenn ensconced in the outfield as well, the following spring Keough summarized, “You might say I had a very restful season.”20 In the December expansion draft, he was selected by the Washington Senators, for whom he got a lot of work – at all three outfield positions. He aggregated 390 at-bats in 135 games, hitting .249, a career high to that point, with 18 doubles, nine triples, nine home runs, and 34 runs batted in. Perhaps the high point of his season was the game-winning homer he hit over the right-field fence with two outs in the bottom of the 15th inning to give Washington a 4-3 win over the Chicago White Sox on June 10.

On December 15, 1961, Keough was swapped to Cincinnati with pitcher Johnny Klippstein for catcher Bob Schmidt and pitcher Dave Stenhouse. Washington really wanted Schmidt; Shirley Povich wrote that the deal was “dictated by the Washington club’s panic over its need for more catching.”21 Keough was the main chip they cashed in to get Schmidt, but he was someone the Reds really had their eyes on, seeking a left-handed batter who could run and throw. Keough had performed well enough for Washington, which had a .260 team batting average, though he was clearly their fourth outfielder.

Though he was still only 27, Keough had already prepared another career track, and served as vice president of an investment company in California. Some of that college education provided by the Red Sox might have been paying off. “We don’t talk about that,” he said in 2009 when asked about the investment company.

Keough put in four seasons for the Reds. His best was 1962 (.278 in 230 at-bats), but he never served as a frontline starter. The Associated Press wrote that year that he had been “considered just another utility ballplayer when acquired last winter in a routine deal,” but he’d become one of (manager Fred) Hutchinson’s “prize workmen.” He was at the time batting .318, with 31 RBIs in 107 at-bats, able to begin to get some steady work after center fielder Vada Pinson suffered an injury, then alternating duty with Gordy Coleman at first base. Marty was described as “a quiet fellow with a pleasant smile to match his good manners,” and told an AP writer that he preferred outfield, but enjoyed playing first, too.22

He was hitting well in the pinch, too, and his pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the ninth beat the New York Mets on July 22. On August 21, he hit a two-run inside-the-park home run that provided all the scoring in a 2-0 win over the Chicago Cubs.

In 1963 Keough dropped off sharply, appearing in 95 games (only 41 as a starter) and hitting just .227. His home run on September 3 against the Mets was the game-winning hit, and he drove in another two runs to cement the victory. He got more work in 1964, up to 276 at-bats, and recovered his stroke (he tied his 1961 total with nine homers), batting .257. He won two games in June with a pinch single on June 9 and an 11th-inning homer off Gaylord Perry on the 23rd.

In 1965, Keough was used only infrequently, and managed just a .116 average (5-for-43). With an outfield of Pinson, Frank Robinson, and Tommy Harper, every one of whom played 156 or more games, there was little room for Keough, and Tony Perez and Gordy Coleman covered first base.

Keough no longer figured in Cincinnati’s plans, and he was sold to the Atlanta Braves on April 4, 1966. Atlanta GM John McHale was looking for left-handed pinch-hitting and thought Marty might fit the bill. He got in a little work for the Braves, but only one base hit in 17 at-bats in 17 games. On May 29, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for John Herrnstein. Marty had suffered a partially collapsed lung four days before the trade, but was reported fully recovered when he caught up with the Cubs on the 31st. It was quick repair work. He’d felt sharp chest pains while sitting in the visitors dugout in Cincinnati on the 25th, had surgery at Christ Hospital “to remove air around the lung,” and six days later linked up with his new team, on the road in Pittsburgh.23

With the Cubs, Marty saw duty in 33 games, but garnered only 26 at-bats. He collected his final six major-league hits with the Cubs and added five more RBIs. Perhaps his last big-league headline read KEOUGH PINCH HIT CRUCIAL IN 9-5 TRIUMPH. It was in the Chicago Tribune, recounting the June 29, 1966, game against the Braves in Atlanta, though Marty later drove in three runs in pinch-hitting roles. When released by the Cubs on October 13, he held a .242 lifetime batting average, with 43 homers and 176 runs batted in. He’d played in 841 major-league games.

In 1967, Marty played for the PCL San Diego Padres, who won the Eastern Division of the league. He hit .268 with 13 home runs and 49 RBIs. The next year, Marty went to Japan to play for the Nankei Hawks in Osaka. What was it like for Marty? “One year for me was plenty.”24

In November 1968, Marty ended his playing days and signed on as a scout for the new San Diego Padres, a 1969 expansion team in the National League. “Bob Fontaine was the scouting director for the new ballclub,” Marty said. “He and I were friends and he asked me if I wanted to think about scouting.” Marty was 35; his territory was Northern and Central California, Nevada, and Utah. In 1970 he worked as field manager for the Class A Tri-Cities (Washington) Padres in the six-team Northwest League.

A 1973 story in the Los Angeles Times revealed that Marty had found a prospect in his own backyard – literally. After looking over all the amateur high-school and college players that Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico had to offer, he rated one prospect highest of all the 70 players he wrote up: “If I had to pin my job on one player I saw this spring making it to the major leagues, it would be Matt.”25 Matt Keough, that is – Marty’s own 18-year-old son, a pitcher/infielder/outfielder for Corona del Mar High School. Matt was drafted by Oakland in the seventh round of the draft. “Oakland likes him as a third baseman, but I think he’s going to become a pitcher,” Marty said. “If it’d been my decision alone, the Padres would’ve drafted him.” Matt pitched nine seasons in the majors, primarily for Oakland but also for the Yankees, Cardinals, Cubs, and Astros. And the story continues: Matt’s son Shane was a 36th-round “draft-and-follow” pick in the 2005 draft and a minor-league outfield prospect in the Oakland organization into 2010.

Marty became director of West Coast scouting for the Padres in 1975. He scouted for the Padres through 1976, then three years for the Los Angeles Dodgers (1977-79), and then went to the St. Louis Cardinals. He worked as a regular scout through 1996, then became the Cards’ national cross-checker in 1997 and 1998. He worked as a special- assignment scout in 1999 and 2000, and was a pro scout from 2001 through the end of 2008. Beginning in 2009 he became a part-time scout, doing professional scouting in his home state of Arizona, working during spring training, the Arizona Fall League, and following the Diamondbacks to better keep the Cardinals informed.

 

Author's note

Thanks to Jim Sandoval.

 

Notes

1 Marty Keough, interview, January 5, 2009. All quotations attributed to him are from this interview unless otherwise noted.

2 The Sporting News, May 25, 1968 and June 13, 1970.

3 Los Angeles Times, May 12, 1951.

4 Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1951.

5 Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1973.

6 The Sporting News, June 5, 1957.

7 Les Biederman, clip from Keough’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Marty went to Mount San Antonio Junior College for two years and one semester at USC, taking some general business courses in the offseasons but never did complete his degree.

8 Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 1956.

9 The Sporting News, August 20, 1952. Marty told Les Beiderman, “. . . We had so many bonus boys (at San Jose), everybody called us the ‘Gold Sox.’ We could’ve fielded an entire team of big bonus babies and still had a few pitchers in reserve. The other teams and the fans kidded us plenty. They wanted to know if we traveled in a Brinks truck and egged us on to have the bases painted with dollar signs.”

10 Frank McGee, The Sporting News, August 20, 1952.

11 The Sporting News, April 28, 1954.

12 The Sporting News, November 3, 1954.

13 The Sporting News, November 24, 1954.

14 Christian Science Monitor, April 11, 1956.

15 The Sporting News, June 5, 1957.

16 Ibid.   

17 Christian Science Monitor, March 24, 1958.

18 Christian Science Monitor, June 19, 1958.

19 Keough.

20 The Sporting News, March 6, 1961.

21 Washington Post. December 17, 1961.

22 Hartford Courant, July 6, 1962.

23 The Sporting News, June 11, 1966.

24 Keough.

25 Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1973.

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