Robert M. Keating, Inventor

This article was written by Daniel Ginsburg

This article was published in 1982 Baseball Research Journal

One of the most fascinating aspects about the Study of baseball history is the diverse group of people who have played the game. Professional baseball has consisted of illiterates, criminals, deadbeats, doctors, lawyers, professionals, and everything in between. From Ron LeFlore, a tough kid from the ghetto who went from prison to baseball, to Wes Parker, a well-educated member of an upper-class family, the history of professional baseball holds numerous unique and interesting stories of the lives of its players.

One of the more interesting stories is that of a little known player, Robert M. Keating. Keating, who for years was listed in the record books as Edward Keating, was a left-hander who pitched one game for Baltimore in the American Association in 1887. He lost the game, giving up eleven runs in nine innings, and then disappeared from the major league baseball scene.

In 1968, while working on some unrelated research, the late Lee Allen came across the fact that it was Keating who invented the rubber home plate. In baseball’s early days, home plate had been made out of iron, stone, or wood. These hard surfaces resulted in a number of injuries, and, in 1886, Keating invented a two-part home plate made of rubber, which he patented in 1887. Since Keating was believed to have come from Pittsburgh, this writer’s home at the time, Allen gave me the assignment of learning more about Keating.

As it turned out, the elusive Keating was not from Pittsburgh at all, but was born and died in Springfield, Mass. It also turned out that the fact that Keating invented home plate was no fluke, since he was both a prolific and talented inventor.

Robert M. Keating was born on September 22, 1862, the son of Irish immigrants. After making a name for himself as an amateur pitcher in the Springfield area, he signed with Washington in the National League in 1887, but was released without appearing in a game. He then signed with Baltimore, but an arm injury soon ended his baseball career.

Keating’s career as an inventor began in 1886. His first inventions were various shaving devices, early forms of the safety razor. He sold one of his patents for $250, and then expanded his horizons.

Keating’s next area of work was the fledgling mechanical transportation field. He invented one of the early low wheel bicycles, the type in use today. He also invented the first bicycle wheel to use the criss-crossing spokes still in use today. He then turned to motorcycles, and came up with his most famous invention. Keating’s motorcycle later gained fame as the Indy model, America’s first truly popular motorcycle. In 1902, Keating organized the R. M. Keating Company, which was based in Portland, Maine. He also manufactured bicycles in Springfield and in Middletown, Conn.

Among Keating’s later inventions were arm chairs, rotating lunchroom stools, and various types of flushing valves including those used in “water closets.” He organized his own company to manufacture the valves, the Keating Valve Company. After his death in Springfield on January 19, 1922, the company was sold to a large firm based in Waterbury, Conn. He had never married.

In all, Keating held over 40 patents at the time of his death. He made a good deal of money on a few of them, and some became famous. He was one of the early examples of a player who made a significant mark on society after leaving the game. In fact, his obituary in the Springfield newspaper made no reference to his early baseball activities.