Keefe was one of the iron-armed marvels of 19th-century baseball. He flourished in the days of two- or four-man pitching staffs, and threw mostly from 50′, although his rookie year was the last at 45′ and his final one the first at 60’6″. Scarcely a season went by without an impressive, league-leading performance in one statistical category or another. In 1880, though pitching only 12 games for Troy (NY), he had an ERA of 0.86. In 1883, when the franchise collapsed and was moved to New York as Jim Mutrie‘s Metropolitans, he pitched 68 complete games in 68 starts for a total of 619 innings, won 41 and struck out 361. On July 4, he won a doubleheader against Columbus (OH), throwing a one-hitter in the morning game, a two-hitter after lunch. Two years later, John B. Day, who owned both the Mets and the Giants, shifted Keefe and manager Mutrie to the National League team. Keefe’s colleagues were Buck Ewing, Monte Ward, and Roger Connor, as well as his Troy pitching mate, Mickey Welch.
Shoulder-high overhand pitching was now permitted and coming into vogue. Keefe had his doubts about the effectiveness of full overhand pitching, but was strong for fundamentals, first of all control. He threw a fastball, curve, and a change-up. In 1886 Keefe had 62 complete games and won 42, his career high, although 1888, when the Giants achieved their first pennant, was his finest season. He led the league in seven categories: 51 complete games, 35 victories (for a winning percentage of .745), a 1.74 ERA, 333 strikeouts, eight shutouts, and the fewest average hits per nine innings (6.55). Nineteen of his wins were consecutive, a record that would stand for 24 years. In postseason play he scored four more over the St. Louis Browns of the American Association. Keefe even designed and sold to the Giants their famous “funeral” uniforms of that year, all-black with “New York” in white letters across the shirt front.
His 1889 contract paid him $4,500, more than any other Giant. Yet for all his star status, Keefe fought actively for ballplayers’ welfare. He helped his brother-in-law Monte Ward to establish the Players League and served as secretary for the Brotherhood. He protested player salary ceilings and was among those who won court tests of the reserve clause. He was a quiet, gentle man. In 1887 he had a nervous breakdown after skulling a batter with a fastball.
With the collapse of the Brotherhood, he signed with the Phillies for his final three years, enjoying an outfield of Ed Delahanty, Billy Hamilton, and Sam Thompson behind him. Finished as a player after 1893, he umpired in the National League for two years, then left the game for the real-estate business and occasional coaching duties at Harvard, Princeton, and Tufts. (ADS)