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September 11, 1891: Henry Killeen

We're really digging deep here for Henry Killeen, who made his one-and-only major league appearance 128 years ago today. Born before the formation of the National League and one year after the American Association formed, Killeen got his chance at just 19 years old with the Cleveland Spiders of the National League. It's easy to see why the Spiders gave him his shot.

In a stunning 390 innings pitching for Ottawa Modocs (Ottawa, IL) of the Illinois-Iowa League, he posted an incredible 1.34 ERA. His pint-sized ERA is even more impressive given he walked nearly twice as many batters as he struck out in those 390 innings (157 vs. 81). Nonetheless, he was handed the ball for the Spiders as they prepared to square off with the New York Giants as the Polo Grounds was wrapping up its very first season as home to Giants baseball.

Killeen was given an incredibly long leash. He struggled against the National League's third place team, allowing 11 hits and eight runs (only six earned). Following the pattern he had set in the minor leagues that year, he walked eight batters and struck out just three. Interestingly, he threw an eight-inning complete game, a rarity as the losing pitcher, who only had to face the opposing lineup in eight frames, because his team had failed to at least tie the game in the top of the ninth inning.

Unlike many in the late 19th and early 20th century, Killeen did not consider his professional baseball career over when he was forced to go back down to the minor leagues after his one appearance, which was an 8-2 victory for the Giants. No, he ended up pitching in the minor leagues up until the dawn of the new century. While he sat out the 1892 season, he pitched for Class-B Charleston in 1893 and then for three different Wisconsin League teams in 1894.

He pitched in one game for the Syracuse Stars of the Eastern League in 1895 and followed that up with 269.1 innings with Class-B Portland of the New England League in 1896. That seemed to mark the end of his professional playing career as he didn't appear in a game in 1897 or 1898, but he suddenly re-emerged in 1899 with the Class-F Derby Lushers, where he pitched in just 12 games before finally calling it quits for good.

In an era where most ballplayers moved on and looked for other things to do once it was clear their big-league dream was gone, Killeen held on for dear life and you have to respect that. It makes him a quintessential member of the "cup of coffee club".


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