Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday School: History Lesson 50

Bill Killefer was a catcher for the Phillies from 1911-1917. Killefer's excellent defense kept him employed in the Major Leagues for over a decade. He led the league in fielding percentage four times. Killefer took over as the Phillies' everyday catcher in 1912 and quickly built a reputation for gunning down opposing baserunners. In 1913, he played 120 games and threw out 130 baserunners.

At the plate, Killefer provided minimal offensive pop. During his time with the Phillies, his batting average was .244 or lower in every season except one. In his 13 combined years in the Majors, he hit a grand total of 4 homers and drove in more than 30 runs in a season only once. To top that off, Killefer acquired the nickname "Reindeer Bill" for his lack of speed on the bases.

Part of the Phillies' 1915 pennant winning team, it was Killefer's superb handling of the Phils' pitching staff that enhanced his value. He became Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander's favorite catcher. Killefer was often credited with tutoring Alexander's development. The two players grew so tight that they were even traded together to the Cubs after the 1917 season.

1917 was, in fact, Killefer's best offensive season. In 125 games, he batted .274, drove in 31 runs and reached a single season career high with 112 hits.

With Chicago, Killefer won a second NL pennant the following season. In 1921, Killefer began pulling double duty when he was named manager of the Cubs. It was his last season as a player. He stayed on as manager of the Cubs for three more seasons. "Reindeer Bill" went on to manage the lowly St. Louis Browns in the 1930's, and would coach in the Majors after that as well.

Bill's brother Wade also played in the Majors.

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