Ken Keltner was born on October 31, 1916, in Milwaukee. He attended Boys’ Technical High School but left before graduation in order to further his blossoming diamond career.
In 1932 the 15-year-old shortstop performed for the Gerber Morticians, a Midget League team composed of players under the age of 18. He played for Hebein Drugs in 1933 and in 1934 he had a .413 batting average for the Justrites as they captured the local Major A league pennant.
Not able to gain enough work on the diamond, Keltner also successfully competed on a 12-inch inseam, fast-pitch softball club. Displaying his big league potential in 1935, Ken hit .402 for Sanders Clothiers of the premier local amateur Major AA league while working as a truck driver.
The Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association, noticed the slugger with great reflexes in their own backyard and signed him to a 1936 contract and he was assigned to the Brewers’ Fieldale, Virginia farm club. He tore up the Class D Bi-State League with a .360 batting average. Named the Bi-State all-star third baseman, Ken proved more than ready to progress to his hometown in 1937.
Continuing his rapid ascent to the American League, the local boy made good with the Brewers’ with a .310 average and 27 home runs. Even though the youngster led the Association with 92 strikeouts, his powerful hitting and superb fielding at third made him a highly desirable prospect.
Many clubs coveted Ken, including the Indians, New York Yankees, and Pittsburgh Pirates, both Boston clubs, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Yankees offered more money, but the Indians could provide stronger athletes for 1938. During the 1937 campaign, the Tribe bought their new third baseman for six players. The Indians gave their future star his first big league at-bat in October.
The rookie enjoyed a sterling 1938 season, as he hit .276 with 26 homers. He improved his glove work to .974 in 1939, giving him the first of three (including 1941 and 1942) American League third base fielding titles. At the plate, the righthander produced career highs of .325 and 191 hits. In 1940 the talented Indian began his string of five consecutive All-Star Game appearances.
Ken met his date with baseball immortality in July 1941. Before the largest night crowd to that point in history, Joe DiMaggio attempted to extend his record 56-game hitting streak. Ken, unworried about DiMaggio bunting, was strategically stationed close to the third base line and deep to prevent doubles. Gold Glove backhanded stops of two hot grounders down the line and powerful throws enabled Ken to retire the Hall of Famer by a step in both the first and seventh innings. Only this contest prevented Joe D from extending his streak to 73, as he continued his torrid hitting for 16 more games.
With a .269 batting average, 23 home runs, and 84 RBIs, Ken turned in another solid campaign in 1941. In 1942 and 1943, the All Star’s power numbers slipped, however, his batting averages remained solid at .287 and .260 and he led the AL in the same four fielding categories in 1942 as in 1941.
By 1944, he climbed back up to 13 homers, a .295 average, and again sparkled at the hot corner as his assists, double plays, and total chances per game were best in the circuit.
Like many major leaguers, Ken spent time in the military, missing all of 1945. 1946 saw him get back to the All-Star Game even though his hitting slipped to .241. 1947 began an upward trend for his bat, as he improved to .257.
By 1948, he was ready for his career year, both individually as well as with his team. Appearing in his last All-Star contest, he finished in third place with an AL home run total of 31 and fifth place slugging average of .522 helping propel Cleveland to a World Series championship.
After a career year in 1948, it is shocking that 1949 became Ken’s last campaign in a Cleveland uniform. Due to a badly spiked lower leg, the 32-year-old appeared in only 80 games. A .232 average with eight homers prompted the Indians, his only major league club, to release him after the season.
The man with the smooth glove resurfaced with the Red Sox in 1950. Twenty-eight at-bats, with only eight games at third and one at first, concluded his major league career at only age 33. His last year of professional ball was 1951 in Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League.
Sales jobs with a hobby/bicycle wholesaler and a chemical company plus a brief 1960s restaurant stint at "Keltner’s Hob Nob" kept the affable ex-major leaguer working with people. He also scouted for the Indians and Red Sox.
The slick fielder was enshrined into numerous Halls of Fame including the Wisconsin Sports, Ohio Baseball, Cleveland Indian, and Wisconsin Old-Time Ballplayers.
Ken Keltner passed away after a heart attack, at age 75, on December 12, 1991, in New Berlin, Wisconsin.