Confession: As a boy, I confused George Kell with Ken Keltner all of the time.
It's something one feels guilt over especially on a day when the sad news comes that Kell has died at age 86.
It's not all my fault, confusing Kell (right) and Keltner. Both were third basemen and each was a multiple All-Star who had somewhat parallel careers decades before I was born. Similar last names, of course. Prominent in Detroit (Kell) and Cleveland (Keltner), a couple of rust-belt cities that, honestly, kind of blur together for a 10-year-old in Chicago.
A 10-time All-Star and one of 13 third basemen with a Cooperstown plaque, Kell edged Ted Williams for the 1949 AL batting crown .34291 to .34276. Williams would have won the Triple Crown otherwise.
Kell also spent 1959-1996, except for '64, broadcasting games mostly on TV for the Tigers. Other than coming across his career in a baseball encyclopedia, that's how I knew of Kell. When the Tigers would come to Comiskey Park, the scoreboard always would welcome Kell from the TV side and Ernie Harwell from radio.
On this note, sort of, Ian Casselberry (still has a great second baseman's name) wrote a touching memoir of Kell over at Bless You Boys. To Ian, Kell is even cooler than Harwell. Whoa.
Also required reading is the most recent big feature the Detroit Free Press did on Kell in 2006. Bill Dow did a great job, especially if you're only semi-familiar with Kell's life.
Let us not forget Keltner, the bane of my Kell understanding (and vice versa). Now that both are gone (Keltner died in 1991), it's time to put my confusion to rest.
Ken Keltner was born six years before Kell and was the AL's starting All-Star third baseball for five seasons ('42-'44, '46, '48) before Kell more or less inherited the job. Keltner made the All-Star team seven times in 11 seasons.
Keltner hit for more power than Kell (.441 slugging, compared to .414) and might have been a better defensive player, despite Kell's reputation and accomplishments. Keltner's most famous moment is robbing Joe DiMaggio twice to help end to his 56-game hitting streak in 1941.
Funny thing: my Indians announcer of memory was Herb Score and never Ken Keltner — despite an alliterate name that seemed created for the medium. Despite Kell's broadcasting career being an obvious difference, I still struggled to make the full connection.
Also unlike Kell, Keltner is not a Hall of Famer, though Bill James tried to make a push by designing the Keltner List, a series of questions used to determine whether a player is deserving of election.
Kell was inducted in 1983, the same year as Brooks Robinson, who replaced him in the starting lineup at third base in Baltimore 25 years before.
Keltner's post-baseball life was obscure by comparison. But hey, at least someone confused him for a Hall of Famer.