Obituary: Joe Keough (1946-2019)

RIP to Joe Keough, who drove in the winning run of the first ever Royals game. The outfielder/first baseman, who had a 6-year career in the major leagues, died on September 9 in Miami after a brief illness. He was 73 years old. Keough played for the Oakland Athletics (1968), Kansas City Royals (1969-1972) and Chicago White Sox (1973). His brother Marty and nephew Matt also played in the major leagues.

Joe Keough was born in Pomona, Calif., on January 7, 1946. He attended high school at Pomona High and college at Mount San Antonio Junior College in Walnut, Calif. During the summer of 1965, he played for a team in Valentine, Neb., in the amateur Basin League. He hit .290 with 7 home runs there. He was drafted by the Kansas City A’s in the Round 2 of the 1965 Amateur Draft. Older brother Marty was already in the Reds organization by then.

“We consider Keough one of the best young hitting prospects in the country,” said the A’s West Coast scout Art Lilly.

Source: News Press, March 6, 1969.

Keough spent a little over two seasons in the minors before getting his first taste of the big leagues. In his first season, With the Burlington Bees in 1966, he hit a low .225 but slugged 14 home runs. He upped his homer total to 18 the following season with the Leesburg A’s, which led the Florida State League, and raised his batting average to .294. He also stole 22 bases and was named MVP of the league.

Keough started 1968 in Birmingham, playing in the Southern League. He hit .299 in 87 games and earned a call to the majors in August with the A’s, who by then had moved to Oakland. He got his career started with a bang. His first game was against the Yankees on August 7, 1968 as a pinch-hitter, and he slammed a home run off of Lindy McDaniel. The homer tied the score in game two of a double header, and Reggie Jackson singled home the winning run in the top of the 10th.

That blast made Keough the 37th MLB player to hit a home run in his first at-bat, and the 10th to accomplish the feat as a pinch-hitter. He hit .214 in 34 games for the rest of the season, with 1 more home run and 18 RBIs.

The Kansas City A’s rookie prospects included (left to right) Joe Keough, Bert Campaneris and Jim Holt. Source: Arizona Republic, November 8, 1967.

Though he came highly regarded by the A’s, Keough was left unprotected in the 1969 Expansion Draft that welcomed the Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals into the major leagues. The Royals took Keough in the fourth round. So Keough, a California native, was drafted by a team in Kansas City, came to the major leagues when that team moved to California, and was then selected by an expansion team from Kansas City. Clear? Clear.

Keough was actually the best hitter in the Royals 1969 Spring Training with a .350 batting average. He was left out of the Opening Day starting lineup, but he still ended up with the biggest hit of the day. The Twins and Royals fought to a 3-3 tie going into the bottom of the 12th inning. Kansas City, facing Joe Grzenda, loaded the bases with a hit, a wild pitch, a passed ball and a couple of intentional walks. Pinch-hitter Keough stepped in to face new reliever Dick Woodson and drilled the ball over the head of right fielder Tony Oliva for a 4-3 walk-off win.

“I was ready to swing at the first good pitch,” he told reporters afterwards. A few days after that, he got revenge on his old A’s team by picking up 5 hits against them, including a pair of doubles, in the first series between the former Kansas City and the present Kansas City teams.

Unfortunately for Keough, he went into a deep tailspin, at one point going hitless in 44 straight at-bats. He and his .134 batting average were sent to AAA Omaha on May 28. He came back later in the season to raise his average up to .187 by the end of the year.

Keough’s best season was in 1970, when he slashed .322/.396/.443 and hit his first 4 Royal home runs. The first two came off the Tigers Mickey Lolich, albeit about 10 days apart. He became a regular on May 8, about the time of that second home run, when Lou Piniella was injured. He hit .338 until June 28 against the Angels. Keough slid into home plate awkwardly and suffered a dislocated right ankle and a broken leg. He had to be carried off the field on a stretcher and was lost for the rest of the season. He never really regained his form after that.

The Royals celebrate their first franchise win on a walk-off single by Joe Keough. From left to right: winning pitcher Moe Drabowsky, Keough, Jackie Hernandez, Roger Nelson and Ed Kirkpatrick.

Keough came back in 1971 and played in 110 games for the Royals, but he hit just .248. His OPS dropped from .839 in 1970 to .641 in ’71. The Royals relegated him to primarily a defensive replacement role in 1972, and he had 14 hits in 64 at-bats. He was traded to the White Sox on February 1, 1973 for Jim Lyttle.

Keough’s tenure with the White Sox consisted of 4 games as a pinch-runner and one as a pinch-hitter. He hit into a double play in his only at-bat with the team, and he spent the rest of the season with the team’s AAA affiliate in Iowa.

In his six seasons in the minors, Keough had a slash line of .246/.317/.319, with 212 hits in 332 games. He hit 9 home runs, drove in 81 runs and scored 95 times. The majority of his time in the field was spent in right field (134 games), but he also played 60 games in left, 36 in center and 20 at first base.

After baseball, Keough held marketing and real estate development positions with multiple corporations, including 7-Eleven, Burger King, Payless Shoe Source, Fotomat and EyeMasters.

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