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Where Are They Now: Rogers McKee

Where Are They Now: Rogers McKee

Sixty-nine years ago last month, Rogers McKee did something special, something that no one else has done in the modern era of major league baseball.

A left-handed pitcher, McKee beat the Pittsburgh Pirates on Oct. 3 -- the last day of the 1943 season -- in the second game of a doubleheader. His pitching line: nine innings, five hits, three runs, five walks, one strikeout and two wild pitches.

It was his only decision in a five-game big league career, but that's been done many times.

What separates him from thousands of other pitchers is that he is the youngest pitcher to win a game. He was 17 years and seven days old when he took the mound at Forbes Field.

The feat isn't recognized in record books or Phillies archives. McKee, now 86, wasn't even aware of it.

"About 10 years ago, a fan from the state of New York sent me a letter asking for an autograph," said McKee, a resident of Shelby, N.C. "The letter said, 'By the way, you are the youngest pitcher to win a game in the 20th century.' I hadn't thought about it."

The Phillies were notified of the feat by a friend of McKee's in January of 2009. Unable to locate any information, the club turned to the research department at the Baseball Hall of Fame library in Cooperstown, N.Y. Freddy Berowski, a research associate, confirmed the fact after some digging.

"He is the youngest to win a game in the modern era, and second youngest in Major League history," Berowski said. "Willie McGill, age 16, won 11 games in 1890. The only possible person who could have been younger is Ed Knouff, who pitched in 1885. His exact birth date is unknown."

So, there you have it. McKee stands alone, and very few people knew. Imagine if that happened in today's world of multimedia outlets. Everybody would be aware.

McKee was an outstanding high school and American Legion (Post 82) pitcher in Shelby.

"We won the legion state championship in 1942," McKee said. "We were eliminated in the semifinal round the following summer. That night, Cy Morgan, a Phillies scout, wanted to see my dad and me. We met at a hotel in town.

"He offered $3,000 to sign with the Phillies. When he said I would report right away to Philadelphia, pitch some BP, perhaps an exhibition game and make the final road trip, that was the selling point."

McKee's debut came on Aug. 18 when he was 16 years of age at Shibe Park, when he threw three relief innings and gave up three runs. He turned 17 on Sept. 16 and won his historic game 17 days later, a game that took an hour and 48 minutes.

Because of World War II, big league clubs didn't hold spring training in the south. "We had spring training in Wilmington, Del., in 1944," said McKee. "It was cold and there was snow on the ground. We worked out every day in a big field house for a couple of weeks. Finally, we got to go outside one day.

"I don't know what it was but the speed of my pitches wasn't there anymore. I had thrown a lot of American Legion innings with little rest the year before. That could have been it. Maybe I threw too hard the first time we worked outdoors."

McKee pitched in one game for the Phillies in 1944 (September 26) after spending the season with the Wilmington (Del.) minor league team, pitching and playing first base.

McKee wound up bouncing around the minor leagues (13 different cities) until 1957. He returned to Shelby, helped coach his high school and Legion team, worked in the fiber industry briefly and retired after 30 years with the postal service.

Thanks to a fan from New York and a friend of McKee's from Boiling Springs, N.C., Phillies fans now know of Rogers McKee and his historic lone big league victory.

Rogers McKee File
Born: Rogers Hornsby McKee, Sept. 16, 1926, Shelby, NC ... "Dad was a St. Louis Cardinals fan. They won the World Series the year I was born and that's where I got my middle name, after the Hall of Fame second baseman." ... Resides: Shelby ... Married Denice Spangler; one son, Rogers Jr. ... During the 2009 Alumni weekend, McKee and his family were guests of the Phillies.

Phillies Career: Pitched in four games in 1943 and one in '44 ... Lone start and win came on the last day of the '43 season ... Went 1-for-5 as a hitter with one RBI in '43 ... Wore no. 17 in his first big league season; no. 23 in his one-game '44 big league season ... Spent '44 in Wilmington, Del., with the Phillies Minor League team: 6-8 record with a 4.25 ERA in 20 games as a pitcher; .225 average with three homers and 14 RBIs as a first baseman.

Larry Shenk is a contributor to
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