The public knew Charlie Keller as a member of the New York Yankees outfield. He was stationed in left field. There was Joe DiMaggio in center and Tommy Henrich in right field. In Keller’s 10 seasons with the Yankees, the team won four World Series championships. The Middletown, Maryland native also was selected to five American League All-Star teams.
Near the end of his baseball career the Yankees staged a Charlie Keller Day on Sept. 25, 1948. Over 65,000 attended that afternoon game at Yankee Stadium. Keller was given a costly watch, golf clubs, and vacations among a collection of gifts. Gifts more suited to Keller’s eventual retirement from baseball would have included pitch forks, wheel barrows, saddles and bridles, and a pickup truck.
Charlie Keller was raised on a Depression era farm near Middletown. After playing baseball and basketball at the University of Maryland, he graduated with a degree in agricultural economics in 1937.
His career in the big leagues lasted from 1939 through one game in the 1952 season. He was in the United States Merchant Marines in World War II, missing most of two baseball summers with the Yankees.
Even as a major league player Keller was planning for a post-baseball future that would find him back in Frederick County. And back on a farm.
Not a dairy farm.
But a farm that bred and raised standardbred horses, ones that were trotters and pacers and raced in harness events.
Charlie Keller, the man who batted .438 and hammered out three home runs when the Yankees swept Cincinnati in four games in the 1939 World Series, was skillfully planning for the day he would have Yankeeland Farm.
Keller had bought the acres for Yankeeland near his birthplace. It eventually grew to be about 300 acres of gently rolling pasture land where Keller began raising standardbreds that would be pacers and trotters.
As was the plight of many farmers during the agony of The Depression, Keller’s parents lost their land.
Charlie had been an unusually successful baseball player. He would be an unusually successful breeder and owner of harness racehorses. Like most major league ball players of his time, Keller wasn’t paid enough money to become wealthy. When he began his time in racing he was joining an industry where many owners were already rich by comparison.
Keller was one of the little guys. He was a hands-on owner. He worked long days at Yankeeland. In the barns. In the fields. In the stalls mucking out manure.
Yankeeland began to flourish. Proper planning and hard work were being rewarded. Keller had family members working for him. And the coordinated work of his sons and relatives brought Yankeeland to the forefront of the racing world.
The majority of his racing stock bore names that referred back to the New York Yankees.
A Yankeeland product named Fresh Yankee won seven world titles in the 1970s. Windylane Hanover was Trotting Mare of the Year in 2003. Keller’s farm bred two Hambletonian winners — Muscles Yankee and Yankee Paco.
As success came in the form of a three-part package (breeding, racing, and selling young colts and fillies), Keller still worked the same schedule he had always enjoyed. The routines of everyday life on a horse farm were enjoyable. Keller kept at it well past 65.
And his standardbred runners kept at it on the race track.
Marvelous Yankee and Yankee Tomboy. Bashful Yankee and Spiffey Yankee. Yankee Icon and Merry Yankee. Yankee Cashmere and Dodger Blues.
As Keller aged, his Yankeeland Farm was still a profitable business because his sons and grandsons worked just as diligently as he did. But the passing years brought more housing developments and more of the county’s increasing hustle and bustle closer to the Yankeeland property. Like the advancement of creeping honeysuckle or poison ivy in a ravine, Yankeeland became surrounded by the “progress”of an increased population.
Outside tools and small machinery were stolen. Vandals broke windows and damaged fences. Loose dogs chased horses in the open fields.
When Charlie Keller moved past 70 his health began to fail and on May 23, 1990 at age 73 he died.
His sons continued on at Yankeeland. And three of Charlie’s grandsons also responded and helped out.
But by 2006, only one grandson, Chaz, was a full-time Yankeeland employee. The profits were still there. But the other family members had drifted away to other ways of making a living.
Chaz Keller eventually sold all but a few colts and fillies at auction in Harrisburg, Pa. The standardbreds auctioned brought $3,657,500.
The Frederick County farm has not been taken by developers. There are still horses on the land there. If you are driving toward Frederick on Rte. 340, pay attention to the left side of the highway just about a mile before the road meets I-270. Those horses you see in the close-cropped fields are grazing at what was Charlie Keller’s Yankeeland Farm.
Muscles Yankee isn’t there. And neither is Windylane Hanover. Charlie Keller’s hands-on property has its weather-beaten buildings . . . and other marks left by the man who shared the same outfield with Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich.