Monday, August 4, 2014

Card #87: Matt Keough

Who Can It Be Now?
Matthew Lon Keough was born in Pomona, California, on July 3, 1955, and grew up in Southern California.  He attended high school at Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach, California, and graduated in 1973.  He was drafted immediately out of high school by the Oakland Athletics as a third baseman in the 7th round of the 1973 June Amateur Draft, and he signed with the A's after the 1973 season had ended.

As a result, the A's assigned Keough to Burlington in the Midwest League in 1974. Remember, he was drafted as a third baseman.  The A's then moved him to shortstop when he reported for duty.   Shortstop was the position Keough played in 1974 and 1975.  His first experience in Single-A was terrible -- slashing at .198/.272/.291 -- and that kept him at Single-A for 1975.  

He was assigned to Modesto in the California League, and he turned in a respectable season there, as he finished 13th in AVG (.303/.370/.476) as a 19-to-20-year-old who was still young for the league. Keough had two or three issues, though, that impeded his progress as a shortstop.  The first was that he was a really, really bad fielder at shortstop.  In 1975, for example, though he hit well, he actually made more errors (56) than double plays (55) to finish with a fielding percentage of .897 over 110 games.  The second, related issue was that the A's had a prototypical good-fielding, light-hitting 1970s shortstop -- Rob Picciolo -- one level ahead of Keough both in 1975 and 1976.  The third issue was that in the 1970s, shortstops were not supposed to be 6'-3" tall.  Cal Ripken Jr. came along in the early 1980s to dispel that myth (along with Robin Yount coming to prominence), but in 1975 that was not an option.

As a result, in 1976, Keough took to the mound for two innings in two games for the Chattanooga Lookouts.  He had some success in those two innings and the A's must have thought that it couldn't hurt to give the kid a chance. So, in 1977 and once again at Double-A Chattanooga, Keough became a starting pitcher.  He had success there -- 9-12 record, 3.81 ERA, 67 BB, 153 K in 175 innings -- so the A's gave him a September call-up in 1977 and threw him into the rotation immediately for a team going nowhere (finishing 63-98 is going nowhere) fast.  

Thus, with one minor league season of pitching under his belt, Keough did not return to the minor leagues until 1983, when injuries had caught up to him.  But that is getting ahead of the story.

After making the big-league team directly out of spring training in 1978, Keough started out like a house on fire.  His first half was extremely strong -- 6-4 record, 2.16 ERA, 104 innings, 61 Ks (42 BBs), and just 2 HR allowed.  In fact, his start was so strong that he made the AL All-Star team in 1978 and was the first pitcher used out of the bullpen in relief of Jim Palmer, who got rocked in his 2-2/3 innings.  The league caught up to Keough in the second half of the season as scouting reports on him started making the rounds, though, and Keough also suffered from a knee injury.  The numbers reflected these problems as his second half was abysmal -- 2-11 record, 4.44 ERA, 43 BBs against 47 Ks, and 7 HR allowed.  

That second half was a warning sign of things to come in 1979.  Keough started out that season historically bad -- 14 straight losses from Opening Day and 18 losses in a row (dating back to the previous September) bad.  Rather than send him to the bullpen or to the minors, though, the A's simply carried him on their roster without using him from August 8 through September 5.  That September day saw him defeat the Milwaukee Brewers in a complete game pitched before about as many people as I graduated college with -- 1,772 people chanted his name.  In the game story, in fact, Keough admitted that he had brought in 10 of those people from his home in Newport Beach.  So the paid attendance was even lower.

1980 was probably Keough's best year in the major leagues.  The A's had hired Billy Martin to manage the team, and Billy's philosophy on starting pitching was that it was best to let your starter pitch for as long as possible.  At the age of 24, Keough started 32 games, finished 20 of them, pitched 250 innings, and finished with a 16-13 record, a 2.92 ERA (though he was very lucky -- FIP of 4.22), with 94 BBs and 121 Ks in that time.  

That was the Billy Martin rotator cuff grinder for you.  Keough had an incredible 25 starts out of 32 in which he faced 30 batters or more.  He threw a 14-inning complete game on May 17; unsurprisingly, when he pitched again on May 22, he got lit up for 7 runs (6 earned) in 3-1/3 innings against the Royals.  Two starts later -- after another complete game -- the Rangers smacked Keough around for 7 runs (6 earned) in 2-1/3 innings.  As punishment, Billy put Keough on the mound the next day for 2 more innings against the Indians.

Any pitcher subjected to the number of innings/pitches thrown that Keough was in 1980 becomes a ticking time bomb in many respects.  It's not a matter of if the guy will get hurt, but when.  In 1981, Keough and the rest of his Oakland cohorts were subjected to the same treatment as in 1980.  Keough made 19 starts and completed 10 games that season.  But, he started having shoulder pain that year -- pain which kept him out of the AL West Divisional Series against the Royals.  Keough was the backup to Rick Langford for Game 3 of the ALDS, but Langford was able to pitch and close out the series sweep.  Instead, Keough pitched in Game 3 of the ALCS and took the loss when the Yankees finished off their series sweep.

In 1982, Keough's shoulder problems continued, but they did not keep him from pitching -- albeit poorly (5.72 ERA, 5.88 FIP, 1.6 HR/9, 4.3 BB/9, 3.2 K/9).  1983 did not look much better, and Keough found himself moving across the country at the June trade deadline to pitch for the New York Yankees in exchange for Marshall Brant, Ben Callahan, and cash.  He spent 1983 with the Yankees and 1984 in Double-A Nashville before going under the knife for rotator cuff surgery for the first time in October of 1984.

His rehabilitation took a while.  He spent 1985 in Triple-A in the Cardinals organization. In 1986, though, he made the Chicago Cubs as a non-roster player.  He stayed with the Cubs for just over two months before they cut him in June.  He signed with the Astros thereafter, pitched some for the Astros in Triple-A, and then pitched for the Astros out of the bullpen after being called up in August.

The Astros cut Keough after the season.  That did not end his career, though, as Keough spent four years pitching for the Hanshin Tigers in the Japanese Central League.  After the 1990 season, however, he had to undergo a second rotator cuff surgery and missed the 1991 season

He was a non-roster invitee to the California Angels spring training camp in 1992 when his life was altered.  Keough was sitting in the third-base dugout when San Francisco Giants outfielder John Patterson lined a foul ball into the dugout during the first inning.  Keough was struck above his right ear and had to be removed on a stretcher. He underwent an emergency craniotomy (removal of a portion of the skull) after a brain scan revealed an epidural hematoma -- a pool of blood or blood clot inside the skull.  He lived, but that was the end of his baseball career.

Mustached Check: Matt has a mustache here.  He still has it in his mugshots in more recent times.

Family Ties
Keough came from a baseball family.  His father, Marty, played 11 seasons in the major leagues for the Red Sox, Reds, Braves, Senators, Cubs, and Indians and later became a scout. Matt's uncle Joe Keough played for the A's, the Royals, and the White Sox between 1968 and 1973.  

From a more recent generation, Matt's son Shane was drafted by Oakland in the 26th Round of the 2005 June Draft and played four seasons in the Oakland minor league system.  Matt's youngest son Colton was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 49th Round of the 2010 June Draft but did not play.

One of my least favorite reality television series is on Bravo -- all those "real" housewives shows.  I really felt bad for Keough's career ending the way it did until I found out that Keough and his now-ex-wife -- former Playboy Playmate Jeana Myers Tomasino Keough -- appeared on the original series of that horrible genre, The [allegedly] Real Housewives of Orange County.  For what it's worth, it appears that Jeana grew up in my old stomping grounds, Milwaukee, and attended a high school (Whitnall HS) that my high school sports teams played against in our conference in the late 1980s.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
As a fan, Keough was never a guy who really frightened me.  The Brewers hit well against him -- .286/.345/.443 against in 14 games (despite that first win of 1979), 6-6 record, 4.54 ERA.  It probably does not hurt that Keough's good years of 1980 and 1981 made me lump him in mentally with Rick Langford, Mike Norris, Brian Kingman, and Steve McCatty thanks to the meat grinder to which Billy Martin subjected them.

Outside of his Real Housewives fame, Matt Keough has an additional claim to fame.  If you have read the book Moneyball, you may recall that Keough was employed by the Oakland A's and Billy Beane as a scout.  In fact, in the movie version of the book, Keough is played by character actor Nick Searcy.  

If you follow the Real Housewives stuff -- and I have to admit that I don't despite the fact that one of my law school classmates appears on the Atlanta version of that show -- then you probably know that Matt Keough has been in all kinds of trouble for his tendency to drive while drunk.  He was charged on September 19, 2009, with Felony DUI.  It was at least the second time he had been arrested for DUI.  He was lucky, in that he was sentenced to only a year in prison (with 194 days credit for time served) and 3 years probation.  He could have killed someone, frankly.  

A number of folks -- his lawyer and his daughter, at least -- say that Keough became an alcoholic as a result of his brain injury in 1992.  His lawyer, Rob Harley, said that Keough "lost all self-respect, his self-esteem" as a result.  I won't disagree with that statement. I'm pretty sure that that had to be the case for him to sign off on that horrendous Housewives show.

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