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70 years ago, a baseball first for Shelby’s McKee

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.

As the baseball playoffs gear up, pause with me for a moment to remember one of the most unusual stories among local baseball players that this area has ever seen.

Roger McKee was just 17 years old in 1943 and hadn’t been out of Shelby High long when he started for the first and only time of his major-league career for the Philadelphia Phillies.

It was Oct. 3, 1943 – 70 years ago, on the final day of the regular season, in the middle of World War II. McKee pitched a complete game in an 11-3 Phillies victory over Pittsburgh. He scattered five hits in a game that only took an hour and 48 minutes.

With that win, McKee became the youngest pitcher to ever win a game in major-league baseball’s post-1900 “modern era,” eclipsing Bob Feller and many others by winning his first game at the age of 17 years and 17 days.

Named for Rogers Hornsby

The fact that McKee’s father, a textile mill worker from Shelby, named him for baseball Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby added to the tale. (Most people drop the “s” and just call him Roger).

McKee would throw his arm out the next year during an unseasonably cold spring training in Delaware. He would never start another game in the big leagues. His fifth and final major-league appearance came on his 18th birthday – he ended his major-league pitching career with a 1-0 record and 5.87 ERA.

Also a good hitter, he bounced around the minors for another 13 years (including one stint with the old Charlotte Hornets baseball team) as a first baseman and outfielder.

After that, McKee returned home to Shelby. He and his wife, Denice, have now been married 68 years. For 30 of those years, he worked as a postal carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. McKee is now 87 years old and, although he doesn’t get around well, enjoys reading and watching sports on TV.

One other note: when McKee pitched and won that lone major-league start 70 years ago, he was a six-foot left-hander who “barely cast a shadow,” as he tells it. His weight? It was 130 pounds.

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