The man who dominated the sports scene in Northcentral Pennsylvania for more than 50 years was neither an athlete nor a sports executive but a sportswriter. That man was Ray Keyes. Although his name was inextricably linked with Williamsport and its environs for more than 50 years, Keyes was actually born in Canandagiua, N.Y. on Nov. 16, 1916. He moved to the Williamsport area with his parents as a youngster. After graduating from Williamsport High School, Keyes started working for Williamsport’s morning newspaper, the “Gazette and Bulletin” in 1937. He had variety of duties, including a stint on the social desk, and at one time acting as news editor, but his real love was sports.
An Early Little-League Supporter
In 1939 he covered Carl Stotz’s fledgling Little League program. He remained a tireless promoter and champion of Little League Baseball for the rest of his life. He covered every Little League World Series and acted as official scorer from 1947 through 1988. In 1987 he was honored by Little League with the first annual W. Howard Hartman Friendship Award for his “proficiency of using the written word to promote Little League.”
“His contributions to his community and to Little League were monumental,” said Dr. Creighton Hale, former president of Little League Baseball Inc. Long-time sports booster Bill Pickelner echoed these sentiments. “Ray loved Little League. He was always 1,001 percent for it.” In 1988 the press box at Howard J. Lamade Stadium, home of the Little League World Series, was named in Keyes’ honor.
World War II interrupted Keyes’ career, like those of so many young men of his era. He served in the Army Air Force in the South Asian Theatre.
A Love for Baseball
After returning from the war he plunged headlong back into the newspaper business. Some of his fondest times were spent in the press box at Bowman Field covering Williamsport’s minor league baseball teams. Baseball was his special passion. He was a familiar and friendly face in press boxes throughout the major and minor leagues. That was reflected in his membership in the Baseball Writers of America.
He was a major force in assisting in the acquisition of minor league franchises for Williamsport through his extensive baseball contacts. He also served as a member of the Bowman Field Commission. Keyes was active in all the Masonic bodies. He was a past president of the Williamsport Shrine Club and served for nine years as chairman of the Fez Bowl football game. He was active with the Williamsport and Loyalsock Kiwanis Club and was voted “Kiwanian of the Year” in 1980.
Twice he was elected president of the Eastern League Writer’s Association. He was prominent on the national sports scene as well as a member of the selection committees of the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia and the James E. Sullivan Amateur Athletic Union Memorial Award.
The Feb. 20, 1988, basketball game at Williamsport High School was christened “Ray Keyes Night.” It was held as “a tribute to the man whose words put the word ‘sport’ in Williamsport.” Keyes said his greatest thrill in sports was covering Williamsport High School’s 1984 state championship basketball team. One of the most poignant sights in Williamsport during Keyes’ last year of life was watching him bundled up in an overcoat working in the press box at Bowman Field covering Williamsport Bills games.
After a courageous battle with cancer, Ray Keyes’ prolific sports pen was stilled on Dec. 11, 1988. His death was mourned nationally as well as locally. Bill Giles, president of the Philadelphia Phillies at the time said, “Ray should be inducted into the sportswriters Hall of Fame. He was a warm, honest dedicated and bright.” Ralph Bernstein, Associated Press State Sports Editor said, “I admired Ray because of his dedication, professionalism and obvious feeling for those around him.
Pickelner said, “He never knocked a guy when he was down. He was dedicated to all that is good in people. He always looked at the bright side of things.” Frank Lucchesi, former manager of the Phillies, Rangers and Cubs also admired Keyes, “To me Ray Keyes was a giant in his business. Ray was the first person to call me after I was fired by the Phillies and asked if he could do anything for me. He loved the game of baseball so much. He was not only a writer but a friend.” The Sun-Gazette noted his passing with an editorial that read in part, “It’s a bit lonelier in the the Sun-Gazette newsroom with Ray’s death. He was the last of his kind here, having done every job in the newsroom. “Ray loved children, baseball and boxing, perhaps in that order. Many consider him the local “Mr. Sports.’ “Ray Keyes played the game fair and square. He was truly a gentleman of the press.”
By Lou Hunsinger Jr., Williamsport Sun-Gazette