It was his only Shreveport season, he turned 29 that May, and he never did much in his three remaining pro seasons, and never made the major leagues. But, even for a seventh-place team, he was easily the TL’s “Most Valuable Player” in 1956.
He batted .293, scored 115 runs, drove in a TL-best 143, and broke Clarence “Big Boy” Kraft's 32-year-old league home-run record with his 55th on August 13.
A quiet, compact 5-foot-11, 190-pound right-handed slugger nicknamed “Muscles,” uniquely his right arm was two inches shorter than his left because of a childhood hockey accident in Bay City, Mich. He had poor eyesight — bottle-thick glasses — and he was considered a mediocre outfielder, with limited throwing ability because of that short right arm.
But he was the league home-run champion in eight of his years in the minors.
Starting in 1945, he played 11 years before Shreveport, six in the Class B Piedmont League with Portsmouth, Va., where he hit 41 home runs in 1955 as the team’s player-manager. When the league and the team folded, he needed a place to play. Hence, Shreveport.
As he did with so many players, Sports general managing partner Bonneau Peters knew of him, did his research, and signed him to a contract.
On Opening Day at home, he homered against Houston, then hit three the next night (although the Sports lost in extra innings). By the end of May, he had 18 home runs, including another three-homer game on May 28, and he soon had a new nickname: Kenneth the Menneth.
In Shreveport's Texas League Park, his trademark was high fly balls that -- mostly -- cleared the fence in left. He had only six homers in June, but cranked up with 24 in July and had 48 total going into August.
“He hit very few cheap home runs,” Mel McGaha, the player-manager that year, told a Shreveport Journal columnist in the 1970s. “He hit the kind of fly balls that looked like the outfielders would catch. But pretty soon the outfielder would have his back against the fence and the ball would keep going.”
McGaha recalled Guettler as “a quiet guy, unassuming. Almost an introvert, really. He took everything in stride … I never saw him get too mad.”
“He didn’t have much personality,” said Jack Fiser, sports editor/columnist of The Shreveport Times in the 1950s who regularly covered the ballclub. “He was very reluctant to talk … he almost never talked about himself much.”
Guettler’s sister, Selma Pett and her husband Ollie, came to Shreveport in the spring of 1988 to visit the old ballpark where Ken had starred in 1956.
“He was a good-natured person,” Mrs. Pett said then. “Out in public, he was shy. In a crowd, he would stand back and hold back. But he was very close to his family. He was a fun-loving fellow. He enjoyed doing things like playing cards and just being with the family.”
In 1957, Guettler had a brief shot in Triple-A ball (with Wichita), but was overmatched and hit only one home run there. Back in Double-A with Atlanta, he had only two more home runs the rest of that soon. And he kept moving -- seven teams in three final seasons, and only 12 home runs total. That included a stay back in the Texas League with Dallas in 1958.
Why his hitting skills left him after the ’56 season “is something we have always wondered,” said his sister. “There was no honest answer for it.”
He played 21 games in the Mexican League, and played his final pro games at Charleston, S.C., in 1959.
“I don’t think he was bitter that he didn’t make the big leagues,” Mrs. Pett said in 1988, “but if they’d had the designated hitter when he played, he would have made it. He always said he had been born 10 years too soon.”
After baseball, Guettler worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Jacksonville, Florida, and he died there of a heart attack on Christmas Day 1977 at age 50.
“He talked often of Shreveport and the year he had here,” his sister said as she stood on the diamond where Ken Guettler made Texas League history with 62 in ’56. “He was very proud of having done what he did here.”