King Kelly

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King Kelly.jpg

Michael Joseph Kelly

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 10", Weight 170 lb.

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1945

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Biographical Information[edit]


"Mike's only enemy was himself." - Cap Anson

King Kelly was an iconic 19th Century ballplayer who played all nine positions and had an Adjusted OPS of 138. He led the league in batting twice.

Kelly did most of his catching toward the end of his career. For the first part of his career he was primarily an outfielder, although in one season (1879) he was chiefly a third baseman while in another (1882) he was mostly a shortstop. In 1887 he played 30 games at second base. As a pitcher he had a 4.14 ERA in 45 2/3 innings spread out over 7 seasons.

The most similar player, based on the similarity scores method, was Buck Ewing, which makes sense since Ewing was also a catcher and player-manager.

Kelly broke in at age 20 as an above-average player with the Cincinnati Reds in 1878 and became a star in 1879 when he hit .348. He spent much of the 1880s (1880-1886) playing for the Chicago White Stockings alongside Cap Anson. For most of the rest of his career he played in Boston, appearing for all its teams in three leagues - the National League, the Players League, and the American Association.

He was sold from Chicago to the Boston Beaneaters before the 1887 season for the then unheard-of sum of $10,000. With additional bonuses figured in, he was dubbed the "$15,000 Beauty" by fans and journalists. He was the most famous player in the country at that point.

He worked a total of 7 games as an umpire, starting in the National League in 1881

Full-length studio portrait, standing, wearing a Boston Beaneater baseball uniform and holding a bat. c. 1887

He stole more than 368 bases in his career (stats are not available for the early part of his career), causing fans to call out "Slide, Kelly, Slide". That cry became the title of a song written in 1889 by John W. Kelly for popular Irish vaudeville singer Maggie Cline. In 1891, another Irish-born singer, George J. Gaskin, made a recording of the song as one of the first wax cylinder recordings of a popular song; it became the first baseball song to enter the charts when it did so the following January. The song remained popular for decades and in 1927 gave its name to a movie which is about baseball but not about the ballplayer who inspired the song. His autobiography, entitled Play Ball, published in 1888, is considered the first autobiography ever written by a professional baseball player. It is very loose with the facts however, written more to entertain than to provide an accurate record of Kelly's life and career.

Kelly was a flamboyant personality and dressed very snappy. He appeared during the off-seasons on stage, which added to his fame. His obituary referred to him as having "uncertain habits".

"His convenient way of forgetting that there is a third bag in the circuit has astonished many base ball enthusiasts. . . John Morrill broke into a laugh and said: -- 'Kelly gets caught sometimes. We were playing in Chicago one day when he tried to cut off third. I did not see him although I was covering first, but I happened to look at Billy Hawes, who was umpiring, and he was pointing at Kelly and laughing as hard as he could. That was the first I knew that anything was wrong. Billy Hawes was too smart for him, and he was so amused to think that he had caught Kelly in one of his tricks, that all he could do was to dance up down and to poke fun at him.' " - Sporting Life of Feb. 3, 1886, in which George Wright and John Morrill swapped stories about Mike Kelly

After his major league days, he managed in the minors and opened a bar. Kelly died young, in 1894, only a year after he last appeared in the majors.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 2-time NL Batting Average Leader (1884 & 1886)
  • 2-time NL On-Base Percentage Leader (1884 & 1886)
  • 3-time NL Runs Scored Leader (1884-1886)
  • 3-time NL Doubles Leader (1881, 1882 & 1889)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 5 (1884-1887 & 1889)
  • 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 5 (1886-1890)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1945

Preceded by
John Morrill
Boston Beaneaters Manager
Succeeded by
John Morrill

Year-By-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
1887 Boston Beaneaters National League 49-43 -- Boston Beaneaters replaced by John Morrill on September 1
1890 Boston Reds Players League 81-48 1st Boston Reds League Champs
1891 Cincinnati Kelly's Killers American Association 43-57 7th Cincinnati Kelly's Killers
1894 Allentown Kelly's Killers Pennsylvania State League 53-29 4th none team moved to Eastern League on August 16
Allentown Buffalos Eastern League 8-16 -- none replaced Binghamton on August 16

Further Reading[edit]

  • Marty Appel: Slide, Kelly, Slide: The Wild Life and Times of Mike King Kelly, Scarecrow Press, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 1999. ISBN 978-1578860036
  • Mike "King" Kelly: Play Ball: Stories of the Diamond Field and Other Historical Writings about the 19th Century Hall of Famer, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2006 (originally published in 1888).
  • John Zinn: "A Stepping Stone to the Majors: The Olympic Base Ball Club of Paterson, 1874-76", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 52 Number 1 (Spring 2023), pp. 86-95.

Related Sites[edit]