Mike Kelly

Positions: Catcher; Outfielder; Infielder
Teams: Cincinnati Reds, 1878-1879; Chicago White Stockings, 1880-1886; Boston Beaneaters, 1887-1889, 1891-1892; Boston Reds, 1890; Cincinnati Kellys, 1891; Boston Reds, 1891; New York Giants, 1893
Manager: Boston Beaneaters, 1887; Boston Reds, 1890; Cincinnati Kellys, 1891
Managerial Record: 173-148

Because his career was shortened by alcoholism and a general disinclination to take care of himself, Mike Kelly is viewed by many historians as a colorful but vastly overrated performer whose press clippings far exceeded his deeds on the diamond.

Mike Kelly was the most popular player in each city in which he played.
Mike Kelly was the most popular player
in each city in which he played.

The truth, though, is that for at least a few years he may have been the best player in the game. Certainly Kelly was one of the most versatile. He could play every position on the field and even took a turn on occasion as a pitcher, although it was the only job he never performed with distinction.

Born in Lansingburgh, New York, Michael Joseph Kelly (1857-1894) gravitated to Ohio to play semipro ball in his late teens. In 1878, he joined the Cincinnati Reds and was put in right field but also served infrequently at third base and behind the plate.

The following season, playing mostly as a third baseman, Kelly hit .348 and drew the interest of Chicago White Stockings player-manager Cap Anson. When Cincinnati neglected to put Kelly on its reserve list of protected players, Anson promptly snatched him up.

Kelly was an instant sensation in Chicago. Windy City fans nicknamed him "King" and were so enamored of his daring baserunning techniques, particularly the hook slide that he reportedly originated, that they chanted "Slide, Kelly, slide," whenever he got on base. They were seldom without an opportunity at least once during a game, for Kelly twice led the National League in batting while in Chicago and three times in runs.

Although never really the regular catcher for the White Stockings, Kelly was usually behind the plate in big games. Part of the reason was his remarkable ingenuity. Kelly is credited with being the first backstopper to use signals that alerted his infielders to the type of pitch being thrown; the infielders, in turn, positioned themselves accordingly.

Kelly’s high living and penchant for gambling, however, caused Anson, something of a Puritan, to grow disenchanted with him despite the five pennants the White Stockings won in Kelly’s seven seasons with the club. Chicago sold him to Boston for a then-record sum of $10,000 before the 1887 season.

Called "The $10,000 Beauty," Kelly served on two National League pennant winners in the Hub. He also piloted the Boston Reds to the Players League title in 1890. By 1892, however, Kelly’s lifestyle had robbed him of his skills, and he could hit only .189 in 78 games. Kelly was named to the Hall of Fame in 1945.

Here are Mike Kelly's major league totals:

.308 1,455 5,894 1,357 1,813 359 102 69 793 315

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