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King Kelly

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King Kelly baseball card (N162), 1888

Michael Joseph "King" Kelly (December 31 1857 - November 8 1894) was an American star Major League Baseball player during the late 19th century born in Troy, New York. He is often credited with popularizing the hit and run, the hook slide, and the catcher's practice of backing up first base.[1] He is the subject of the hit 1893 song entitled "Slide Kelly, Slide" and a 1927 movie of the same name.

Career Edit

Kelly entered the National League with the Cincinnati Reds in 1878 and became a star with the Chicago White Stockings in 1880. As a member of the White Stockings until 1886, he was annually among the league leaders in most offensive categories, including leading the league in runs from 1884 through 1886 (120, 124 and 155 respectively), and batting in 1884 and 1886 (.354 and .388). The White Stockings won five league championships with Kelly on the team.

Baseball Hof
King Kelly
is a member of
the Baseball
Hall of Fame

In one of the largest moves in the early history of professional baseball, Kelly was sold after the 1886 season to the Boston Beaneaters for a then-record $10,000. As a member of the Beaneaters, he continued to be a key run-producer, scoring 120 runs in 1887 and 1889.

Kelly managed and played for the Boston Reds in the year-lived Players League in 1890, and the Reds won the first and only Players League title. While managing for Boston, Kelly saw a foul ball heading for the bench and realized his fielders would miss it. Thinking quickly, he lept off the bench, yelled "Kelly now catching for Boston," and caught the ball for out number three.[1] In 1891 Kelly managed the Cincinnati Porkers to a seventh place finish.

Kelly retired after the 1893 season, having compiled 1357 runs, 69 home runs, 950 RBI, and a .308 batting average. Unreliable record-keeping practices of the era prevent an accurate estimate of how many stolen bases Kelly compiled over his career, but statistics kept during his later years indicate he regularly stole 50 or more bases in a season, including a high of 84 in 1887. His baserunning was a favorite attribute among fans, prompting the cry of "Slide Kelly Slide!".

The song, "Slide, Kelly, Slide," was America's first "pop hit" record, after its release by Edison Studios. Prior to that song, most recordings (cylinders), were opera, religious or patriotic in nature. Kelly is also considered to have been the first man to popularize autographing, as fans pursued him on his way to the ballpark for his signature in the 1890s. A painting of him sliding into second hung in most Irish saloons in Boston, and he was among the first athletes to perform on the Vaudeville stage. His own autobiography, "Play Ball," was the first written by a baseball player.

He also played fast and loose, or ignored altogether, the rules of the game. Tricks Kelly used include cutting across the diamond (going directly from first to third out of the base paths) when the umpires attention was diverted to the outfield and grabbing hold of runner's belt loops so they would have poor jumps on attempted stolen bases. Kelly was also credited with originating the use of signs between the pitcher and catcher.[1]

Kelly was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.

Slide Kelly, Slide! Edit


Slide, Kelly, slide!

Your running's a disgrace!

Slide, Kelly, slide!

Stay there, hold your base!

If someone doesn't steal you,

And your batting doesn't fail you,

They'll take you to Australia!

Slide, Kelly, slide!

Slide, Kelly, slide!

Personal life and habitsEdit

Kelly was a notorious character who dressed and acted flamboyantly. He was often accompanied by a black monkey and a Japanese valet. He also was a frequent drinker, both off and on the field. When asked if he drank while playing baseball, Kelly said, "It depends on the length of the game."[1] One game was delayed because he was drinking with some rich fans in the box seats.

While traveling to Boston for the Mike Murphy's Burlesque Corps in the fall of 1894, Kelly caught a cold that turned to pneumonia. He was taken to the hospital on a stretcher on 5 November. While there is some dispute as to what happened -- some claim he fell off the stretcher, others claim he was dropped -- there is no dispute as to his final words: "This is my last slide." He died three days later, on 8 November 1894.[2] [1]

Note: The fictitious character King Kelly and the ensuing plot in the 1949 baseball movie It Happens Every Spring is not related to, or based on, the life nor career of Michael Joseph Kelly.

External links Edit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 The Editors of Total Baseball (2000). Baseball:The Biographical Encyclopedia. Sports Illustrated, pp. 595-597.
  2. Wulf, S. and O'Krent, D (1989). Baseball Anecdotes. New York: Oxford University Press. pp 15-17. ISBN 0-06-273206-4.

3. Appel, Marty; Slide,Kelly,Slide 1996, Scarecrow Press ISBN 0-8108-2997-5. Winner Casey Award, Baseball Book of the Year.

Preceded by:
Dan Brouthers
National League Batting Champion
Succeeded by:
Roger Connor
Preceded by:
Roger Connor
National League Batting Champion
Succeeded by:
Sam Thompson
Preceded by:
John Morrill
Boston Beaneaters Managers
Succeeded by:
John Morrill

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