October 14 – Happy Birthday Pat Kelly
I first saw Pat Kelly play when he was the starting second baseman for the Albany-Colonie Yankees, New York’s old double A affiliate in the Eastern League. The year was 1990 and Kelly along with Bernie and Gerald Williams helped lead that team to an Eastern League pennant. He was solid defensively, was very quick on the base paths but he had a propensity to strike out too much for a non-power-hitter. Still, by the following season, Kelly found himself in the big leagues as a member of a very mediocre 1991 Yankee team.
Yankee Manager, Stump Merrill had been starting Jim Leyritz at third and was not happy with his defense at the hot corner. New York brought Kelly up in May and Stump inserted him as his everyday third baseman. Playing out-of-position, Kelly did not turn out to be much of an improvement defensively over Leyritz, but he did OK at the plate, hustled his rear end off and remained on the big league roster.
The following season, Buck Showalter replaced Merrill as Yankee skipper and he switched Kelly back to second base. Despite hitting just .226 that year, he started twice as many games at second as Mike Gallego. The following year, the Philadelphia native put together his best big league season, hitting .273 in 127 games for New York in 1993 and setting career highs in just about every offensive category. I remember thinking that Kelly had arrived as a bonafide big league player that season and expected him to enjoy a long and successful career as the Yankee’s starting second baseman.
By 1994, Showalter had Kelly and that entire Yankee team humming on all cylinders, as they streaked to a commanding lead in their Division and Kelly’s average rose to .280. But then the strike happened in August and the rest of the season was cancelled. When the players finally returned to the field in 1995, Kelly hurt his wrist, slumped at the plate and began losing his second base starts to Randy Velarde. But he did come through with the biggest hit of his Yankee career in the third-to-last game of the 1995 season. At the time, the Yankees were battling the Angels for the AL Wild Card spot and were trailing the Blue Jays by a run in the top of the ninth inning in Toronto. Kelly came to the plate with Velarde on first and hit a go-ahead home run. It was a huge hit at the time because Toronto was horrible that year and if the Yankees had lost that game I seriously doubt they would have hung on to finish ahead of the Angels.
As most Yankee fans remember, that team went on to lose to the Mariners in the 1995 ALDS and Steinbrenner then fired Showalter and replaced him with Joe Torre. When Kelly hurt his shoulder that spring and it required surgery, Torre announced that he was going to start Tony Fernandez at second base in 1996. Fernandez then broke his elbow. A scrambling Yankee front office brought in Mariano (We play today, we win today, das eeet) Duncan to play second and he responded by hitting a career-high .340. Kelly’s Yankee career was pretty much over at that point. Even before his big league playing days ended, he had become deeply involved in Australian baseball and he still today serves as a scout specializing in finding playing talent “Down Under” and throughout the entire Pacific rim area.
Kelly shares his October 14th birthday with his former Yankee teammate and current Yankee Manager and this former 20-game-winning Yankee pitcher.