December 9 – Happy Birthday Joe Kelley
I doubt there’s a Yankee fan who ever heard of Joe Kelley. Yet, he was one of the original Yankee franchise’s first stars and he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1971. Kelley’s anonymity within Pinstripe Nation is due to two factors. The first is that he played most of his baseball back in the 19th century. The second reason is that he played just 60 games for the Yankee franchise and those games were played in 1902, when the team was still based in Baltimore and nicknamed the Orioles.
There is no doubt, however, that Kelley was one of baseball’s brightest stars back when Grover Cleveland and William McKinley lived in the White House. He was a lifetime .317 hitter, who was consistently among league leaders in most offensive categories and also recognized as one of baseball’s best defensive outfielders. He had a 17 year-career, but his best seasons were spent in Baltimore, when the Oriloles were still part of the senior circuit. He teamed with John McGraw, Wee Willie Keeler and Hughie Jennings to lead Baltimore to three straight pennants and averaged .352 during his six year tenure with that team. He once had nine consecutive base hits in an Orioles’ double-header. Kelley was also quite the lady’s man back in the day. He was often seen in public with beautiful members of the opposite sex, enjoying the night-life of Baltimore and other NL home cities, sort of like a 19th century version of A-Rod.
He was traded to Brooklyn in 1899 and helped that team win two straight pennants, but his heart and his family were still in Baltimore. By 1902, the Orioles were part of Ban Johnson’s upstart American League. That year, Kelley jumped the NL to return to the O’s. When his former teammate and current Oriole manager, John McGraw got into a personal squabble with Ban Johnson. McGraw reversed Kelley’s geographical path and jumped from Baltimore back to the Big Apple to manage the Giants. Though it was Wilbert Robinson who took over for McGraw as the official manager, Kelley actually became that Oriole team’s co-skipper. He ended up appearing in 60 games that year and hit .311. When it was learned that Johnson had finagled the transfer of the financially troubled Orioles’ franchise to New York, Kelley jumped back to the NL and became a player-manager for the Reds.
Kelley shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher.