Kelly flourished in an era of weak first basemen in the National League. Though his credentials for entry into the Hall of Fame may be marginal, he had respectable talents afield and at bat, and he joined Frank Frisch, Dave Bancroft, and Heinie Groh in what many consider the best Giant infield of all time.
A nephew of outfielder Bill Lange, one of Cap Anson‘s Colts (later the Cubs) of the 1890s, and a brother of Ren Kelly, who pitched one game with the 1923 A’s, George was shuffled about for five years before becoming the Giants’ regular first baseman in 1920. Tall for his time (6’4″), he was nicknamed Highpockets and Long George by the press; to his teammates, he was Kell, a reserved and even-tempered fellow.
Kelly excelled in the field, setting single-season marks for putouts, assists, double plays, and total chances, in part because shortstop Bancroft was also setting marks for assists. A right-hander, he had a powerful and accurate arm. In 1921 against the Yankees, he made a brilliant first-to-third throw to nip Aaron Ward for a game-ending, Series-winning double play. He was John McGraw‘s preferred cutoff man, dashing into the outfield on long hits to handle the relay. Despite his size, he played a creditable second base for most of 1925, when McGraw wanted Kelly’s bat in the lineup while trying young Bill Terry at first base. He even won his only game as a pitcher, beating the Phillies and Joe Oeschger in five innings of relief.
He batted over .300 for six consecutive seasons (1921-26) and was intermittently impressive as a long-ball hitter. Twice he hit three home runs in one game, the splurge in 1924 accounting for all eight Giant runs, the National League record for most RBIs in a game while batting in all the club’s runs. The same year, he set another NL record by hitting seven homers in six games, with at least one in each. He also knocked in 100 or more runs four years in a row, capped by a league- and career-high 136 in 1924. Even so, his lifetime slugging average was an unspectacular .452. This evidently did not worry his manager. Over the years, McGraw said, the placid, reliable Kelly made more important hits than any player he ever had.
Displaced by Terry in 1927, Kelly was traded to the Reds for Edd Roush. Released in 1930, he returned briefly to the majors with the Cubs and Dodgers when Charlie Grimm and Del Bissonette were injured. When his playing days were over, he coached the Reds and Braves for 11 years and scouted for several teams.