Kelly, who played every position, was one of the greatest players of his era. Beginning his career with the Reds in 1878, he soon was given the title King of Baseball and became the number one idol of the nation. Joining Chicago in 1880, Kelly sparked Cap Anson‘s team to five NL titles. He performed on eight pennant winners in 16 seasons and hit .300 or better eight times. His .354 in 1884 and .388 in 1886 led the NL. He led the league three times each in doubles and runs scored, and he is one of ten NL players to have scored a league-record six runs in one game. Kelly won renown for his daring baserunning, stealing at least 50 bases for four successive years, with a high of 84 for the Braves in 1887. He once stole six bases in one game. His sensational baserunning and sliding led fans to cheer him on, yelling, “Slide, Kelly, slide!”
After Kelly was traded to the Braves for a record $10,000 in one of the biggest deals in baseball’s early history, Chicago fans were so upset they boycotted their team, except when Boston played there. Joining the Players’ League in 1890 as Boston’s player-manager, Kelly’s team captured the league championship by posting an 81-48 record. After serving as player-manager for Cincinnati-Milwaukee of the American Association for part of 1891, Kelly returned to Boston and helped the Braves win titles in 1891 and 1892. He played a few games for the Giants in 1893, then drifted to the minors, managing Allentown in the Pennsylvania State League and Yonkers in the Eastern League.
Imaginative and quick-thinking, Kelly was credited by Cap Anson with devising the hit-and-run play, although this is disputed. He studied the rules and found ways to get around them, causing the league to make changes. Colorful both on and off the field, Kelly acted with flair and was admired and adored by fans. He wore the finest tailored clothes and the most current styles. American billboards featured the handsome, happy-go-lucky Irishman as the nation’s best-dressed man. Kelly supplemented his income with off-season stage appearances and wrote Play Ball. Following his retirement from baseball, he opened a saloon in New York. In 1894, en route to Boston to appear at the Palace Theater, he died of pneumonia at age LM x @ thirty-six.