King Kelly (December 31, 1857 - November 8, 1894) was an American star Major League Baseball player during the late 19th century. He is often credited with popularizing the hit and run.
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.
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. 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 favourite attribute among fans, prompting the cry of "Slide Kelly Slide!" and a popular song of that title. He may actually have invented the slide.
Kelly was a notorious character who dressed and acted flamboyantly. He was a frequent drinker, both off and on the field. One game was delayed because he was drinking with some rich fans in the box seats. He also played fast and loose, or ignored altogether, the rules of the game.
At the start of his career, baseball rules stated that players may be substituted at any time. During one game with the White Stockings, Kelly was sitting on the bench during an opposing side's time at bat. When the batter hit a high pop foul ball toward the Chicago dugout, Kelly ran out, yelled "Kelly now catching!" and caught the ball. The batter was indeed out, and the rules were changed shortly after to limit substitutions to times when the ball is dead.
Kelly was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.
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.