Kelly, who played every position, was one of the greatest players of his era and baseballs first superstar. He started his career with the Reds in 1878, and soon was given the title "King of Baseball", becoming the number one idol of the nation. Joining Cap Anson's Chicago team in 1880, he helped lead a group of hard drinking, fast living men to five NL titles.
A man who loved the limelight, he could be found most every night about- the-town, enjoying what Chicago had to offer. A strikingly handsome man, his baseball celebrity only amplified his touch with the ladies. He could have his pick of almost any woman he wanted, and usually did. He didn't have to frequent whore houses like some players because the ladies came to him, a real accomplishment during those conservative Victorian times of the 1880's. An impecable dresser, he wore silk shirts and spats, and was once named one of Americas' best dressed men".
In an era when all games were played during the day and schedules were only about 120 games a season, there was plenty of time for someone like Kelly to carouse and nightcrawl. Cap Anson once sent out a detective to tail Kelly and came back witht a report that he had seen "Old Kel" drinking lemonade at 3 am. When confronted, Kelly angrily replied, "It was straight whiskey! I never drank lemonade at that hour in my life!"
Lost in all the mystique of his legend is the fact the King Kelly was one hell of a ballplayer. He hit .300 or better eight times, leading the NL in hitting with a .354 average in 1884 and a .388 in 1886. He also led the league three times each in doubles and runs scored, and once scored six runs in one game. He also was a daring baserunning, stealing at least 50 bases for four successive years, once stealing six bases in one game. His baserunning feats led to a popular song in 1889 entitled "Slide, Kelly, Slide".
One interesting tail about Kelly goes like this. In a a game in Chicago one terribly hot summer day in the mid-1880's, Kelly was playing rightfield. Tired and hot he brought a mug of beer with him to the outfield. He decided to take in a few sips as the Stockings Pitcher Larry Corcoran, heaved a fastball right down the middle of the plate The hitter, who's name is lost to time, swung, and sent a screaming shot to right! Without missing a step, Kelly, mug in hand, ran and made a one handed catch, and according to some witnesses, never spilled a drop of the precious liquid.
Cap Anson traded Kelly to the Braves in 1887 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. As basball entered the&baseballay Nintiethenbsp;Nineties the Boston Players' League Club in 1890 as player-manager, his team capturing the pennant. He hung around for a few more years but was pretty much through as a player, winding up his career with the Giants for a spate of games in 1893
He managed in the minors for a while but his love of the night life made it a short stint in the "bushes" Mike went back to work doing what he did best, being "King Kelly". He opened a saloon in New York that actually made decent money for a while, but eventually folded because Kelly was more interested in being a customer than an owner. Never known as a man who held onto his money, he was generous to a fault with his friends.
In late 1894, he was invited to go to Boston to appear at the Palace Theatre. Hopping a steamer from New York, he caught cold. The cold eventually turned into pneumonia which took his life on November 8th. He was only 36 years old.
One thing can be said about Mike "King" Kelly though, he definately enjoyed life. Although one could never condone his bad habits, he still was one of the most colorful and interesting characters in baseball history.