One of baseball’s earliest stars, Michael “King” Kelly was as famous for his off field exploits as his on field prowess. After a successful 1879 campaign for the Cincinnati Reds, Kelly joined Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings in 1880 where he regularly hit over .300, including leading the league in 1884 and 1886. Playing at a time when the game was just becoming a professional enterprise, Kelly was the first to parlay his athletic fame to other kinds of fame. He wrote a book, was the subject of the song “Slide, Kelly, Slide,” and performed in vaudeville. His alcoholism and general hard living ruined the final years of his career and led to his untimely death in 1894.
Despite being one of the best-paid players in baseball, not to mention his stage ventures, Kelly died penniless. His small, weathered headstone is a sad reminder of a man who once experienced the pinnacle of fame.
July 19, 2011