The Tale of King Kelly

By Cathy Slade

Mike “King” Kelley was a Boston Beaner Professional Baseball Player. He was a very talented and popular professional baseball player in the late 1880’s. He played for the Chicago White Stockings until being traded to the Boston Beaneaters in the 1886 season for the unimaginable price of price of $10,000. That season, he batted .388 and scored 155 runs. He had stolen as many as 84 bases in a season. He was quite a character on the field. He would address the crowd between pitches, banter with the umpire, and bait the opposition.


Within two years, Kelly was the subject of America’s first pop music hit, recorded on a cylinder and played on the phonograph Thomas Edison invented in 1877. The song was titled “Slide, Kelley, Slide” which the Chicago fans would chant as he ran around the bases in his prime. It was sung on stage by dance hall star Miss Maggie Cline and recorded on 78 rpm records.


Sadly, his uncontrolled drinking exacerbated his early retirement. Within 4 years of playing with the Beaners, he was moonlighting as a Vaudeville Act, reciting “Casey at the Bat”, often substituting Kelly for Casey. His pet monkey sat on his shoulder, and a beer and a shot Kelley had drunk himself out of the major leagues were invariably in his hand.


Within 7 years, he’d drank himself out of the major leagues and was a player/manager for the Allentown, PA farm team. After the 1894 season, he contracted pneumonia during a boat trip from New York to Boston and died November 8 at age 36, leaving a wife and small child. Legend has it he slipped off a stretcher at the hospital, looked up from the crowd and said, “This is my last slide.”


Kelly became a member of the Elks. In 1945, he was inducted in the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. By the second half of the 20th century, the player who’d been as beloved as Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle had faded into obscurity.


Welcoming Celebration at the Elks Club And the $100,000 Autograph


After the first game Kelley played for the Boston Beaneaters, he was honored by the Boston Lodge of Elks at the Boston Theatre. There was a grand feast, the whiskey flowed freely and the toasts became grandiose. Kelly was the first larger-than-life professional baseball player and many of the Elks had him sign autographs on elaborately designed programs, “Truly Yours, M. J. Kelly.” Totally soused, Kelly was loaded into his carriage, normally horse-drawn. On this night Elks and other admirers lifted the carriage and lugged it through the streets to his home. It was a great night to be a Bostonian, a great night to be Irish, a great night to be King.


One person kept his program, and it was found in mint condition, buried in a trunk filled with treasures in the home of a wealthy family in West Roxbury. When the matriarch died, the family had a yard sale, and one lucky person became the owner of this treasure.


His Final Resting Place


Mike Kelley had joined the Elks Club. Upon his death, he was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Roslindale in a lot owned by the Boston Lodge of Elks. Mike King Kelley did not live in Roslindale, but he resides with us now.


This story is adapted from “King’s Ransom: Autograph 0f 19th Century Baseball Icon "King Kelly could catch $200K” By: Steve Henson http:/m.thepostgame.com/author/steve-henson – 11/18/2011

If you open this webpage, you will find information about his memorabilia.

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