King Kelly is usually credited with being the first true baseball superstar. He was also the subject of “Slide, Kelly, Slide,” the first baseball song to become a hit. An outstanding catcher and outfielder, Kelly combined great hitting and throwing with a certain flamboyance on and off the field. Fans loved him so much that when he was traded from Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings to Boston, the fans in his new city gave him a carriage and two white horses to pull it.
Kelly, son of Irish immigrants, was strikingly handsome and often appeared decked out in silk hat, ascot, patentleather shoes, and cane. Once the game started, he delighted fans with such tricks as cutting directly from first base to third if the umpire was not looking, dropping his catcher’s mask in front of a runner, or (one of his most famous ploys when taking a game off) calling out “Kelly now catching for Boston” and grabbing a pop foul. This last trick quickly led to a rules change regarding player substitutions.
Kelly played from 1878 to 1893, helped the White Stockings win five
“Kelly (C. Boston)” depicted on an Old Judge and
Gypsy Queen cigarette card, part of the Champi-
ons collection (Ann Ronan Picture Library)