SABR

Speed Kelly

This article was written by Craig Lammers.

Two-sport standouts were not as common in the Deadball Era as in later decades, but several men excelled in two or more sports. The best known of these players is Jim Thorpe, but Bill Powell (basketball) and Homer Davidson (football) also played two sports. Another two-sport athlete was R.B. Kelly of the 1909 Washington Nationals.

R.B. Kelly (he was christened with the initials only) was born in Bryan, Ohio, on August 19, 1884. His father, Frank Kelly, was born in Toledo on August 15, 1858, relocating to Bryan as a young man. Frank married Cordelia Brown of Cincinnati around 1880. The couple had their first child a son, Irvin, the next year. In 1887, Frank Kelly, along with his three brothers, founded the Kelly Foundry and Machine Company in Goshen, Indiana. Two years later, Frank moved his family, including five-year-old R.B., to Goshen. Cordelia gave birth to the couple’s third child, a daughter, Anna, shortly after the move.

Frank was one of Goshen’s most prominent citizens, serving as president of the company and later as a member of the Goshen school board. Both sons were prominent athletes, but R.B. was the standout. He played baseball at Goshen High School, but truly excelled in track and field.

On May 25, 1901, Goshen hosted Elkhart and South Bend in what was considered one of the state’s top high school meets. R.B. Kelly was the star. According to the Goshen Daily Democrat, “He won five firsts and no seconds or thirds. Kelly scored 21 points one-third of the total (Goshen team) number, and won the handsomely engraved gold medal. He is an all round athlete of exceptional ability and has established a record of which he may well feel proud.” After the meet, “arrangements were made for a parade. The South Bend and Elkhart delegations were accompanied to the special inter-urban cars on Lincoln Avenue and the crowds gave a deafening cheer as the athletes left the city. Kelly was the center of attention and ‘What’s the matter with Kelly?’ was to be heard until late at night.”i Kelly won the standing broad jump (9’2 ¼”) running broad jump (19’ 1”), pole vault (9’ 3”), running high jump (5’ 2”), and was a member of the winning half-mile relay.

Even before his senior year at Goshen High School, Kelly was successfully recruited by one of the top collegiate coaches of the era, Amos Alonzo Stagg. In an article about high school teammate Arthur Mathews, the Logansport Pharos Tribune said, “Stagg told the Chicago papers he made the find of the season in signing Mathews. Mathews won the silver medal for being the second best all-round athlete in the state. R.B. Kelly of the Goshen school captured first honors. He too, will enter Chicago next fall.”ii

Before entering college, Kelly had one more year at Goshen High School. He was considered a candidate in the 60-yard low hurdles, the shot put, hammer throw and discus in addition to sprinting events and the events he excelled at in 1901. Despite practicing in a dozen athletic events, Kelly found time for baseball.

In the April 18 opener against South Bend High School, the Goshen News-Times said, “Boulton was pitching a weak game and R.B. Kelly substituted with about the same result.” Though pitching on occasion, he most frequently played the infield, usually at second. After an appearance at third base against Notre Dame’s Bronson Hall team, the News-Times said, “R.B. Kelly also has an error or two to his credit.”iii

The rather ordinary baseball season was more than made up for by his work on the track. Kelly qualified for at least eight events for the championship meet with South Bend and Elkhart (he’d compete in six). He also preparing for an even larger high school meet hosted by the University of Chicago. In the latter event he entered the pole vault, 100-yard dash, shot put, running broad jump, and high jump.

The championship meet took place on the Lesh Stock Farm, just outside of Goshen on Saturday, May 31, and R.B. Kelly won his second straight gold medal as the meet’s leading scorer. He won the Standing broad jump (9’ 2 ½”). In the running broad jump he won easily (19’ 4”), The News-Times commenting “Kelly can jump 20 feet and easily outclassed his opponents.” He also won the running high jump (5’ 4”). He was described as an “exceptionally graceful high jumper and his efforts won the admiration of all.”iv

Perhaps his best performance was in the one-half mile relay. According to the News-Times, “Kelly was fully 40 feet when he started in the third eighth. Through phenomenal work he caught his man at the finish and all that remained for [Warren] Finney to do was to clean up on Cotton and Deitch, which he did with ease. It was an exceptionally pretty race, the crowd cheering wildly when Kelly made his fast run.”v In the pole vault, Kelly had a career best effort of 10’ but finished second when an Elkhart athlete cleared 10’ 3”. It was also said that Kelly was capable of a better time than champion teammate Finney in both the 100- and 220- yard runs. Kelly sat out the 220 but competed in the 100 and shotput without placing. Meet results were reported in newspapers in Chicago, Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

A week later, Kelly finished his high school career in the national interscholastic meet held at the University of Chicago’s Marshall Field. He “returned from Chicago bringing with him two silver loving cups, trophies of having won third place in the high jump and fourth in the pole vault. Kelly tried for second place in the high jump with C. Wilson of Pontiac, Ill., both jumping five feet, five inches. In the meantime Kelly was participating in the broad jump and pole vault, going from one to the other, and his opponent in the high jump was fresh, not being entered in other events. Kelly accordingly relinquished second place to Wilson without making another trial. Kelly also failed to get a place in the broad jump because of being tired out by the three field events in which he was entered coming in such rapid succession. He did not participate in any of the track events.”vi

In college, R.B. Kelly excelled as a sprinter and hurdler at Chicago and later Purdue. Daughter Kathleen Graff remembered that “when her father went to Purdue and the University of Chicago initials were not acceptable as names so he gave himself several names using his own initials.” It isn’t certain how much baseball Kelly played at Chicago, but at Purdue he was a two-sport standout captaining the baseball team. He was later described as “one of the cleverest collegians of the Indiana diamond.”vii

When not competing in track meets, he played some baseball, especially with the hometown Goshen Greys. He began with the team in 1904, and by the time he finished college, baseball the Greys were his primary concern. By 1907, the infield was three-quarters Kelly. R.B. played third with older brother Irvin at first and cousin Leon at second base. The News-Times of June 24 was impressed with R.B. Kelly’s throws. “R.B. Kelly made a star third. He shot a couple of throws to first ahead of a runner, at a speed that made the ball look like a gray streak.”

Not surprisingly, his speed on the basis was also important. The News-Times said; “Kelly can get around the bases in less time than any man in Indiana.” Captain of the Greys, R.B. Kelly stole five bases in a mid-July game against Winona, Indiana. In another game against the same team, he “gave some exhibitions of fast base running that kept the grandstand in an uproar.”viii Kelly was beginning to attract the attention of professional teams.

Sometime in July, he had a tryout with South Bend of the Central League. According to a January 27, 1909, article in the South Bend Tribune, “he modestly came to this city and asked Owner Grant for a trial. He did not mention his college record and from all Grant knew he was only a ball-struck youth. He was assigned to one of the gardens, where he went to work with a will and doing especially good work with the stick. Grant was impressed and decided to try him in the infield. The result was startling.” On August 2, the News-Times reported: “R.B. Kelly is at South Bend this afternoon working out on the bases with the Greens. [He] is already popular with the Greens, having had one workout.”

The South Bend Greens had a rough year in 1907. Manager Angus Grant like Kelly was from western Ohio. Born in Defiance on March 17, 1874, he’d played for the independent South Bend Green Stocking before embarking on a minor league career that included stops in Columbus, Ohio, Minneapolis and Milwaukee. He returned to South Bend when the Class B Central League was formed and was considered an excellent judge of talent, especially infielders. By the beginning of August, the team was firmly entrenched in last place and shortstop Owen Bush, the team’s top player, would soon be drafted by Detroit. Third base had been an especially hard position for Grant to fill.

On Saturday, August 3, R.B. Kelly made his professional debut batting seventh against Dick Carroll of Canton. The South Bend Sunday News was impressed. “Mr. Kelly, of Goshen, occupied a prominent position on the stage all through the matinee. Kel old boy looked mighty good to all of us down there and acted as though he meant something up at the bat. He annexed two of the seven hits in the first encounter and fielded like a serious third sacker. Kelly played some ball at third and made one stop which was a humdinger. He also displayed smoke on the base lines on more than one occasion.” South Bend’s other paper, the Tribune, was most impressed with a play in his third game with the team. “Kelly played a dandy game in the last three conflicts. His bunt which scored [Ben] Hayworth was a peach and a model of the kind.”ix A cartoon in the same issue of the Tribune said, “Kelly runs so fast he makes the air smoke.” The successful suicide squeeze and a hit in that third professional game came off Canton ace Rube Marquard.

Kelly quickly showed he was ready for professional baseball. The News-Times said he “seems to be assured of a future in professional baseball, and will likely play league ball the balance of the season. In Tuesday’s game at Springbrook, with Wheeling, he made three of the four hits for South Bend, one a three-bagger, but made his first errors in his Central league experience having played six games. Both were difficult chances, one taking a bad bound and hit him in the chest, nearly knocking him out, but he stuck to the game throughout. He did some base stealing, giving South Bend an illustration of the ‘Kelly dive’ in sliding for bases.”x

More importantly, someone else was impressed with the new infielder. “Manager Grant says that Kelly is one of the most finished ballplayers he has ever seen for one who has had so little experience in league playing. The way he covers third is a revelation and so far he has accepted every chance without a boot, taking many of the bad raps in his territory with the greatest ease and drawing out of possible errors by his quick recovery and good winging. At the bat he has the necessary good eye and the swinging motion for good drives and besides can lay down bunts with the best of them. His speed, cultivated by his work on the Purdue track team, allows him to beat out many of the short hits and makes him a handy man on the sacks.”xi

Goshen Day was planned in South Bend, and the August 6 issue of the Tribune “expected that a large number of people from the Elkhart county seat will attend the game, for Kelly, besides being a mighty good ballplayer is a popular young man. If all the Kelly family of ballplayers come there will be quite a crowd of Goshenites for a certainty.”

Five hits in two games against Wheeling raised Kelly’s batting average to .500 (13-26) in his first eight professional contests. Naturally a .500 batting average can’t last, and Kelly was not particularly impressive in the final series of the South Bend homestand or in the first road trip of his professional career. When the South Bend Tribune was discussing the league’s top third base prospects, Kelly was included. “[Kelly] has had little experience, but certainly looks good and though the chances are he will not be drawn by the majors this year it is in the bounds of reasonable prophecy to say he will be next year at the close of his second season.”xii

He closed the road trip with three hits including a pair of doubles off Dal Alderman of Springfield. Alderman, though a native of Nebraska, had numerous relatives in Goshen. The teams then played a series in South Bend, and Kelly had three hits and a stolen base in the August 25 opener. Among those hits was his first professional home run in the seventh inning. “He put a drive out in the same spot that Bush found so nice and completed the circuit in a good sprint with Gene [Curtis] blazing the way.”xiii

In early September, the Detroit Tigers drafted Bush. Though the shortstop remained with the Greens until the end of the season, manager Grant prepared for the future by trying Kelly at the position. He made three errors in his first four games at short, also receiving starts at second base and left field during the season’s final month.

Speed Kelly saved one of his best efforts for the season’s last two games. On Saturday September 14, he had a pair of hits and stole a base. He was even better the next day. According to the Tribune, “R.B. Kelly, whose first name remains an unsolved puzzle, was the prize clouter, and he added three marks to the list of his hits. One of these was a round trip slough.” The Tribune later described the home run in greater detail. “Kelly in the seventh met a shoot in the abdomen and floated it to the left leas for the circuit, making the [season’s] last tally.”xiv

For his first professional season, Speed Kelly appeared in 46 games, recording 46 hits in 150 at bats for a .307 average. Final league statistics indicate 5 doubles, 1 Triple, 2 Home Runs and 11 stolen bases. These were impressive figures for a player making the jump to a Class B league from an average semipro team. Although he had far too few at bats to qualify for the batting title, he compiled the third-highest batting average.

His defense was less consistent, one source crediting him with a fielding percentage of .900. The Tribune offered an excellent critique of Kelly. “His weak points were his base running and his inability to put the ball on a runner at his sack. Another thing, which worried the other infielders, was the difficulty with which Kelly picked up grounders to his left. Of course with Bush playing beside him there wasn’t much getting away but Bush is the only one of his kind and Kelly is not apt to find such a supporter again. Practice will improve the Goshen lad in all these particulars.”xv

R.B. Kelly spent much of the winter of 1907-08 in Los Angeles, likely seeing some action in the California winter leagues. Whether it was the change of address or a desire for a larger contract is uncertain, but Kelly was a holdout during the late winter and early spring of 1908, signing and reporting to the team on April 2.

More than the holdout, a pair of signings by Grant would have a major effect on Kelly’s 1908 season. In late February, South Bend signed veteran third baseman Daniel Sheehan. Sheehan was 37 and had been playing professionally since 1896, including a brief stint with the Detroit Tigers the year before the American League became a major league. The day after Kelly reported, the Greens signed veteran shortstop Ben Koehler. Koehler was a South Bend resident who played two seasons for the St. Louis Browns and had spent 1907 with St. Paul of the American Association.

When South Bend opened their exhibition season with a home game against the Chicago White Sox, Kelly was at third base. He went hitless that afternoon against Ed Walsh and Doc White, but continued to see most of the action during an April tour of the Three I league.

When the team opened the season at Terre Haute on April 23, Kelly was in the starting lineup and Sheehan was on the bench. He singled in the fourth and sixth innings finishing the day two for five. Sheehan played most of the rest of the opening road trip, but Kelly was back in the lineup for the home opener on May 1. Speed Kelly went 0-4, scoring a run. He also made a costly ninth inning error nearly costing his team the game. On May 8, he made an outstanding play in a losing effort. “In the second inning Kelly pulled off a stunt rarely recorded, making a double play unassisted. [Andy] Oyler rolled an easy one to [South Bend pitcher Dave] Martin, who threw the ball to Kelly at third catching [Lew] Drill. Oyler attempted to go down to second on the play, and Kelly overtook him at second, retiring the side.” Though technically not unassisted, Kelly was responsible for both putouts.xvi

Despite the opportunity for Kelly, speculation was Sheehan would soon take over. On Tuesday May 12, the rumor became reality. Relegated to a couple of pinch-hit appearances over the rest of the month, he was believed to be on the way out. “Kelly may be farmed or sold to the Kalamazoo, Mich. Club, in the Southern Michigan league, as manager [Maurice] Myers, of that aggregation is making strenuous efforts to land the speedy infielder to hold down the shortstop position. Manager Grant has been in communication with Manager Myers of the Celery City team and it is probable that a deal may be made soon.”xvii Grant instead loaned pitcher Roy Newcomb to Kalamazoo.

Speed Kelly returned to the starting lineup on June 12 due to teammates’ injuries. “Kelly, who has been doing most of his playing on the bench, got a chance to break in yesterday and proved that Grant has a good utility man whenever needed. He put up a great [game] at short and cut in with one of the six hits allowed by [Earl] Yingling.”xviii

Playing short, third and the outfield, he’d remain in the lineup until the end of the month. Batting cleanup for the first time on the 25th, his ninth-inning triple off the right field fence scored Sheehan with the tying run in a ten-inning win over Evansville. The next day, poor defense hurt his cause as he made three errors in a doubleheader loss to the same team.

When unofficial league stats were published in mid-July, Kelly was listed as appearing in 36 games (out of 78) and a .260 average, 32 hits and 41 total bases. Appearing sparingly the last couple months of the season, he was impressive if not always lucky. After a 1-3 effort in a win over Wheeling, the Tribune noted; “Speed Kelly hit in hard luck, his hits being terrific smashes which bounded into the fielders’ hands. His wallop at [Buzz] Wetzel in the fourth was a terror and had it been a foot either side, would have gone for a homer.”xix

By season’s end, Speed Kelly had appeared in 47 games with 40 hits and a .250 average. He had 18 runs scored, 7 doubles, 1 triple, 7 stolen bases and 10 sacrifices. Although it was certainly a step back from 1907, he still showed enough potential to be retained by South Bend for 1909. His performance in 1909 would lead him to the major leagues.

Perhaps the key to Speed Kelly’s 1909 success occurred at a league meeting in January. At the meeting, a team salary cap of $1,800 a month was adopted. Individual players could not receive more than $200 monthly.xx Almost immediately, Sheehan expressed dissatisfaction with the prospect of a pay cut, describing the rule as an “old chestnut with them all. If I ever receive a letter from a manager that doesn’t say something about the league limit I shall buy that manager something pretty. I want what I got last year and free transportation.”xxi Sheehan was eventually released at his request and first baseman Ben Hayworth soon retired, a move at least in part related to the new pay scale. Kelly meanwhile was described as “a young man who is in the game for pastime and not for financial return.”xxii

Grant signed infielder James “Runt” Walsh to replace Sheehan, but it would be the hole at first base that would open up a spot for Kelly. Speed Kelly reported to South Bend on March 25, and was in the lineup for the exhibition opener against Cap Anson’s Colts. The perception of Kelly that spring was “lightning on the bases when he attempts a steal, and is a good reliable fielder with a fair whip which he can use from any corner of the diamond equally well. On the other hand he is not what would be called an aggressive player and he will not take the chances Sheehan or Walsh will nor is he a reliable pinch hitter.”xxiii

Eventually shortstop Koehler was moved to first base, leaving third base for Walsh and giving Speed Kelly the shortstop job. Partly this switch was made due to inability to find a competent first baseman, but Kelly was described as “showing wonderful improvement and, if he retains his present form there is little chance of him losing out.”xxiv He was also considered a candidate for sale to a higher league after the season. The tallest member of the team, Kelly was 6’1” and weighed 155 pounds.xxv

With Walsh late in reporting, Speed Kelly started at third in the April 29 opener played in Zanesville, Ohio. In his first at-bat of the season, “Kelly as the first man up clouted the pill on the nose for three sacks, the pill rolling well into left field. [Bill] Kenworthy’s wild pitch enabled the third sacker to cross the plate with the first run of the local season.”xxvi Kelly was a star as well in the team’s second game on May 2. According to the next day’s South Bend Tribune, “this Kelly was going some yesterday with two pilfered sacks, a double and two singles.” He was 4-4 with a run scored in a home loss to the same team on May 8.

During the first South Bend home stand, the infield stabilized. Walsh took over at third, Koehler moved to first and Kelly became the team’s shortstop. After one of his early games at short, the Tribune observed; “Kelly did his usual stunt of fumbling then catching his man at first by three-quarters of an inch several times. Also he beat out a neat bunt and tied up the score in the eighth. Speed looks better to the fans every game.”xxvii Manager Grant apparently agreed with the fans moving Kelly to fourth in the batting order in mid May.

One of his best efforts was in a 7-5 win over Dayton on June 4. The next day’s edition of the Tribune commented; “The other great big star performer was lengthy ‘Speed’ Kelly, the young man who cut up capers on the short field, and who in four times up smashed out three hits which resulted in the scoring of five runs three of them being brought over by himself. Kelly could have well rested on his batting laurels, but in the fifth inning with everything going against South Bend he stepped forward and saved the game by cutting off two and possibly three runs by going up after a line drive by [Frank] Pinkney.”

Through June 6, Kelly led the Central League in batting with a mark of .376 and runs scored (28). He had a pair of doubles, two triples and seven stolen bases. On June 15, he got a pair of hits in a game that didn’t count a 2-1 eleven-inning win over the Boston Doves of the National League. Three days later he left a game against Grand Rapids with a mashed finger. He returned a week later, but wasn’t completely over the injury. Despite the injury, Speed Kelly was described as “the talk of the circuit. Everybody says he’s going up higher at the end of the season.”xxviii

Meanwhile, a seldom-used backup catcher for the Washington Nationals was sent on a scouting trip. Mike Kahoe was an Ohio native, and his first stop was his home state. On July 3, an unnamed Washington scout made an offer for Zanesville shortstop Clyde “Buzzy” Wares. Five days later the Tribune reported Kahoe’s offer of $1,500 for pitcher Ewart “Dixie” Walker. Walker joined Washington at the end of the Central League season and pitched parts of four seasons for the team.

On July 8, Speed Kelly had four hits and scored a run in a twelve-inning win over Terre Haute, and made an outstanding catch on a line drive by Ira Belden. He had two more hits the next day in the opener of a home series with Wheeling. On Saturday, July 10, 1909 Mike Kahoe came to South Bend. According to the July 12 issue of the Goshen Daily News, “the scout arrived in South Bend Saturday morning and went out to the ballpark unknown to even Grant. He watched the game and was so impressed with the way Kelly handled himself that he looked up the manager last night and closed the deal with him with few preliminaries. The dopesters had it all figured out that Kiddo Wares was the youngster Kahoe had picked out to introduce into big league company but Kahoe heard about Kelly and held up the negotiation until he had time to look the local shortstopper over.” Kahoe said “Kelly is by far the most promising looking man he has seen in the Central league and that he needed to see him in action but the one time to be able to determine that he was ripe for a tryout in fast company.”xxix

The South Bend Times reported, “Kahoe kept a close eye on Speed and his exhibition on the field and at bat was of the order that Kahoe considered tiptop. Kelly was sold outright, the price in the deal being $2,500.”xxx

He had a pair of hits that afternoon and was hit in the left hand with a pitch.

The next afternoon, Speed Kelly played one final game with South Bend before reporting to Washington. According to the Times, “Speed Kelly who bade local baseball fandom farewell yesterday played a remarkable game, and the hand of the grandstand was his throughout. His catches of [Cyrus] Clyde’s hit in the first and [Bob] Tarleton’s drive in the fifth were the kind of stunts they pull off in the big leagues, and it is sure that ‘Kell’ will be able to keep his brilliant work.”xxxi

The Tribune noted, “Kelly’s final appearance in a South Bend uniform brought him an ovation from the fans when he came to bat in the second. Then when he pulled off his spectacular catches behind second, the ovation was turned into hurricanes of applause.”xxxii Unofficial stats showed 74 hits in 224 at bats in 61 games good for a .330 average. According to stats published in the Goshen Daily News, he finished with 36 runs, 77 total bases, 9 sacrifices, and 8 stolen bases. He also finished with 4 doubles and 2 triples. His defense was still questionable with 32 errors and a .883 fielding percentage.xxxiii Most important was the respect he’d earned. One account said; “Kelly has won his spurs by consistent work on the diamond and being a gentleman off it.”xxxiv

Kelly joined his new team in Cleveland, on July 12. South Bend gave local semipro John Claffey first chance at the shortstop job. Soon thereafter a seminary student also with a track and field background asked Grant for a tryout. The young player received that tryout, and after a poor 1909 season would star for South Bend in 1910 earning his own chance at the major leagues. His name was Max Carey.xxxv

R.B. Kelly first appeared in the major leagues at Detroit on Tuesday July 13. As usual the last place Nationals lost. Ed Killian scattered seven hits in a 3-0 win. Playing third base and batting sixth in the order, Speed Kelly was arguably the team’s lone bright spot. According to the next day’s Washington Post, “Kelly led off [the fifth] with a double. [Jiggs] Donahue flied to deep right and Kelly beat Cobb’s throw to third after the catch. The youngster tried for home when [George] McBride bounced one at [George] Moriarty but he died at the plate.” He was the only Washington batter to make it to third that day. The Post described him as a “right-handed-batter apparently fond of trying to beat bunts and seems to have a good head.”

Detroit apparently took advantage of catcher Cliff Blankenship on the bases, though Kelly did chalk up a couple of putouts on Tigers attempting to steal third. One of the plays was a double play after a strike out. Defensively, the Post remarked that “He is fast and he refused to allow the Detroit base runners to rattle him when they began to run wild between second and the bag that he was guarding.”

He played both games of a doubleheader on July 15th and an 18-inning scoreless tie the next day. He had just one hit in the three games and was pinch-hit for in the 17th inning of the game. During the series, a Detroit newspaper ran a feature on the rookie infielder; “How Kelly Broke into the Big Time.” The story inaccurately claimed that 1909 was Kelly’s first minor league season.xxxvi

Still in the lineup as the team moved onto Chicago, he began to struggle in his former college town. After the first game of the series, the Post noted; “Kelly was a little timid today on account of a lot of home folks rubbering at him. But he is a promising player and [Manager Pongo Joe] Cantillon is very well pleased with him.”xxxvii

On the 18th, Kelly made a pair of key mistakes, though not charged with an error. First he was slow in tagging Dave Alitzer at third after a successful sacrifice attempt by Fred Parent. Later “Dougherty laid down a bunt. Johnson was on the ball in a flash. He whirled and slammed it to third but Kelly hadn’t turned around for the throw and the ball whistled for the third base pavilion and leaped over the netting into the stand.”xxxviii Later he retired Lee Tannehill on a ground ball but reportedly had a chance of throwing Frank Isbell out at the plate. Kelly was likely injured in the attempt to corral Johnson’s throw. Later reports mention a barehanded attempt to catch a Johnson throw, resulting in an injured hand.xxxix

The next day, Washington was beaten 12-2 by the White Sox. At the plate, Kelly struck out three times but tallied one of the Nationals’ four hits a seventh inning single to left. Defensively he again struggled. A headline read “Kelly Again Shines as Maker of Errors.” The game account described the teams fielding as “off color. Kelly the third baseman and a product of the University of Chicago, was a chief offender. In one case he tried to save [pitcher Joe] Hovlik from making a possible error and succeeded in breaking loose with a much worse one himself.”xl On the play, “Alitzer bunted toward third and Kelly running forward picked up the ball and threw into the bleachers.”xli Two runs scored and Alitzer made it to third on the play.

On July 20, Speed Kelly was benched. The next day’s Post commented; “Kelly has been a bit too erratic in his old college town and Cantillon put [Wid] Conroy back on third today. At that Kelly looks like he might develop into quite a ball player.” Cantillon later described him “as a natural ball player and his only trouble is the company he is in is new to him and he is a bit nervous. He can field, has a wonderful arm, is fast, can bunt and is a fairly good batter now and will get better. We made no mistake in getting him.”xlii

Except for an occasional pinch-hitting appearance, Kelly was out of the lineup until after Washington returned home. He replaced starter Wid Conroy midway through the first game of a doubleheader with Cleveland on August 5. The appearance was uneventful, but the Post was impressed with his quickness. Meanwhile in mid-August, the team traded starting second baseman Jim Delahanty for two players, including Germany Schaefer. This trade would give Speed Kelly a very brief second chance in the Washington lineup.

On September 7, Boston was in town and Schaefer was suffering from a bruised hand so Kelly was given the start at second base. It would be the best game of his major league career. Batting fifth for the Nationals, he was 2-4 at the plate with a pair of runs scored and a stolen base. One of the hits was a double. J. Ed Grillo of the Post said the next day: “Speed Kelly gave evidence yesterday of being a much better ballplayer than he has shown on previous occasions. His playing at second base was excellent in fact. He made numerous good stops and covered a lot of ground, and he hit well and showed speed on the bases.” Schaefer also thought he had potential. “Kelly is going to make a good ballplayer. All he lacks at the present time is confidence and experience. If he is given an occasional chance to play, he will be a cracking good man in a year or so.”xliii

Given another start the next day, he narrowly missed a home run. In the first inning with Jack Lelivelt on second base, Kelly “hit a high fly to short right field, which struck the railing on the bleachers which indicates the foul line, and then bounded away from [Doc] Gessler. Had the ball bounded into the bleachers it would have been a home run.”xliv The hit went for a triple, and the only run batted in of Kelly’s major league career.

Poor defense again was a problem that afternoon. Grillo said: “Kelly had a very poor day in the field, and that, too, after making two sensational stops. The youngster’s great failing is his nervousness.”xlv Two of those errors came in the fourth. “Kelly made a pretty play on Speaker’s grounder, but erred on Gessler.” Later in the inning he “made a mess of McConnell’s grounder.” On the play, “Kelly injured one of his fingers trying to handle McConnell’s grounder in the fourth and had to retire, and it will be several days before he will be able to get back in harness.”xlvi

It would actually be a couple of weeks before he appeared in another game, and that was an unsuccessful pinch-hitting assignment. His last major league game was an uneventful one. In Washington’s last home game, Kelly started at second, going hitless in a pair of at bats against Harry Ables of Cleveland.

Meanwhile, the team was contemplating a managerial change. There was some thought of Schaefer getting the job. That might have given Kelly an opportunity in 1910. Instead Jimmy McAleer of the Browns was given the position. Speed Kelly did not return to Washington in 1910.

Also that off-season, Jack Hendricks was hired as manager of the Denver Grizzlies of the Western League. Hendricks, a former major league outfielder and future major league manager, had been in charge at Fort Wayne. Due to his experience in the Central League, Hendricks built the team around players he’d seen in the Central. Pitchers Casey Hageman, Barney Schreiber, and Harry Hammond, and second baseman Davy Lloyd all had Central League experience. Speed Kelly signed a Denver contract for 1910. He appeared in 90 games for the Grizzlies that season, batting .280 in 90 games. His hits included 12 doubles, 5 triples and a home run.xlvii

Wanting to play closer to home, Speed Kelly was able to return to the Central League and South Bend for the 1911 season. The league was in a state of disarray that year. Syndicate ownership and lagging attendance was the problem. In mid-June, the Grand Rapids team moved to Newark, Ohio. South Bend owner Bert Annis also had ties to Grand Rapids and late in the month moved the South Bend club to Grand Rapids as a replacement. Kelly remained with the team after the move to Grand Rapids, batting .254 in 127 games. He set a career high with 7 triples and homered once. Whether the franchise transfers were a factor is uncertain, but 1911 was Speed Kelly’s final professional season.xlviii

Just after that season ended, R.B. Kelly married Marie Starr also of Goshen. He continued to play for the Goshen Greys and assumed a role in the Kelly Foundry & Machining Company. In 1919, Irvin Kelly died and R.B. assumed his brother’s position as Secretary and Treasurer of the company. Frank Kelly retired from operation of the Foundry a few years later, and his surviving son took over.xlix

R.B. and Marie had two daughters, Mary Louise and Kathleen. In addition to his work at the foundry, R.B. Kelly became one of the area’s better golfers. He also retained his interest in track and field. Speed Kelly’s father died in 1931, and Marie died on her 50th birthday, October 7, 1939.l

After Marie’s death, R.B. Kelly moved in with Kathleen and her husband in Goshen.

His own health in decline, and he was seen on the golf course only sporadically. In April of 1948, he was honored at the Goshen Relays serving as honorary referee at the meet. On Friday April 23, 1949, he attended the Relays on a cold rainy day. The following Monday, he was admitted to Goshen Hospital suffering from pneumonia and a kidney infection.li His condition was considered critical, and he was in a coma. For a time, his condition seemed to improve. After fighting off the pneumonia, his body was too weak to recover from the kidney infection, and at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 6, 1949, R.B. “Speed” Kelly died. He was buried at Goshen’s Violett Cemetery.lii

The Kelly Foundry & Machine Company stayed in operation for several years after R.B. Kelly’s death, but eventually closed. The building burned down in an apparent arson fire in the 1970s. Many of the manhole covers in Goshen and ironwork in the business district of West Unity, Ohio, were manufactured at the Foundry.

 

Sources

Goshen Daily Democrat, 1901

Goshen Daily News, 1909, 1919, 2011

Goshen Daily News Times, 1902, 1907, 1932, 1939, 1943, 1949

Logansport (Indiana) Pharos, 1902

South Bend Times, 1907, 1909

South Bend Tribune, 1907-1909, 1911

Newark (Ohio) Advocate, 1911

SABR Baseball Biography Project

Baseball-Reference.com

US Census Elkhart County Indiana, 1900-1930

WWI Draft Registration R.B. Kelly, Elkhart County, Indiana

 

Notes

i Goshen Daily Democrat, May 27, 1901, 1.

ii Logansport (Indiana) Pharos-Tribune, January 25, 1902, 6.

iii Goshen News-Times, April 18, 1902, 1.

iv Goshen News-Times, June 2, 1902, 4.

v Ibid.

vi Goshen News-Times, June 9, 1902, 1.

vii Goshen News, “Reminiscence”, July 6, 2011.

viii Goshen News-Times, August 1, 1907, 1.

ix South Bend Tribune, March 1, 1909, 8.

x South Bend Tribune, August 5, 1907, 3.

xi Goshen News-Times, August 7, 1907, 1.

xii South Bend Tribune, August 6, 1907, 3.

xiii South Bend Tribune, August 22, 1907, 3.

xiv South Bend Tribune, August 26, 1907, 3.

xv South Bend Tribune, September 16, 1907, 3.

xvi South Bend Tribune, February 8, 1908, 3.

xvii South Bend Tribune, May 9, 1908, 12.

xviii South Bend Tribune, May 30, 1908, 10.

xix South Bend Tribune, June 13, 1908, 10.

xx South Bend Tribune, August 3, 1908, 9.

xxi South Bend Tribune, January 19, 1909, 9.

xxii South Bend Tribune, March 1, 1909, 8.

xxiii South Bend Tribune, January 27, 1909, 10.

xxiv South Bend Tribune, March 31, 1909, 14.

xxv South Bend Tribune, April 16, 1909, 14.

xxvi South Bend Tribune, May 7, 1909, 12.

xxvii South Bend Tribune, April 30, 1909, 14.

xxviii South Bend Tribune, May 13, 1909, 12.

xxix South Bend Tribune, June 29, 1909, 9.

xxx Goshen Daily News, July 12, 1909, 1.

xxxi South Bend Times, July 12, 1909, 4.

xxxii Ibid.

xxxiii South Bend Tribune, July 12, 1909, 9.

xxxiv Goshen Daily News, July 12, 1909, 1.

xxxv Goshen News, “Reminiscence”, July 6, 2011.

xxxvii Washington Post, July 18, 1909, 8.

xxxviii Washington Post, July 19, 1909, 8.

xxxix Goshen News, “Reminiscence”, July 6, 2011; Goshen News Times, May 6, 1949, 1.

xl Washington Post, July 20, 1909, 8.

xli Ibid.

xlii Washington Post, July 27, 1909, 8.

xliii Washington Post, September 8, 1909, 8.

xliv Washington Post, September 8, 1909, 8.

xlv Ibid.

xlvi Ibid.

xlvii Baseball-Reference.com

xlviii Ibid.

xlix Goshen Daily News, October 31, 1919, 1.

l Goshen Daily News-Times, September 9, 1932, 1; Goshen Daily News-Times, October 2, 1939, 1.

li Goshen Daily News-Times, May 6, 1949, 1.

lii Ibid.

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