This article was written by Alfonso L Tusa C
During his days with the Baltimore Orioles at the end of the 1970s, Pat Kelly talked a lot with skipper Earl Weaver. While Weaver spoke about baseball strategy, Kelly – who became a born-again Christian in 1975 – persisted in talking about Jesus Christ. In one of those dialogues, Kelly proposed to Weaver, “Why don’t you walk with the Lord?” Weaver answered, “I’d rather you walked with the bases loaded.”1
Kelly was in fact good at drawing walks – though he hit in every spot in the lineup during his 15 years in the majors, he served most often as a leadoff batter. There his on-base percentage (.354 lifetime) and speed (four seasons with 25 or more stolen bases) made him valuable. The outfielder was good enough to make the American League All-Star team in 1973, but the lefty swinger was perhaps most valuable as part of a platoon for Weaver.
Baseball fans in Venezuela also remember Kelly fondly. He hit .347 during four winters there in the late 1960s and early 1970s. During the 1968-69 season, the duo of Cito Gaston and Kelly “became the first members of the Poder Negro – Black Power – era of the Magallanes team: African American import players who hit for power. Venezuelan sportswriters coined the term ‘Poder Negro’ after the incident at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists.”2 Carlos Tovar Bracho, a Venezuelan sportscaster, described Gaston and Kelly as a black version of Batman and Robin.
Harold Patrick Kelly was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 30, 1944. His parents were Orvin and Argie (née Watson) Kelly, who came from South Carolina to the Philadelphia area in the mid-1920s when Orvin took a job with a steel company. Argie Kelly was a great cook known for her Southern specialties: chitterlings, collard greens, fried chicken, and sweet potato pie. The couple had nine children but lost two of them to rheumatic fever in 1940.3 Pat’s surviving siblings were named Samson, Dorothy, Ulysses, Elizabeth, Maybelle, and Leroy. They all went to Sunday school each week – the Kellys were a devout Baptist family. Pat later said, “My father worked for $12 a week to serve nine kids and put food on the table. He would wake up at four in the morning and it would be freezing cold outside. He would go in a pickup truck with no heat some 30 miles and work all day, but he went with God in his heart.”4
Pat was the baby of the family – but not the only athlete. His older brothers and he all played baseball, football, and basketball in high school. The most successful, however, was Leroy Kelly, who played running back for the Cleveland Browns from 1964 to 1973. He succeeded Jim Brown, whom many still view as the greatest back in NFL history, as the Browns’ primary ball-carrier. Yet Leroy was a star in his own right – he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1994. There have been other similar brother pairs of major-league outfielder and NFL running back. To name two, Alex and Ron Johnson also played in the 1960s and 1970s; Wayne and Terry Kirby came along in the 1990s.
Leroy and Pat were the closest in age (two years apart), and as brothers will, they competed all the time. As Pat remembered in 1975, “The games with Leroy when we were kids laid the groundwork, I think, for wanting to win – for never giving up.” He told of how Leroy looked for an edge in the board game Electric Football, in which a motor caused toy players to move on a vibrating field, by weighting his linemen with screws.5
Kelly grew up in Nicetown, the North Philadelphia neighborhood that also produced Roy Campanella. His baseball idol growing up, though, was Campy’s teammate, Jackie Robinson. One of his biggest thrills as a boy was going to major-league games with his father at Connie Mack Stadium. Pat remembered when certain players rejected his autograph requests, and when he made it, he vowed always to sign for kids even if he’d had a bad day.6
At Philadelphia’s Simon Gratz High School, Kelly made the city’s “All Public” team in both baseball and football. In basketball, he played against Philadelphia legend Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, who went on to star in the NBA. Kelly had enormous respect for Monroe and his work ethic – years later, he even turned down a date with a beautiful girl that his brother Leroy had set up because he wanted to go to a game featuring The Pearl.7
In Kelly’s senior year, 1962, he earned the Cliveden Award as the best prep school athlete in the entire city. “I didn’t really want to play football,” he remembered in 1969. “But when I got to high school it was more or less expected because of the family tradition. I was the regular quarterback my senior year. But I never had any thoughts of becoming a pro football player. I had only one love – baseball.”8 Kelly was a pitcher at Gratz, and he sometimes sulked after giving up big hits – but he credited his coach, Pete Lorenc, for teaching him discipline and serenity. 9
After he graduated, Kelly signed as an amateur free agent with the Minnesota Twins. His first year in professional baseball was 1963. The Twins sent Kelly to play for Orlando (Class A) of the Florida State League. There he had to deal with racial segregation for the first time. Black and white players were together on the field but had separate living quarters once the game ended. “I know those times were hard but what always kept me going was what Jackie Robinson went through,” Kelly remembered in 2005. “We had gotten to that point because of the sacrifices of the men before me. Men were bloodied, lynched and who knows what else so we could get the opportunity to play baseball.”10
Kelly also spent 1964 and 1965 in A ball. He hit for good average and stole a lot of bases while getting caught very seldom. A crucial turning point came in 1966: he thought he was headed to Double-A Charlotte, but was optioned again to Class A Wilson (also in North Carolina). “When I found out I didn’t make the Charlotte team, I packed up my Pontiac LeMans and told them I was leaving camp if they did not put me on the Charlotte roster by noon,” he said. “And they agreed. They gave me a major-league contract and I made my big league debut about a year later.” 11
When the rosters expanded in September 1967, Minnesota called Kelly up for the first time, and he made his big-league debut on September 6 as a pinch-runner. That was his role in seven of his eight appearances for the Twins in 1967. His only at-bat came as a pinch-hitter, and he struck out against Bob Humphreys of the Washington Senators. He did not appear in the field.
Kelly returned to Triple-A to start the 1968 season, and he had another nice year with the Denver Bears (a .306 average, 3 homers, and 31 RBIs plus 38 stolen bases in 108 games). Again the Twins called him up in September, and this time he got a proper trial, starting nine of the 12 games in which he appeared. Although he went just 4 for 35 (.114), one of those hits was his first home run in the majors. It was a solo shot off Clyde Wright of the California Angels, at Anaheim Stadium on September 23.
At the end of the 1968 season, a teammate on the Twins – César Tovar – proposed that Kelly join him that winter to play in the Venezuelan league. The original plan was to play for the Caracas Leones, where Tovar was one of the stars. When the general manager told Tovar there was no place for another outfielder on the team, Tovar recommended Kelly to Rodolfo Mauriello, the general manager of Magallanes. Pat and Cito Gaston batted third and cleanup, respectively; Gaston nearly won the Triple Crown and Kelly hit .342-11-45 in 60 games.
That lineup also had other Americans, such as Joe Rudi and Walt Hriniak, plus local stars including Gus Gil, Dámaso Blanco, César Gutiérrez, and Armando Ortíz. The most recognizable name on the pitching staff was playboy Bo Belinsky. Napoleón Reyes was the skipper. Yet despite all the talent, the Magallanes Navigators finished at 27-32. They made it to the four-team round-robin playoff but got knocked out after the first round.
Just after Kelly left for Venezuela, on October 15, 1968, the Kansas City Royals took him in the expansion draft. He went in the fourth round, as the 34th overall pick. It was a good break for Pat, because Minnesota’s outfield was set with Bob Allison, Ted Uhlaender, and Tony Oliva. “I was surprised the Twins didn’t protect me, but not disappointed, really,” Kelly said in August 1969. “I have a golden opportunity here. . .I’m very happy.”12
Kelly issued a remarkably accurate prediction that summer – “I’d just like to play 15 years [in the majors].” He also mentioned that he had been pursuing college in the offseason, at Morgan State University in Baltimore. That was where his brother Leroy, who had talent as a third baseman, had gone to play football. “Leroy didn’t really have a favorite sport but since Morgan State didn’t have a baseball team, he stuck to football.”13 Pat eventually got his college degree in the 1970s.
For his new team, Pat started 60 games in right field, 44 in center, and two in left. He hit .264-8-32 and stole 40 bases (a career high) in 53 attempts. Manager Joe Gordon said, “He’s tremendously improved with the bat. He’s changed his whole style of attacking the ball. . .he has a quick bat, a good level swing and has no fear at the plate. He’ll hit all kinds of pitching.”14
Kelly did not play in Venezuela in the 1969-70 season. He was in the Florida Instructional League, working on hitting, bunting, and fielding.15 He became the Royals’ regular right fielder in 1970, starting 108 games there, only one in center, and none in left. His hitting tailed off to .235-6-38 in 452 at-bats, however, and he struck out 105 times. He did have a memorable moment on September 11, though, breaking up a no-hit bid by Oakland A’s rookie Vida Blue with a two-out, eighth-inning single. Ten days later, Blue did get a no-hitter against the Twins.
On October 13, 1970, Kansas City traded Kelly with pitcher Don O’Riley to the Chicago White Sox for two lefty-swinging first basemen, Gail Hopkins and John Matias. White Sox manager Chuck Tanner said, “It was a good deal for us because, first of all we must get more speed and, secondly, we were overloaded with first basemen. . .I understand that Kelly isn’t a polished outfielder. However, his arm is adequate for left field and he can overcome mistakes because of his speed.”16
Kelly returned to Venezuela for the 1970-71 season with a different team, Tiburones (Sharks) de La Guaira. Though he played in just 27 games, he made his 96 at-bats count: .365-6-15. He went on to hit .405-0-7 in 10 postseason games as the Sharks won the league championship.
Kelly did not make the White Sox roster to start the 1971 season. He hurt his right knee running into a fence in Fort Lauderdale, batted very poorly in camp, and opened the year at Triple-A Tucson. “That was hard to stomach,” he said in 1974. “I was a little upset. . . no, I guess I was a great deal upset. But I talked to my brother and finally got myself together again.”17 Kelly tore up Pacific Coast League pitching – .355-6-43 in 75 games. The White Sox recalled him near the end of June, and he hit .291-3-22 in 67 games, most of them as right fielder. He never spent another day in the minors – but for the remainder of his career, he faced mainly righthanded pitching.
In the winter of 1971-72, Kelly played again for La Guaira. He and his teammate, catcher Paul Casanova, opened a night club in Caracas called La Pelota. (Kelly was known then for his love of dancing and flashy clothes.) In 32 games with the Sharks, Pat hit .400 in 115 at-bats, with no homers and 14 RBIs. La Guaira advanced to the playoff finals but lost to Tigres de Aragua.
Although Walt “No-Neck” Williams also played a fair amount, Kelly remained the primary right fielder for the White Sox in 1972 (.261-5-24 in 119 games). Chicago finished in second place in the AL West that year behind Oakland. MVP Dick Allen, who had come over in a trade, was the centerpiece of manager Chuck Tanner’s team. But that White Sox team also relied on strong pitching and defense to win in the spacious old Comiskey Park. Kelly contributed with his “small ball” skills, including 32 stolen bases.
A fine example came in a doubleheader against the Texas Rangers at Comiskey on August 6. In the second game, Kelly led off the bottom of the first by drawing a walk, stealing second, going to third on an infield out – and then stealing home. The run he manufactured gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead without the benefit of a hit, setting up a sweep of the doubleheader. Tanner enjoyed Kelly’s hustle.
In 1972-73, Kelly played in the Venezuelan winter league for the last time (.296-2-10 in 35 games; the Sharks lost in the first round of the playoffs). Upon his return to Chicago, Pat got off to a red-hot start – he led the major leagues with a batting average of .441 at the end of May. He made the AL All-Star team, added by manager Dick Williams. This was his response to all the people who confused him with an Irish comedian or viewed him as playing second fiddle to his brother Leroy.
During that 1973 season, Kelly had to play for a long time with pain in his left (throwing) shoulder. “When he caught a fly ball, Jorge Orta [the White Sox second baseman] would run out until they were five feet apart and Pat’d just wrist-flick the ball to him,” said Tanner. But when he had to swing the bat, Kelly didn’t feel any pain. Kelly said he was hitting almost 200 hundred points over his career average because “I’ve become much more selective about pitches in my swing zone,” he said, “and I’m seeing the ball good. When you’re hitting, it’s as big as a balloon.”18
Inevitably, Kelly cooled off in the second half, but he still finished 1973 with a .280-1-44 line in a career-high 144 games and 550 at-bats. Unfortunately, the White Sox slipped back to fifth place in the AL West. They remained either fourth or fifth in the division during 1974 and 1975. In 1974, Kelly yielded time in right field to Bill Sharp, serving more frequently as a designated hitter (.281-4-21). He became the primary right fielder once more in 1975, though (.274-9-45).
Kelly’s 1975 season was more notable for off-field reasons, however – the life style he had adopted (liquor, drugs, women) plunged him into depression. His friend Clyde White took him to a Bible class and he was born again. His White Sox teammates began to call him “The Rev.” – short for Reverend. “The Pat Kelly I had known for 30 years just stopped existing,” he told the Baltimore Sun for a 1986 profile.19
Kelly’s last season in Chicago came under manager Paul Richards in 1976. He hit .254-5-34 in 107 games, mainly as a DH because Ralph Garr was the new White Sox right fielder. On November 18, 1976, Chicago traded Kelly to the Baltimore Orioles for catcher Dave Duncan. “We needed to add depth behind the plate,” explained White Sox general manager Roland Hemond, “and we were a little overbalanced with lefthanded hitting.”20 The Sporting News thought that Chicago got the short end of the deal, though, and that opinion turned out to be saying the least. Whereas Baltimore got plenty of value from Kelly, the White Sox got none from Duncan – they released him in March 1977, and he never played another game in the majors. Just a few months later, White Sox owner Bill Veeck called it “a most glaring mistake.”21
When Kelly arrived in Baltimore, he tried to create a religious group. At first his new teammates refused to hear his call. But by the time he left Baltimore, he had helped some of his teammates – including Scott McGregor, Tippy Martínez, Doug DeCinces, Kiko García and Ken Singleton – to be better human beings through his Christianity.
“I saved myself in 1978 through Pat Kelly’s influence”, McGregor declared in 2005 from the dugout of the Frederick Keys, where he worked as pitching coach. “I think we were like 15 guys in the group. Each Sunday we had chapel service in the lifting weight room of Memorial Stadium. During the week we met at each one’s house to study the Bible. We developed a very deep friendship.”22
Kelly moved to left field when he joined the Orioles. In 1977, he got most of the action there, hitting .256-10-49 in 120 games while platooning mainly with Andrés Mora. The Kelly-Mora tandem remained in place through 1978, with Kelly providing .274-11-40 production in 100 games. The Orioles sent Mora down ahead of the 1979 season (he returned to his native Mexico). Gary Roenicke became the main man in left field – but Kelly and newly obtained Benny Ayala became valuable role players.
Kelly got the only chance of his career to play in the postseason in 1979. For the AL pennant-winners, he played in just 68 games with 153 at-bats, only 10 of which came against lefties. In this limited duty, though, he hit nine homers – his slugging percentage of .536 was a career high. Two of those homers were especially timely and memorable.
May 23: At Memorial Stadium, pinch-hitting for Rick Dempsey in the bottom of the 10th inning, Kelly hit a game-ending three-run homer against Bob Stanley to beat the Boston Red Sox 5-2. The religious man had a reputation for delivering big hits on Sundays, but this was a Wednesday night affair. “It’s funny,” Kelly told reporters the next day. “But Wednesday was the first day we had a meeting for Bible study, so though it was not Sunday, it was the same.”23
July 23: Again at Memorial Stadium, the Orioles trailed Oakland 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth. Kelly, pinch-hitting for Rich Dauer with two down and the bases loaded, smashed a 3-1 pitch from Dave Heaverlo deep to right-centerfield for a grand slam. His teammates mobbed Kelly at home plate, and he had to make two curtain calls before the deafening crowd noise subsided enough for play to continue.24 The Orioles beat the A’s 7-4.
In the AL Championship Series against California, Kelly played in three games, going 4 for 11. His big blow was a three-run homer off John Montague in the seventh inning of Game Four, while serving as the DH. It capped the scoring in Baltimore’s 8-0 victory, and the Orioles advanced to the World Series. He appeared in five games in the Fall Classic, all as a pinch-hitter, going 1 for 4 with a walk.
Kelly’s final season with Baltimore was 1980. He got into 89 games with 200 at-bats – all but five against righties. He hit .260-3-26. That October, the Orioles granted Kelly free agency, and in late December he signed with the Cleveland Indians. That prompted Earl Weaver to send a letter in which he showed respect for Kelly’s spiritual devotion. Pat didn’t reveal the contents of the letter, but said that reading it “brings tears to my eyes. It showed a side of Earl Weaver that not many people know about.”25
Kelly’s year with the Indians, 1981, was his last in the majors. He appeared in 48 games during the strike-interrupted season. He hit just .213-1-16 in 75 at-bats. That brought his lifetime totals to .264-76-418; also noteworthy were his 250 stolen bases. His most notable success against any single pitcher came with Dave Rozema. In eight at-bats against the Detroit righty, he had six hits – four of which were homers.
After retiring from baseball, Kelly dedicated his life to preaching the word of the Lord. He became a licensed minister in 1986 with the Evangelical Baptist Church in Baltimore. He also became executive director of Christian Family Outreach, a nonprofit Cleveland ministry that assisted needy inner-city young people. The ministry had been founded by his father-in-law, the Reverend Howard R. Jones.
Kelly met the Reverend Jones courtesy of another deeply religious ballplayer, André Thornton, then with the Cleveland Indians. In October 1977, Thornton had lost his wife and daughter in a car accident (he and son André Jr. survived). The reverend provided Thornton with spiritual support, and André also found happiness again with one of the preacher’s daughters, Gail Jones. Thornton later introduced Gail’s sister Phyllis to Kelly, who had been hoping to meet a nice Christian woman.26 Pat and Phyllis were married on February 10, 1979 – the Reverend Jones performed the ceremony, and Orioles teammate Lee May was an usher.27 The couple had one child, a daughter named April Marie.
Kelly commuted between his home in Timonium, Maryland, and Cleveland. His ministry also took him to many foreign countries. In his leisure time, he enjoyed fishing and playing basketball with friends. He summed his work up simply: “I go and I proclaim the Gospel. I see people saved.”28
On October 2, 2005, Pat Kelly had preached in the Methodist Church of Amberson, Pennsylvania. He was on his way to visit some friends when a fatal heart attack struck him. He died in a hospital at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, but was buried at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.
After Kelly’s death, a fitting tribute to him came from Joe Ehrmann, a former defensive lineman with the Baltimore Colts who became pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Baltimore. “Pat was such an asset to the community. He was the embodiment of his religious beliefs. . . He transcended race, class, sports, and was just a fabulous lover of people, a good husband, and father. He was a charismatic preacher whose message came from his own life, and he wanted people to know that he walked with God.”29
Very special thanks to Rory Costello for his support in polishing this biography.
Frederick N. Rasmussen, “Pat Kelly, 61, outfielder for Orioles, evangelical minister,” Baltimore Sun. October 4, 2005.
William Barry Furlong, “He’s Out to Make a Name for Himself,” Sports Illustrated, May 21, 1973.
Arthur Hirsch, “Pat Kelly keeps in step while walking with God,” Baltimore Sun, June 2, 1994.
Various Venezuelan newspapers and magazines: El Nacional, El Universal, Meridiano, Sport Gráfico.
Gutierrez, Daniel, Efraim Alvarez, and Daniel Gutierrez, La Enciclopedia del Béisbol en Venezuela. Tomo II. Caracas, Venezuela: Fondo Editorial Cárdenas Lares, 1997.
http://www.purapelota.com (Venezuelan statistics)
1 This anecdote has been told in many places in various ways. The earliest visible account comes from 1980 (Skip Hollandsworth, “Athletes witness for Jesus but does he help them win?”, Dallas Times Herald, July 13, 1980).
2 Milton H. Jamail, Venezuelan Bust, Baseball Boom: Andres Reiner and Scouting on the New Frontier. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2008, 27.
3 “Argie Watson Kelly, 95,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 27, 2000, B4. Stacey Burling, “Argie Watson Kelly, 95; Active In Church,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 27, 2000.
4 Rick Arndt, Safe at Home, St. Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1980.
5 “‘Leroy’s Little Brother’ Stands Pat,” Newspaper Enterprise Association, April 6, 1975.
6 “Leroy Kelly Gets the Fame He Rightly Deserves,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 1, 1994. “‘Leroy’s Little Brother’ Stands Pat”.
7 Ira Berkow, “Brother Of…”, Newspaper Enterprise Association, March 21, 1969.
8 Lew Ferguson, “Pat Kelly Knows Way Around Bases,” Associated Press, August 27, 1969.
9 Milton Richman, “Kelly attributes success to high school coach”, Boca Raton News, May 24, 1977.
10 Gary Washburn, “Kelly saved by higher calling”, MLB.com, February 22, 2005.
11 Washburn, “Kelly saved by higher calling”
12 Ferguson, “Pat Kelly Knows Way Around Bases”
13 Vito Stellino, “Leroy’s Brother Makes Good as Baseball Player,” United Press International, June 18, 1969.
14 Ferguson, “Pat Kelly Knows Way Around Bases”
15 Joe McGuff, “Kelly’s Knife and Fork Act Gives Plate Heft to Royals,” The Sporting News, March 28, 1970, 14.
16 Edgar Munzel, “Kelly Injects Speed into Sluggish Pale Hose,” The Sporting News, October 31, 1970, 46.
17 Alan Lassila, “Kelly Swings at Bat or on Dance floor,” Sarasota Journal, March 19, 1974, 1-C.
18 William Barry Furlong, “He’s out to make a name for himself”, Sports Illustrated, May 21, 1973.
19 Carol Bowers, “Ex-Oriole stresses values in session with students”, The Baltimore Sun, May 23, 1994.
20 Richard Dozer, “Figures Not Big Enough in White Sox Checkbook,” The Sporting News, December 11, 1976, 47.
21 Bud Lea, “Veeck Deserves Credit,” Milwaukee Sentinel, July 27, 1977, II:4.
22 Frederick N. Rasmussen, “Pat Kelly, 61, outfielder for Orioles, evangelical minister,” Baltimore Sun. October 4, 2005.
23 Baltimore Sun, May 24, 1979.
24 Baltimore Sun, July 24, 1979.
25 Arthur Hirsch, “Pat Kelly keeps in step while walking with God,” Baltimore Sun, June 2, 1994.
26 Wanda Jones, Living in Two Worlds: The Wanda Jones Story, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Books, 1988, 150-152.
27 Joe Potter, “Good Sports,” Virgin Islands Daily News, October 12, 1979, 22.
28 Frederick N. Rasmussen, “Pat Kelly, 61, outfielder for Orioles, evangelical minister,” Baltimore Sun. October 4, 2005.
29 Rasmussen, “Pat Kelly, 61, outfielder for Orioles, evangelical minister”