King Kelly’s Costume Caper

This article was written by Al Kermisch

This article was published in 1977 Baseball Research Journal

An unusual major league game took place in Chicago on July 11, 1892. That was the year the National League played a split schedule- the only one in major league history. Boston had the first half sewed up and was in Chicago to wind up a series. Cap Anson, boss of the Colts, tried to drum up some extra business by advertising that he would use his three new players-Walter Parrott at third, Jim Connor at second and George Decker in right field.

King Kelly, the Boston captain, decided to have some fun with his old boss. He suggested to the Boston players that they dress up like old men and go out and beat Anson’s Colts. The players took to the idea and Manager Frank Selee agreed to let them have their fun since the game would not alter the standings. The boys went to a local costume man and were outfitted in calico and gingham suits of the loudest colors. Eddie Foy, the famous song-and-dance man, helped the players with their make-up the Boston Globe best described how the players were dressed:

        “Mike Kelly was made up as an English dude. Hugh Duffy wore Red Galway sluggers and a red nose. Tommy McCarthy was made up as the one fireman. Jack Stivetts had a heavy beard, also a red nose.  Kid Nichols wore Danite whiskers. Joe Quinn sported a handsome pair of whiskers, of the reddish hue, a white necktie and blue cap, looking very Fourth of July. Tom Tucker wore a full beard. Herman Long was made up as the three ball merchant Frank Bush. Bobby Lowe wore black whiskers, a red nose and one black eye. Charley Bennett wore gray whiskers.”

When the Boston team arrived on the grounds the crowd, which numbered about 2,000, joined into the spirit of the occasion and some fans laughed themselves sick. All the players except pitcher Nichols and catcher Bennett played in their grotesque make-up. Surprisingly, the game turned out to be a nip-and-tuck affair. The make-shift outfits were no handicap to Kelly’s men and they eked out a 3-2 decision. The game ended in an exciting manner. With Bill Dahlen on third, Jimmy Ryan on second and only one out, Anson came up with a chance to win the game for Chicago. Nichols got one strike over but was then ordered to walk the old warrior. Bennett moved to one side of the plate and Nichols threw a wide one. Anson didn’t want a walk and threw his bat at the ball, making it two strikes. This changed the strategy and Nichols decided to try for a strikeout. He smoked one in but Anson met it squarely and the resulting line drive looked like it might break up the ball game. But second baseman Quinn, with whiskers still intact, made a leaping catch and beat Ryan to second base for a game-ending double play.