Brown: A study of the “Kelly Special” 1887 Boston uniforms

From SABR member Craig Brown at Threads of our Game on February 29, 2016:

These Mike “King” Kelly images are iconic and often published, yet the history of the uniform worn in these photos remains speculation. Kelly was one of early baseball’s best-known players, however he wore a uniform of which we know little of. The uniform was dark in color, with the Boston city name in white lettering across the chest, and a white cap, belt and pant leg seam.

Two overlapping opinions exist today among baseball historians: one, this was not an outfit worn by the Boston team in 1887; and two, this was a new or altered Chicago uniform (Kelly’s old team, 1880-1886) made especially once Kelly signed with Boston. Based on the information collected below, it can be determined this uniform was indeed newly made for Kelly in early 1887 and, for reasons unclear, designed to look like a hybrid between a Chicago and Boston uniform.

Mike “King” Kelly rose to fame in the 1880s with Chicago in the National League. The Hall of Famer was an elite hitter and base runner, and an elite umpire bater and rule bender—undoubtedly, one of the decades most popular players. After the 1886 season Chicago cleaned house. Kelly was sold to Boston on February 14, 1887 for a then-record $10,000 and was subsequently dubbed the “$10,000 Beauty” by the press. With Boston in 1887 he earned a $5,000 salary, in which newspapers exclaimed “for his six months play he gets as much as as any United States senator gets for a year.” $3,000 of that salary was solely “for his photograph,” as a newspaper reported in February 1887, “which the Boston directors feel they cannot do without. The picture will be of the cabinet size, obtainable in galleries for $3 a dozen, but at this time Kelly is very particular as to the albums he adorns.”

Read the full article here:

Originally published: March 2, 2016. Last Updated: March 2, 2016.