Kick Kelly

  • Card series: Beginnings: 1880's
  • City: Louisville
  • Team: Colonels
  • League: American Association

John O. Kelly (1856-1926) was known variously as Kick, Honest John and Diamond John. He was a catcher for the Syracuse Stars and Troy Trojans in 1879 before turning to his real calling of refereeing, first in baseball and later in the boxing ring. As an operator of gambling houses in his native New York City, John “officiated” at another kind of gaming later in life.

Kick’s record at bat was a perfect motive to change uniforms. He averaged .155 in his 16 games in the early major leagues. By 1882 Kelly was umpiring in the National League and moved to the American Association the following season. Men in blue fared poorly in the diamond’s dawn. They were vilified and, too often, pelted by players and fans alike. Working alone gave ample opportunity for wily runners to cheat. Kelly lasted longer than most of his era. He and another “Honest John” (Gaffney) presided over the 1887 post-season match between the NL’s Wolverines and AA’s Browns. They pioneered a two-ump system that would transform the game.

  • Kelly turned briefly to managing with the Louisville Colonels in 1887 and had a successful 76-60 season. His club flagged the following year and Kick was canned
  • Refereeing Jim Corbett’s match in 1894 nearly cost Kelly his life. Baseball wasn’t the only hazardous profession for officials. Well-armed fans intimidated Kelly into a no-call

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