Year Inducted: 1971 (Veterans Committee)
Baltimore has a rich history of baseball. The original Orioles (a National League team that got contracted before the turn of the century) were probably the best team in their league and featured many future Hall of Famers; including John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Dan Brouthers and today’s entry Joe Kelley.
Kelley, like the similarly named King Kelly, was a colorful and popular player in baseball’s infancy. Joe Kelley’s good looks brought a lot of female fans to the park who sat in left field to watch him play. Eventually, it became to be known as Kelleyville, like Mannywood in LA, but not a place that nearly instantly became a huge headache and sighs of regret.
Anyways, let’s look at Joe Kelley’s career. In his 17 seasons, he hit a prolific .317/.402/.451 for a wRC+ of 130. He crushed 65 home runs to go along with over 350 doubles and nearly 200 triples. He was able to drive in nearly 1200 runs and scored over 1400. He was also a prolific base runner, stealing 438 bases and being worth 16 runs on the bases. He was a highly gifted offensive player, despite only leading the league once in any important stat (stolen bases in 1896).
Defensively, he was well regarded. His teammate and friend John McGraw compared him in the field to Tris Speaker. This comparison was not fair to either one. Speaker played a tremendous center field and is probably the third best defender there of all-time (Willie Mays and possibly Andruw Jones are really the only ones that can compare). Kelley was a decent fielder, but played in left field where, especially in the Dead Ball Era, defense wasn’t particularly difficult nor valuable (compared to other positions).
Kelley was obviously a great player in his time. So, why isn’t he ranked higher? Unfortunately, he only ranked 32nd all-time in wRC+ upon his retirement. He also ranked 31st in home runs (Honus Wagner was tied with him and was about to blow by him), 12th in RBI, 18th in fWAR and 22nd in steals. There were a lot of players at the same time as him that were better all around players, and many more soon on the way. He’s a fine choice for the Hall of Fame, definitely a lower tier inductee, and probably one of the better choices for induction by the 1970s version of the Veterans Committee.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 8/19/16
This Hall of Famer was known as the best third baseman of the infant game, and is historically regarded as the player who revolutionized the position.