Thursday, April 22, 2010
George "Highpockets" Kelly was born in 1895 in San Francisco, California. A survivor of the 1906 Earthquake, Kelly was a big fan of the Bay City's PCL club, the Seals. This was an inspiration as he played baseball frequently in his childhood. As a 6'4 teenager, Kelly quickly moved ahead of his classmates, and his natural hitting ability caught the attention of semi-pro clubs around Frisco and Oakland. Fresh out of high school, Kelly signed with Victoria in the NorthWest League in 1915 and quickly caught the attention of John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants. The Giants bought his contract and he was called up to the Giants for a look in late 1915.
After poor performances in limited action for the Giants in 1915 and 1916, Kelly was waived by the Giants shortly into the 1917 season. He was picked up by the Pirates, but faired no better and was let go. McGraw decided to give Kelly another chance, and signed him and sent him to Rochester for the remainder of the 1917 season. Kelly was called on to fight in World War One, and missed the 1918 season. Upom his return to Rochester in 1919, Kelly made the most of his time there and tore up the International League, hitting .356 and 15 home runs. He was poised to return to the National League, but it took a dirty player for him to get his chance.
Hal Chase was the full-time first sacker for the Giants in 1919, and was regarded at the time as the best defensive first baseman the game had ever seen. Chase was no slack at the plate. However, his skill on the field was no match for his lack of moral fiber. Rumors had been floating for years that Chase's ability was "for sale" and was willing to make some side money by throwing games. Rumors had been flying about Chase's corruption as early as 1910. By 1919, the stink surrounding Prince Hal had grown strong, and McGraw called up Kelly to be groomed as Chase's replacement. Kelly responded by hitting .290 in 32 games. After the season, the National League President received an envelope from an anonymous contact, showing a payment from a gambler to Chase to throw a baseball game in 1918. The Giants terminated Chase's contract, and Chase never played in the Major Leagues again.
Kelly became the Giants full-time first baseman in 1920, and lead the league in RBI. He followed that up with a home-run title in 1921, helping the Giants to their first of 4 straight pennants. For the next six seasons, Kelly was the best first baseman in the National League, and one of the game's premier sluggers.
After the 1926 season, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Edd Roush. Although his power numbers were off, mostly due to the change of parks, Kelly still batted around .300 over the next four years, splitting 1930 with the Reds, Cubs, and Minneapolis in the International League. He spent 1931 in the minor leagues, before returning to the National League in 1932, this time with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was released by the Dodgers following the close of the season, and Kelly headed back west. He played sparingly with the Oakland Oaks of the PCL in 1933 before hanging his glove up for good. Kelly finished his 16-year career with a .297 lifetime average and 1020 RBI.
Kelly bounced around the National League for the next 14 years, picking up coaching jobs for old friends, and after that became a scout for the Reds. He lived in retirement in Millbrae, California. Kelly was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, and died in 1984 at the age of 88.
Kelly is often maligned as being one of the worst Hall of Fame selections. Sometimes I think that members of the Veterans Committee thought they were voting for third baseman George Kell (a deserving candidate). He may be one of the weakest selections, but the thing that annoys me most about Kelly being in the Hall of Fame is that he is often posted as the argument for other non-HOF caliber athletes to be inducted (see Hodges, Gil). It is not worth my typing to discuss Kelly's Hall of Fame credentials (or lack thereof). He is in, and he is never getting out. Let's not repeat the mistake by letting in other not-quite-qualified players. Oops. We already did (See Rizzuto, Phil).
The Autograph: Always a great signer. I don't have a lot of Kelly because he died early in my hobby.
Larry French was born in 1907 in Visalia, California. He joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1929, and from there embarked on a long and successful career, becoming one of the the top lefthanded pitchers in the National League in the 1930's.
After a 7-5 record in his rookie season in '29, he became a mainstay in the Pirates rotation, winning 17 and 15 games before attaining two 18-win seasons in 1932 and 1933. After slumping to 12-18 in 1934, he was traded to the Cubs where his career was resurrected. With a pennant-winning team, French went 17-10 with a 2.96 ERA, but lost two games in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. He followed that up with an 18-9 record in 1936 and 16-10 in '37.
After a few more solid seasons for the Cubs, French was traded to the Dodgers near the end of the 1941 season. In 1942, at 34 years of age, French went 15-4 with a 1.83 ERA (7 innings shy of qualifying for the league lead) in time split between the bullpen and the rotation.
Following the 1942 season, French found beginning of a new career and a new calling. Already a member of the Navy Reserve Corps, French joined the Navy full-time and never again appeared on the diamond. He won 197 games in his career, and threw over 3100 innings.
French saw action in the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, and also found himself in the Okinawa invasion the following year in the Pacific. He was released from active duty in late 1945, and contemplated returning to baseball to get those three wins he needed to get 200, but decided against it. He stayed in the Naval Reserve, and in 1951 he was recalled when the Korean War erupted. After the Korean War, he remained stationed in San Diego, and in 1965 was promoted to Commanding Officer. He retired from the Navy in 1969, and lived in San Diego the rest of his life, playing golf and squash, as well as gardening with his wife, Thelma. French died in 1987 at 79 years of age, and is the only man in baseball history to have served ten years in both the military and Major League baseball.
The Autograph: There was a stretch where French stopped responding to autograph requests through the mail, but not when I got this card signed.