Michael Joseph Kelley
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 210 lb.
- Debut July 15, 1899
- Final Game October 14, 1899
- Born December 2, 1875 in Templeton, MA USA
- Died June 6, 1955 in Minneapolis, MN USA
Mike Kelley was the regular first baseman for the Louisville Colonels in 1899, but lost his job when the team was contracted after that season.
He is better remembered, however, because he managed in the minors for 30 seasons between 1901-1931, missing only 1914. He spent almost all of them in the American Association, the exceptions being 1901 and 1907 in the Western League and part of 1908 in the International League. He was with the St. Paul Apostles and St. Paul Saints (1902-1905, mid-1908-1912, and 1915-1923), the Indianapolis Indians (1913), and the Minneapolis Millers (1924-1931), where he was also the owner until 1946. Overall, his teams were 2,390-2,102.
After his success managing the Apostles from 1902 to 1904, team owner George Lennon sold the team before the 1905 season to a syndicate which he headed, although the sale was a front, with Lennon still pulling the strings from the behind the scenes. When the team had a poor season that year, Lennon had a falling out with Kelley, and sold him and four other players to the St. Louis Browns of the American League on August 23rd. Kelley refused to report, claiming that he did not have a contract with St. Paul because he was an executive. The sale also meant that his salary went from $4,000 per year as team president and manager to $1,500 as a player, so he was not too pleased. The result of his refusal to report was that the National Commission decided to ban him from playing for any team but St. Louis.
Kelley sued for reinstatement, and in the meantime accepted a job as owner, President and manager of the Minneapolis Millers, St. Paul's main rival, in 1906. This did not sit well with other American Association owners, who refused to acknowledge the move. He pressed on anyway, creating a major crisis with league president Joseph O'Brien and creating a split of league owners in two factions, pro and anti-Kelley. Officially banned, he defied the ruling, first acting as a manager in street clothes (since he argued he was only banned from playing, not from executive duties), and then when the league threatened to forfeit every game he took part in, from a specially built booth behind the Minneapolis dugout, from which he could see the field and relay instructions without actually stepping into the ballpark.
Things got more convoluted when he began a feud with umpire Brick Owens, which led to allegations that Owens had stolen the team's signs in a series against the Louisville Colonels and flashed them to the other team. He then alleged that Owens had bet large sums of money on the Millers to lose games, then had used his on-field influence to ensure this happened. He even produced statements from various gamblers to buttress the allegations. Owens fought back, and his lawyers, led by Henry Killilea, tore holes in the affidavits that Kelley produced. With Kelley a pariah, the league sided with Owens, and the case was eventually dismissed, but not without more drama. Kelley then sued George Lennon for unpaid salary dating back to the end of the 1905 season.
In the meantime, the Millers changed owners twice in a brief span of time, eventually ending up the property of Mike Cantillon, brother of Joe Cantillon. The two were very prominent figures in baseball circles of the time. Mike Cantillon also owned the Des Moines Champs of the Western League and sent Kelley to manage there, in order to avoid the problems in the American Association, all the while trying to get the National Commission to overturn Kelley's ban as a player by arguing that St. Louis had failed to retain him on its reserve list after the 1906 season. Cantillon then negotiated a deal to purchase Kelley's rights from the Browns and to assign him as a player to the Washington Senators, where his brother Joe was manager, but American League president Ban Johnson refused to let him play, so he just sat on the team's bench for a time. The National Commission was split, and contradicted itself in trying to pass the buck to the American Association board of governors, and meanwhile there was no clear ruling on whether Kelley was still banned or not, on whether the ban was just as a player or as a manager or executive as well, or whether it applied just to the American Association or throughout organized baseball.
During that time Kelley's name was linked to various managerial jobs across the minor leagues, and in 1908, his legal status still in limbo, he opened the season as player/manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. He was released as manager on July 20th, and sued the team for unfair dismissal and unpaid wages. That coincided with Thomas Hickey purchasing the St. Paul team from Lennon. There was immediately a clamor among fans to bring back the popular Kelley as manager, which is exactly what happened on August 9th. A petition was sent to the American Association board of governors to formally reinstate Kelley, and this time, everyone being tired of the overly long saga, it was successful. Ban Johnson, as President of the National Commission, then stated that the case was over, going back to the argument that the whole issue had been an internal matter of the American Association all along. Kelley was free to take over the reins of what was then a last-place team. He would continue to manage, mainly in St. Paul and Minneapolis, for over two more decades.
Year-by-Year Managerial Record
- Dennis Pajot: "Michael Kelley's 1906-08 Woes with Organized Baseball", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 44, Number 1 (Spring 2015), pp. 93-117.
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