The Year Of The Card–Pat Kelly, 1970

I’m certainly guilty of it myself, but I feel like when Royals fans discuss the many trades the team made in the franchise’s early days, we tend to focus on the shrewd ones that helped build the 1976-1980 powerhouse. But, of course, not every trade the Royals made back then turned out to be a good one. At least in the case of Pat Kelly, we can credit the team with a good move in the expansion draft, even if they didn’t take full advantage of having a talented player.

Harold Patrick Kelly was born on July 30, 1944, in Philadelphia. Kelly’s parents had moved north from South Carolina years earlier when his father got a job with a steel company. Pat was the youngest of nine children, although two of them died from rheumatic fever before he was born. The Kellys were a deeply religious family, attending Sunday school at a Baptist church every week. They were also an athletic family, or at least the boys were–all four played baseball, basketball, and football in high school. Pat’s older brother, Leroy, would go on to play running back in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns, ultimately being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

But Kelly was no slouch himself, as he was named the city’s best high school athlete during his senior year at Simon Gratz High School, where he was a quarterback during football season and a pitcher during baseball season. In the pre-draft era, Kelly was signed by the Twins as an amateur free agent after his high school graduation.

Kelly’s first experience with professional baseball was not necessarily a happy one. After starting the 1963 season at Class A Erie (Pennsylvania), the Twins moved Kelly to another Class A team in Orlando. For the first time in his life, Kelly had to deal with life in the segregated South. It must have affected him somewhat, as his numbers dipped from .283/.375/.405 in Erie to .242/.391/.318 in Orlando. Despite attending Roy Campanella’s high school, Kelly’s favorite player was Jackie Robinson. Kelly would later credit Robinson’s example with helping him survive the tough times.

It was back to Class A again in 1964 for Kelly, this time at Wisconsin Rapids, where he hit a staggering .357/.458/.574. But that wasn’t good enough to earn a promotion, and Kelly spent 1965 at Class A. This time, he hit .283/.422/.377 at Wilson (South Carolina). And in 1965, it looked like he might be sent back to Class A again. But Kelly threatened to pack up and leave camp if he did not get a promotion to Class AA. Incredibly, it worked. Kelly proved his point with a .321/.430/.434 season for Charlotte in 1966. A six-month stint in the Army curtailed his 1967 season, but he still hit .286/.354/.314 in 65 games for Class AAA Denver, then got his first taste of the majors with a September callup, although he only got one at-bat. Kelly returned to Denver for the 1968 season, hit .306/.395/.403 in 108 games, and again got a September callup to Minnesota.

But Kelly faced an uphill battle in sticking in the majors. The Twins, despite a disappointing 1968 season, were a very good team with an established lineup (they would win the first two AL West titles, in 1969 and 1970). They left Kelly unprotected in the expansion draft, and the Royals selected him with the 34th pick. The outfielder was actually in Venezuela, preparing for winter ball, when he received the news. His .342 average there made him the favorite for a starting job in 1969. And his first season as a big-league regular was successful, with a .264/.348/.388 line in 112 games, with 40 stolen bases thrown in and solid defense in right field. Manager Joe Gordon worked with Kelly to shorten his swing, and his average climbed from .221 in mid-May to .295 in mid-July before he slumped late in the season. Still, Kansas City expected Kelly to be a cornerstone of the 1970 team.

Kelly enjoyed a strong spring training, then started the season on fire. He hit .316/.409/.333 for the first month, batting leadoff almost exclusively. He also swiped seven bases. Unfortunately, due to a pitching staff that allowed 102 runs in 19 games, Kansas City finished April with a 7-12 mark. Kelly had his average up to .383 entering the April 28 game against Detroit. But, after Kelly twice missed the cutoff man, manager Charlie Metro pulled him from the game. Metro said Kelly was not in the doghouse, and he continued to put Kelly in the lineup, but the incident seemed to affect the outfielder. Kelly followed that with a 1-22 slump, and his batting continued to slide throughout the summer, even after Metro was fired just 52 games into the season (and his managerial tenure in KC).

With that slump at the start of the month, Kelly hit just .240/.373/.317 for May. As you can see from the on-base percentage, he was still getting on base, as he drew 22 walks. And he did steal 13 bases, so he was able to contribute in that way as well. But Kelly struck out 27 times in 126 plate appearances. While that wouldn’t be out of place in today’s game, that was a lot of punchouts for a leadoff hitter in 1970. The Royals went 12-15 for the month, ending May 13 games out of first place with a 19-27 mark.

June was the nadir for both Kelly and the Royals. While Kelly’s hitting leveled out, with a .265/.327/.490 line, the catch was that he did so in just 55 plate appearances. That’s because he was benched for almost two weeks late in the month, with just some pinch-hitting appearances in that time frame. Joe Keough had been filling in for left fielder Lou Piniella and hitting well, so when Piniella returned, new manager Bob Lemon decided to keep Keough in the lineup instead of Kelly. The change lasted until June 28, when Keough suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle when his spikes caught in the dirt while he slid into home. Meanwhile, the team went 7-19 for the month, ending June with a 26-46 mark that was worse than the 1969 expansion team’s at the same point.

Kelly did not exactly take advantage of his second chance in the lineup, as he hit just .215/.326/.306 in July. He did have some tough luck, though, with just a .258 BABIP. The team’s misery continued as well, with a 12-19 mark that left them 26.5 games out of first.

The slide continued through August, with a miserable .125/.259/.194 mark for Kelly. Not surprisingly, he played his way out of the lineup midway through the month, this time surrendering his spot to George Spriggs. With the team having little to play for over the last six weeks, Kelly played sparingly to give Spriggs a chance. Kelly hit .306/.424/.306 for the month, but in only 59 plate appearances. He finished the season with a .235/.348/.314 line, while the team finished a disappointing 65-97, four games worse than their 1969 record.

Kelly’s subpar numbers essentially made him the odd man out in the Kansas City outfield. With Piniella and Amos Otis on board, the Royals had ⅔ of a really good outfield. Both Kelly and Spriggs had failed to impress, but Kansas City still had Keough, plus Bob Oliver and Ed Kirkpatrick as possibilities. So Kelly was expendable, and the Royals wasted little time dealing him away. On October 13, he was sent to the White Sox with relief pitcher Don O’Riley for first baseman Gail Hopkins and outfield prospect John Matias. Chicago had too many first basemen; the Royals had too many outfielders. 

While the trade made baseball sense, Royals fans were upset. One of them sent a telegram to general manager Cedric Tallis, addressing him as “Mr. Stupid.” While Tallis was far from that, this wound up being a deal he would probably want to forget.

Hopkins did have a solid 1971 season, hitting .278/.364/.431 in 339 plate appearances. But in 1972 and 1973 combined, he would hit just .234/.349/.311 in 249 plate appearances, mainly as a pinch-hitter, before Kansas City released him at the end of spring training in 1974. Matias never played a major-league game for the Royals; after spending 1971 at Omaha, he was sold to the San Diego Padres.

But Kelly would go on to a productive career. In six seasons with the White Sox, he hit .273/.357/.374, throwing in 119 stolen bases. Chicago then made the same mistake the Royals made; they traded him to Baltimore for catcher Dave Duncan following the 1976 season. You might say Chicago’s trade was worse, as they released Duncan the following spring before he ever played a game for them.

Kelly was a solid contributor for four seasons in Baltimore, playing for a team that averaged 97 wins in his four seasons there. He hit .266/.358/.417 for the Orioles, and finally reached the postseason for the first (and only) time when Baltimore won the AL East in 1979. Kelly had four hits in 12 plate appearances in the ALCS, punctuating the Orioles’ win with a three-run home run in the decisive Game Four. He only had five trips to the plate in the World Series loss to Pittsburgh, collecting a single and a walk.

After one final season with Cleveland, Kelly retired from baseball and went into his second career, one that had more value in the grand scheme of things than his baseball career did. See, while he was playing in Chicago, Kelly grew tired of the, uh, libertine lifestyle many professional athletes enjoy. He returned to his Sunday school roots, becoming a born-again Christian. When he became an Oriole, Kelly was instrumental in beginning a team Bible study that many other players credited with making them a closer team (Kelly’s outspoken Christianity also gave us a classic line from manager Earl Weaver. When Kelly suggested his skipper walk with the Lord, Weaver retorted, “I’d rather you walk with the bases loaded.” Still, when Kelly went to Cleveland as a free agent, Weaver wrote him a letter that brought Kelly to tears as he expressed respect for his player’s devotion.)

In 1977, Cleveland’s Andre Thornton lost his wife and daughter in a car accident. Thornton received spiritual counseling and guidance from Rev. Howard R. Jones, and eventually Thornton married one of Jones’ daughters. Thornton eventually introduced Kelly to his sister-in-law, and Kelly married her in 1979. After his playing days, Kelly became executive director of Christian Family Outreach, an inner-city ministry in Cleveland that his father-in-law had founded. Kelly would go on to become a licensed minister, leading a church in Baltimore and also traveling the world on mission trips.

On the morning of Oct. 2, 2005, Kelly preached at a church in Amberson, Pennsylvania. After the service, on his way to visit some friends, he suffered a heart attack and passed away at a hospital in Chambersburg. He was laid to rest near his home in Timonium, Maryland.

Despite his short time as a Royal, he will always have a place in team history as a key part of the 1969 squad. It is a shame the Royals didn’t keep him or receive more in return for him, though.

Pat Kelly’s best games of 1970:
7/3 @ MIL: Went 3-3 with two walks, a home run, a stolen base, two runs scored and three RBI in 4-3 win.
5/17@CHI: Picked up three hits and a walk, with two-run home run, in 8-4 victory.
9/13 vs. OAK: Had three hits and two walks, scoring twice in 8-7 win.
7/10 vs. CHI: Drove in four runs with homer and single in 8-6 triumph.
6/9 vs. WAS: Cracked two doubles and walked once, scoring two runs in 8-1 rout.

About the card:
While I understand Topps not having pictures of players in Royals gear for the 1969 set, it seems a little odd to me they had to airbrush a picture of Kelly for the 1970 card. This was Kelly’s first solo Topps card; he was on a “Rookie Stars” card in 1969. With a Royals hat, although it was probably airbrushed. Just seems weird. Practically every other 1970 Royals card has players in uniform. Kelly did suffer a pulled muscle during spring training in 1969, so perhaps he was in the trainer’s room when the Topps photographer arrived.

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