Jan 15, 2021

Former New York Giants Four Time Pennant Winning Hall of Famer: High Pockets Kelly (1915-1927)

George Lange Kelly known as High Pockets Kelly was born on September 10, 1895 in San Francisco, California. The six foot four, athlete, was born into a baseball family, his Uncle, Bill Lange, was one of the best all around pro ball players in the 1890's. His brother would play many years of pro ball in the west coast & pitch in one MLB game.

He grew up a fan of the local, San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. He was such a good ball player he dropped out of school to play professionally. He started out in organized ball in 1914.

He was called up to the New York Giants in 1915 at the age of 19.  He played for the Giants for eleven years, with the exception of missing the 1918 season. Kelly’s career didn’t take off until 1920 when he became an everyday player. 

That year he played in ever Giants game & led the N.L. in RBIs (94). He hit .266 with 11 HRs 11 triples & 22 doubles. High Pockets, became Giants manager John McGraw’s main first baseman from 1920 through the 1926 season.

In 1921 he led the league in HRs (23) and drove in 122 runs (2nd in the NL). He would go on to drive in over 100 runs the next four seasons coming in the league’s top four in that category each time. In his career, High Pockets Kelly hit over 40 doubles twice & over 30 doubles six times. Kelly would bat over .300 each year from 1921 through 1926, batting a career high .328 in 1922.

That year he hit 17 HRs with 107 RBIs 33 doubles 12 stolen bases & a .367 on base %. 

Star Defensive First Baseman:
More importantly Kelly was one of the best defensive first baseman in the early part of the 20th century. His positioning & footwork became the standard for first baseman, in handling relay throws from the outfield as well.


The Hall of Famer, Frankie Frisch "the Fordham Flash" claimed Kelly was the best first baseman he had ever seen. Defensively, Kelly led the league in put outs & assists three times, and fielding percentage twice (1926 & 1930). He would be among the top three first baseman in fielding eight times. 

In 1924 he once again led the league in RBIs (124) while batting .324 with 21 HRs (4th in the NL) 37 doubles (3rd in the NL), nine triples & a career high .371 on base % (7th in the NL). That year he set a record (since tied) where he hit seven HRs in six straight games. He came in 6th in the league's MVP voting. 

In 1925 he played at second base when Giants star, Frankie Frisch got injured. During this time his young replacement at first base, Bill Terry entered Giants history. Terry would become a Giants legend & Hall of Famer, as a player & manager. 

That same year,  Kelly came in third in the league's MVP voting with 20 HRs (6th in the NL) 99 RBIs (10th in the NL) & a .309 average. 

World Series: High Pockets Kelly, was part of the New York Giants Dynasty that won four straight pennants & two World Series titles from 1921-1924. 

In those four Series he hit only .248 with one HR two doubles 11 RBIs & five walks.


1921 World Series-The First Subway Series: After going hitless in the first three games of the World Series, he got a hit in game #4, in the first Subway Series.

In Games Five & Six he collected three hits in each game. He drove in the only Giants run in the Game #5 loss. In Game #6, he added the last run of the Giants four run 4th inning rally with a single to right field, scoring Frisch. In the 6th, he drove in another run with a base hit off Bob Shawkey.

In the final World Series Game#8, he reached on an error by the third baseman in the 1st inning. Giants short stop, Dave Bancroft scored on the play. It was the only run of the game, as the Giants won the clincher to earn the Championship title in the first New York subway series. Overall he hit .233 with 4 RBIs.

1922 World Series: In Game #5 of the 1922 World Series, with the Giants down 3-2 in the 8th inning, Kelly hit a two run single, putting the Giants 4-3. The run proved to be the game winner, as the Giants won the World Series in five games, for their second straight Championship over the AL New York club. 

1923 World Series: The Giants lost the 1923 series with Kelly batting .182, driving in a run.


1924 World Series:
In Game #1 of the 1924 Series he led off the game with a HR. He then broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the 2nd inning, with a sac fly which proved to be the winning run. 

Quotes- Manager John McGraw: "Kelly made more key hits for me than any other player." 

That Series he hit .290 with a HR & 4 RBIs.

In 1927 with John McGraw wanting to improve his outfield, High Pockets got traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Edd Roush. Kelly spent four seasons there batting over .290 twice driving in 100 runs for the last time in his career (1929). In 1930 he played with the Chicago Cubs & then after two seasons not playing in the majors he had a brief 64 game stint in Brooklyn with the Dodgers.

After a 16 year career he ended with a .297 batting average, 1778 hits 148 HRs 337 doubles 76
triples 65 stolen bases 1020 RBIs & a .342 on base %. Kelly did make 121 errors at first base (84th all time) but made 14232 put outs (50th all time) with 861 assists (68th all time) posting a .989 fielding %.


Hall of Fame: In 1973 he was finally elected into the baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee, which included his former team mate Frankie Frisch. For years many believed he was one of the worst players elected into Cooperstown, due to his lifetime stats. 

Passing: Kelly passed away in 1984 at Burlingame, California at the age 89.

He is the brother of Ren Kelly who played one game for the 1923 Philadelphia A’s & a distant cousin of former 1973 New York Met Rich Chiles, who played in just 8 Mets games.

2 comments:

texas online defensive driving said...

I’ve read articles about him before too. He serves an inspiration for people like me who wants to pursue the same field too. He reined the field a long time ago, but the continuous praise he still receives today is a living proof of how great a player he is.

Cliff Blau said...

He's also the nephew of the great Cubs center fielder Bill Lange.