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Al Kellett

Al Kellett

Position(s):
P
Born:
October 30, 1901
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 3"
Weight:
200 lbs
Major League Debut:
7-01-1923 with PHA

by Bill Nowlin Big Al Kellett’s time in the big leagues was brief. He appeared in five games for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1923 and just one with the Red Sox in 1924. A 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-handed pitcher, he faced 51 batters in big-league games but never faced even one in the minors. There is not a trace of him in minor-league databases.

Baseball databases show him as born in Red Bank, New Jersey, on October 30, 1901. It’s the only connection with New Jersey we find. His parents William (a moulder in an iron factory) and Sarah (known as Sadie) were both immigrants from England, though his mother might have come from Scotland. Census record-keeping is less than ideal. The 1910 census says that Sarah was born in New York, but we place more reliance on the 1920 census, when Al was serving in the Navy aboard the USS Breckenridge. That’s when he declared his mother as having Scottish birth. The 1930 census says she was born in England.  The birthplace of Alfred (our man) is also murky.  The 1910 census shows that he was living in Brooklyn with the family, including siblings Herbert and Harriett. The 1930 census adds a younger sibling, Elsie, and says that Alfred was born in New York, and not New Jersey. There is a New York City birth certificate #42025 which has Alfred Kellett born on October 30, 1901 in the borough of Manhattan.

Wherever he was born, he spent much of his life living in New York City.  He spent eight years at P.S. 53 in The Bronx, and then graduated from Morris High School, in The Bronx. He attended Columbia University for one year, but left to join the US Navy in May 1919. He served a little more than three years, from May 24, 1919 to September 30, 1922. By the following June, he was pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics.

He’d played some semipro ball but was otherwise cast right into major-league competition with the Athletics on June 29, 1923. The Yankees held a 6-2 lead after five, but Philadelphia closed the gap considerably with three runs in the top of the sixth. Starter Rube Walberg couldn’t steady even then, and yielded two more in the bottom of the inning. Athletics manager Connie Mack had seen enough. Walberg had given up eight hits and five walks.

Kellett came in and pitched the seventh and the eighth. Though there was just a three-run difference in the game, the New York Times reporter thought Mack had practically thrown in the towel: “When the Rube was thoroughly subdued the ankular [sic] Mack stuck in one Francis [sic] Kellett, a new pitcher from the semipro ranks, to finish the game, and that was accepted by all parties as a virtual admission that the rest of the contest was only a practice romp.”[1] It didn’t turn out that way. The Yankees got a run off Kellett in the seventh, but the Athletics scored once in the eighth when Riconda tripled and Kellett singled him in. And they scored three times to tie the game, 9-9, in the top of the ninth. The game was suddenly Kellett’s to win or lose. He walked the first batter up in the bottom of the ninth, second baseman Aaron Ward, on four straight pitches. The first three pitches he threw to pinch-hitter Elmer Smith were balls, too. Mack pulled Kellett in favor of Eddie Rommel, who threw a strike and then seemed to get Smith on an easy grounder to the first baseman, hit with time to spare for a force play at second – but the ball sailed into center field and there were runners on second and third with nobody out. After an intentional walk, there was a hit past a drawn-in infield and the run scored and Kellett got the “L”.

Every one of Kellett’s five appearances for the Athletics came on the road. The second was in Boston on July 5. The Red Sox had a 5-2 lead; Big Al threw three innings, giving up one hit and one base on balls, and no runs while facing 11 men. Two days later, in the first of two in Detroit, he took over for Walberg and threw three more innings, this time surrendering three hits and three walks, and two runs (one earned) in a 9-7 loss assigned to Walberg. On July 11, he pitched the eighth in Cleveland, facing just three batters (one hit, no runs). The very next day, Kellett came into a game Philadelphia was losing, 6-0. He threw the final inning, but didn’t escape unscathed. He faced 10 men, walked two of them and gave up hits to five. And five runs scored before he finally closed it out.  For the season, Kellett finished 0-1 with a 6.30 ERA.

In 1924, he surfaced with the Boston Red Sox. He appeared just once – against his former team at Boston’s Fenway Park on August 30, in the first game of a doubleheader. The Athletics took both games, so Kellett never directly appeared in a game his team won. Clarence Winters started for the Red Sox, but by the time manager Lee Fohl called on Kellett, the score was 13-7, Athletics. It was 18-7 by the end of the game. Kellett, billed in the Boston Globe as “the giant from Anaconda, Mont.” had what the paper called “a bad case of stage fright.”[2]

Reminiscent of his first start for Philadelphia, he started the top of the ninth and threw eight consecutive balls.  That was enough for Fohl. Both runners scored, as did three more off Buster Ross, who succeeded Kellett. It was his one and only appearance for the Red Sox, and his last in organized baseball. One might fairly say he struggled with his control. The Red Sox purchased right-hander Ted Wingfield that very same day from Chattanooga. They no longer needed Kellett. As we have seen, Big Al went on to play professional ball on the basketball court.

After the 1923 season, Kellett’s contract was purchased by the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. The Sporting News commented, “Kellett is just a prospect, but will be given a thorough tryout next spring.”[3] The Beavers had been a seventh-place team going through four managers in 1922, but stabilized and improved under manager Jimmy Middleton in 1923, climbing to third place, with a winning record, and drawing better crowds.

Portland reinstated player/manager Duke Kenworthy in 1924, and slipped back to seventh place.

Kellett turned out to have a better career path in basketball, yet it’s one he came to through baseball, and noted baseball comedian Al Schacht. Nick Altrock and Schacht put together Eddie Holly’s Majors, a clowning but “crack” basketball team made up of professional baseball players. They were the two stars, but others on the team included Snooks Dowd, Nat Hickey, Admiral Martin, Harry Moger, Dewey Steffen, and Kellett.  The team did stunts combining elements of the two sports before games and during intermission. Schacht brought in much more money through his comedic work than he ever had as a major-league ballplayer and coach. When Kellett’s widow was asked what Al’s occupation had been after baseball, she wrote “basketball, and then Merchant Marine.”[4]  

A Boston Globe notice in late 1925 mentioned the Fernwoods basketball team, which planned to play in Massachusetts and Rhode Island in January 1926. The Fernwoods were being booked by a Henry Schmidt in New York City, and would feature the services of “Al Kellett, formerly of Connie Mack’s staff. He will play in the pivotal position [center].”[5]

In 1927, Kellett played in the American Professional Basketball League for the Philadelphia Warriors, joining the team from Youngstown where he had led the Central League in scoring for the first half of the 1926-27 season. The Washington Post said, “In Kellett, the Philadelphia owner has apparently found someone to strengthen his club. The former Youngstown star supplied the winning punch in the Quaker’s triumph over Baltimore last Wednesday night. He is an all-round handy man, too, being capable of doing a nice job at any position on the court.” [6] A year later, he’s found among the top ten scorers in the league.

In October 1928, Kellett played for the Brooklyn Dodgers basketball team offering what the New York Amsterdam News called “the coolest brand of basketball we have seen in many a day.[7]  He signed on with Trenton, and in February 1929 was traded to the Chicago Bruins.[8] This was a man making more of a mark on the court than he’d ever made on a baseball diamond. Kellett refused to report at first, but was in the lineup a week later. He’d been fourth in the league in scoring, leading all centers in the first half of the season.

Opening the 1929-20 season, the Chicago Tribune continued to rate him highly, saying of the Bruins, “This quintet has title possibilities which depend largely on Kellett’s work.” [9] Another of the quintet was Nat Hickey, one of the baseball men who had worked for Al Schacht. Hickey played minor-league baseball for 15 seasons between 1922 and 1938, and even longer as a professional basketball player.

By October 1930, Kellett was with the Brooklyn pros, the Visitation Triangles. We find mentions of him playing with the New York Jewels in October 1934, signing with the Boston Trojans that same month and playing for them, and later appearing with the American Professional League All-Stars in a January 1935 game against the “world’s Negro champions” Renaissance Five that March, Kellett’s performance rated tops for the All-Stars.[10] As late as December 1938, the 37-year-old Kellett was playing center for the Troy Haymakers.

According to Helen Kellett’s completion of the player questionnaire for the Baseball Hall of Fame, after basketball, Al Kellett went back to sea, joining the Merchant Marine. The couple had married on February 7, 1931.

Al Kellett died at age 58 in New York City of a skull fracture and laceration of the brain, which appeared to have followed an intracerebral hemorrhage on July 14, 1960.


Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Kellett’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. This biography can also be found on SABR Bioproject.





[1] New York Times, June 30, 1923
[2] Boston Globe, August 31, 1924. Our surmise is that Kellett had been playing semipro ball in Montana during the earlier part of the 1924 season.
[3] The Sporting News, October 4, 1923
[4] Kellett Hall of Fame player questionnaire
[5] Boston Globe, December 14, 1925
[6] Washington Post, February 25, 1927
[7] New York Amsterdam News, October 21, 1928
[8] Chicago Tribune, February 10, 1929
[9] Chicago Tribune, November 26, 1929.
[10] Boston Globe, March 26, 1935. The reference to the Renaissance Five comes from the February 26, 1934 Globe.

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