My guess is that most Boston fans will not recognize the man pictured above. Just over a century ago, however, there was no more famous face in Beantown: Mike “King” Kelly was the most flamboyant, if not the greatest, baseball player of the 19th century. Kelly first made his name as a member of the Chicago White Stockings—the Yankees of the 1880s—but his off-field shenanigans (drinking, gambling, horses, you name it) wore on that team’s owner, Albert Spalding. The solution: sell him off to the highest bidder, the Red Stockings, for $10,000 in cash. Kelly had his salary bumped from three to five thousand dollars as incentive for him to make the move. It was the most controversial player move in early baseball, and set off a debate about player rights that continues to this day. It also left Kelly with a new nickname: “The Ten Thousand Dollar Beauty.” Subtract the sordid personal details and add a few zeros to the figures, and this story starts to feel awfully familiar. This episode and its repercussions are recounted in full in the acclaimed book Spalding’s World Tour.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.