Although African American players had a tough going when it came to cracking a major-league roster in the nineteenth century, they were marginally more successful with regard to lower-level teams. According to an article titled Blacks in 19th Century Organized Baseball
by Merl F. Kleinknecht, which can be found online at the SABR Research Journal Archives, at least fifty-five African American players have been identified by name as having played professional baseball at some level during the 1800s. One of those was R. A. Kelley, who played with Danville in the Illinois-Indiana League in 1889 and with Jamestown of the New York-Penn League in 1890 and 1891. Kelley's involvement with Danville is confirmed by the discovery of this exceedingly rare team cabinet card capturing thirteen members of the 1889 Danville Browns, champions of the Illinois-Indiana League. Each member is shown in uniform, with the exception of team manager H. T. Smith, who is pictured in the center. Kelley is pictured in the upper right corner and, like all of the players, is identified in print below his image (last name only; a few with first initial as well) . Although all of the lettering on the photo is faint, most can be discerned under under magnification. In addition to Kelley, other team members included here are J. Fogarty, L. Welch, Gray, Elliott, Mills, and Tully. The lettering along the base of the photo reads in part "Souvenir/Champions of I. I. League." The photographer's credit appears along he base of the mount: "Compliments of Watson, Danville, Ills. Copyrighted August 21, 1889." Further advertising for Watson's photography studio appears on the reverse. Also on the reverse are handwritten identifications, in blue ink, of all of the players pictured on the front, as well as the notation "Danville Team/1889/Champions." As one might expect, records from this era are practically non existent, so we have no way of knowing the extent of Kelley's accomplishments for Danville that year. However, the fact that he was on the team at all, given the overwhelming prejudice of the times, indicates that his play had to be of the highest caliber for him to even be considered for a roster spot. To the best of our knowledge, this is the only known photographic image of Kelley, as well as the 1889 Danville club, making it a rare and historically significant artifact relating to early integration in professional baseball. The cabinet card (4.25 x 6.5 inches) has been encapsulated and graded POOR 10 by SGC due to a corner chip in the upper left, a number of large vertical creases/tears running halfway up the card from the bottom border, and the writing on the reverse, the card presents. Despite the flaws, the card presents at a level higher than that suggested by its technically accurate grade. Reserve $300. Estimate (open).
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