Roberto Kelly had horrible timing to win championships as a player for one organization. He made up for it with amazing timing to win World Series rings with a different one.
Kelly signed with the Yankees out of Panama when he was 17 years old. He played his first games in the Gulf Coast League in 1982 and did not hit much. The Yankee team was in a state of flux in the 1980’s. They had too many bloated veteran contracts and too few stars brewing in their farm system. And what players they DID develop, they sent packing for more bloated veterans.
Willie McGee, Fred McGriff, Jose Uribe, Doug Drabek and Jose Rijo were just some of the young players they Yankees sent packing.
By 1986, Kelly looked like he might become that rarest of players. He was a prospect in the Yankees system who they appeared to be keeping. He showed that he could hit and steal bases between Double A and Triple A. By 1987, he made his first appearances in the Bronx.
By 1989, he was starting every day, wound up batting .302 with 35 stolen bases and was solid defensively in center field. After the Yankees traded away Rickey Henderson, it was clear that they were handing the outfield over to their young home grown star.
In 1992, he was 27 years old and representing the Yankees in the All Star Game. There wasn’t much to cheer for in the Bronx between 1989 and 1992. But Kelly represented a certain amount of restraint for the Yankees. They didn’t send him packing for a has been. The Yankees didn’t come close to the playoffs in any of those years, but Kelly was not the problem.
The popular Kelly looked to be a big part of a Yankee resurgence, whenever that would be.
After the 1992 season, the Yankees finally traded Kelly. It was a shocking trade, especially since the player they got for him didn’t seem to be a good fit. Reds outfielder Paul O’Neill was not good enough to fill Kelly’s role with the team.
Kelly went to Cincinnati and played a season as “Bobby Kelly.” He had a terrific season with the Reds, being named to the All Star Game. But Paul O’Neill became a fixture in New York and a beloved Yankee. The Yankees soared and by 1995 became October regulars.
Injuries cut Kelly’s wonderful 1993 season short. In the strike shortened 1994 year, he found himself traded to the Braves for Deion Sanders.
1995 was a strange year for Kelly. Before the season began, he was traded from the Braves to the Expos for Marquis Grissom. He was only in Montreal for a month and a half before he was sent packing to the Dodgers.
He batted .278 but his OPS was only .685 with the two teams. The Dodgers managed to win the NL West title and Kelly saw his first action in postseason play. He posted a .354 average for the Dodgers against his former team, the Reds. But LA was swept and Kelly’s season was over.
The season ended with the Braves, the team he started the year with, winning the World Series. Marquis Grissom, the player he was dealt for, caught the final out.
The next year the Braves would lose to the Yankees in the World Series while Kelly toiled in Minnesota.
He played in the post season in 1997, 1998 and 1999 but his teams (the Mariners and Rangers) never made it out of the Division Series.
In 1998 and 1999, he saw his club eliminated by Paul O’Neill and the Yankees.
In 2000 he rejoined the Yankees but he only played in 10 games. The Yankees would win the World Series without him.
After his 14 season career ended, his coaching career began. Kelly worked his way through the San Francisco Giants system. He became the manager for the Augusta GreenJackets before joining Bruce Bochy’s coaching staff. He was a Giants coach for nine seasons, at first base and third base.
While in San Francisco, he was on a staff with former Yankees Dave Righetti and Hensley Meulens. Under Bochy’s watch, the Giants stunned the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS and went on to win the World Series. They would sweep the Tigers in 2012 and go from the road team in the Wild Card all the way to winning the World Series in 2014.
He remained on the San Francisco coaching staff through the 2016 post season, winning three World Series rings along the way.
Roberto Kelly missed out on the great Yankee rebuild. Maybe HE would have been a member of the hallowed “Core” for Joe Torre’s Yankees. Maybe if the Braves didn’t deal him, he would have been part of the 1995 title.
We may never know. But he made up for it with his great timing in the coaches world and San Francisco.
Roberto Kelly got his rings. It may not have been the expected route to take to all of those titles, but in the end it worked out.