The Life and 1903 Death of Ed Delahanty

On July 2, 1995, the Cleveland Plain Dealer looked back on the life and death of Ed Delahanty, and along the way told a bit of the story of Cleveland, the city he came from. Here’s the article:

Ninety-two years ago, Cleveland-born Ed Delahanty, playing for the Washington Senators of the American League, plunged to his death from the International Bridge connecting Buffalo, N.Y., and Bridgeburg, Ontario. Swept away in the Niagara River, Delahanty’s body was found one week later after going over Niagara Falls.

The only man to win batting titles in both leagues and one of five brothers to play at the game’s top level was dead at 35. With a lifetime batting average of .345, fourth-highest all-time, Delahanty’s skills were slipping somewhat, but he was still considered “King of the Swatters” when he died.

There used to be a baseball diamond on St. Clair Ave., just down the street from the Delahanty house on Phelps St. (later E. 34th St. between Superior and St. Clair). It was next to a firehouse and firemen took care of the field, which provided the venue for the Delahanty boys to learn the game.

After attending Cleveland Central High School, the first public high school west of the Alleghenies, Delahanty went to St. Joseph’s College on Woodland Ave. Despite protests from his mother, the 6-0, 200-pound Delahanty – nicknamed “Big Ed” – quit school to play ball in a newly formed state league.

“I’m goin’ to quit you and play ball in Mansfield,” Delahanty told his mother in 1887.

“Drat baseball,” was her reply. “It’s ruinin’ the family.”

One year later, Delahanty was playing outfield for the Philadelphia Phillies of the National League. In 1890, Delahanty pulled the “dinky dink” when he “jumped” the Phillies to play for the Cleveland Infants in the new Players League for $3,500, twice what he had been making.

If baseball seems a mess now, the 1890 season was filled with all sorts of team- and league-jumping as the American Association, National League and Players League fought for supremacy.

Del, as he was also known, was back with the Phillies in 1891 after the Players League and American Association folded. He spent 11 seasons with the Phillies, winning the batting crown in 1899 with a .408 average.

Slow horses and tight-fisted owners had left Delahanty desperately seeking the best deal in 1902, and he wound up playing for the Washington Senators of the new American League. He won the batting title with a .376 average and .590 slugging percentage in the AL’s second season.

But there were skeletons in Delahanty’s closet that he could no longer hide. A liking for the ponies and a penchant for getting drunk began to take their toll.

“Next to a base hit,” said a sportswriter of the player’s horse-betting ways, “Dell likes a straight tip, with a big killing as a chaser.” Another called him “the ranking chief” of the “horsey boys.”

Down on his racing luck after the 1902 season, Delahanty never seemed himself in 1903. Rumors had Delahanty secretly agreeing to jump leagues again, this time to join friend John McGraw on his National League’s New York Giants.

On June 25, 1903, the Senators lost to the Cleveland Naps, 4-0, in League Park. Delahanty singled in the fourth inning, the 2,597th and last hit of his career.

Delahanty went on a drinking binge after that, missing the rest of the Cleveland series. His teammates got him to Detroit, where Delahanty composed himself enough to sign the “pledge” in the presence of his mother and a Catholic priest.

Still not fit to play, a despondent Delahanty began drinking again. He had $200 and wore $1,500 in diamonds, or “sparklers,” when he boarded a New York-bound train the afternoon of July 2.

Instead of going home to Washington with his teammates, it is presumed Delahanty was intent on joining McGraw’s Giants to change his fortunes.

Fueled by whiskey, Delahanty began bothering passengers. When he tried to pull a woman out of her sleeping berth by the ankles, he was put off the train near the Canadian border at 10:45 p.m.

A night guard encountered an argumentative Delahanty and later reported seeing a man thrashing in the water. When his body was found, with one leg nearly severed, there was no money or jewelry on him.

The [Delahanty] family wanted $20,000 from the Michigan Central Railway Co. [in the lawsuit they filed over his death]. A Canadian jury in 1904 awarded Delahanty’s widow, Norine, $3,000 and his daughter $2,000.

On Saturday morning, July 11, 1903, services were held for Delahanty in a packed Immaculate Conception Church at E. 45th and Superior Ave. McGraw journeyed here to help bury his friend in Calvary Cemetery.

For what it’s worth, I first heard about the story of Delahanty’s death from Bill James, who summarized it as a drunken ballplayer falling from the Niagara River railroad bridge and dying “of damned foolishness.”

Published in: on December 27, 2011 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

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