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Ed Delahanty

Ed Delahanty

Position(s):
2B, OF, SS, 1B, 3B
Nicknames:
Big Ed
Born:
October 30, 1867
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 1"
Weight:
170 lbs
Major League Debut:
5-22-1888 with PHI
Hall of Fame:
1945

The greatest natural hitter of his time, Ed Delahanty is considered by many baseball historians to be the greatest righthanded batter to play in the major leagues prior to Rogers Hornsby.  An extraordinary batsman who surpassed the .400-mark three times during his career, Delahanty posted the fifth highest lifetime batting average in history, a mark of .346 that places him behind only Ty Cobb (.367), Hornsby (.358), Shoeless Joe Jackson (.356), and Lefty O'Doul (.349) in the all-time rankings.  Blessed with outstanding power as well, Delahanty once hit four home runs in a game, and he is the only player in baseball history with a four-homer game to his credit to also have a game in which he hit four doubles.  Delahanty also remains the only player to win a batting title in both major leagues.  The outfielder's tremendous on-field accomplishments earned him fame and glory during his playing days.  Yet, more than 100 years after his passing, he continues to be remembered largely for the unusual circumstances surrounding his death.   

Biography:

Born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 30, 1867, Edward James Delahanty was part of the largest group of siblings ever to play in the major leagues.  His brothers Frank, Jim, Joe, and Tom all spent at least three seasons in the majors, with Jim having a 13-year career.  Ed, who eventually became the most prominent member of the family, attended Cleveland's Central High School, before going on to college at St. Joseph's.  He left school early, though, to pursue a career in baseball, getting his start as a professional with Mansfield of the Ohio State League in 1887.  Delahanty also played minor league ball in Wheeling, West Virginia, before being signed by the Philadelphia Phillies as a replacement at second base for Charlie Ferguson, who died early in 1888 from typhoid fever.     

Delahanty's major league career began inauspiciously, with the young second baseman batting just .228 in almost 300 at-bats, while committing 44 errors in his 56 games at second.  Delahanty split his time between the outfield and second base in 1889, compiling a more representative .293 batting average in the 56 games in which he appeared.  After jumping to Cleveland of the Players League in 1890, Delahanty returned to Philadelphia a year later when the rival league folded.  He batted only .243 for the Phillies in 1891, but he drove in 86 runs and scored 92 others after being shifted to the outfield prior to the start of the season.  Delahanty finally began to blossom the following year, batting .306, driving in 91 runs, and leading the National League with 21 triples and a .495 slugging percentage.

Batting averages soared throughout all of baseball after various rules changes were implemented in 1893, including moving back the pitcher's mound to 60-feet, 6 inches.  However, no one in the National League was more effective than Delahanty, who finished among the league leaders with 18 triples, 219 hits, 145 runs scored, and a .368 batting average, while topping the circuit with 19 home runs, 146 runs batted in, 347 total bases, and a .583 slugging percentage.  The Philadelphia leftfielder's .368 batting average placed him third in the league, behind only outfield mates Billy Hamilton and Sam Thompson, who prevented their teammate from winning the triple crown by posting marks of .380 and .370, respectively. 

All three Philadelphia outfielders surpassed the .400-mark the following season,  becoming in the process the only all-.400-hitting outfield in baseball history.  Yet, amazingly, none of the three men won the batting title, with Boston's Hugh Duffy capturing the honor by hitting an all-time record .440.  Delahanty finished fourth in the league with a mark of .404.  He also placed among the league leaders with 133 runs batted in, 148 runs scored, 19 triples, 200 hits, and a .584 slugging percentage.  

Delahanty continued to terrorize National League pitchers in his seven remaining years with the Phillies, never batting below .323 and topping the .400-mark two more times.  He was most effective in 1895, 1896, and 1899.  Delahanty batted .404 in the first of those campaigns, knocked in 106 runs, scored 149 others, stole 46 bases, compiled a .617 slugging percentage, and led the league with 49 doubles and a .500 on-base percentage.  He followed that up by batting .397 in 1896, scoring 131 runs, and topping the circuit with 13 home runs, 126 runs batted in, 44 doubles, and a .631 slugging percentage.  On July 13 of that year, Delahanty became only the second player to hit four home runs in one game (Bobby Lowe was the first in 1894), and the only player ever to do so with four inside-the-park homers.  Delahanty won his first batting title three years later, posting a mark of .410 and also leading the league with 137 runs batted in, 238 hits, 55 doubles, 338 total bases, and a .582 slugging percentage.  His .410 batting average made him the first major league player to top the .400-mark three times – a feat that was later matched by Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.

Delahanty spent two more years in Philadelphia before jumping to the Washington Senators of the rival American League in 1902. In addition to leading his new league in both on-base and slugging percentage, Delahanty topped the A.L. with a .376 batting average in 1902, making him the only player in baseball history to win a batting title in each league.  Delahanty appeared in just 42 games for the Senators the following year before his life came to a sudden and mysterious end.  

Mysterious Death:

Although conflicting stories have been passed down through the years as to the exact circumstances surrounding Delahanty's death, certain facts have surfaced repeatedly.  The outfielder grew increasingly distraught during the latter stages of his career due to marital problems and monetary disputes with baseball.  The National League passed a ruling in 1893 limiting salaries to a maximum of $2,400 a year.  However, after the newly-formed American League began competing against the senior circuit for players, Connie Mack of the Philadelphia A's offered Delahanty $4,000 in 1901.  The Phillies subsequently breached their league's rule by matching that offer.  Delahanty chose to remain with the Phillies, but he elected to jump to Washington the following year.  At the conclusion of the 1902 campaign, John McGraw of the New York Giants persuaded the star to return to the National League by offering him a $4,500 cash payment in advance.  However, before the 1903 season began, the two warring leagues made peace, and, under the terms of the agreement, Delahanty was ordered to remain with Washington and refund the $4,500.

Feeling he had been double-crossed, Delahanty swore he wouldn't play for the Senators.  Although he eventually rejoined Washington, Delahanty drank heavily and was suspended.  He continued to travel with the team, but, while in Detroit early in July, he decided to go to New York City to see his estranged wife.  He took a train that passed through Canada on its way to New York, did some heavy drinking along the way, and became loud and belligerent.  The train's conductor later claimed he was forced to kick Delahanty off the train after the latter brandished a straight razor and threatened several passengers.  After being evicted at Fort Erie, on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, an angry, frustrated, and drunken Delahanty watched helplessly as the train crossed the International Bridge and disappeared into the night. He began to run after it.  One story then has Delahanty jumping off the bridge to his death.  Another account suggests that a guard with a lantern tried to stop him as he futilely pursued the train. Delahanty, though, shoved his way past the guard, lost his balance, and fell into the turbulent river.  He was swept downstream and over Niagara Falls to his death.  Under either scenario, Delahanty's mangled body was found a week later.

Greatness as Hitter:

The mystery surrounding Delahanty's death has somewhat obscured his greatness as a hitter through the years.  However, after closely examining his offensive accomplishments, one must conclude that Delahanty was a magnificent batsman – perhaps the finest of his era.  He led the National League in almost every major offensive category at least once during the last decade of the 19th century.  In addition to winning two batting titles, Delahanty led his league in home runs and on-base percentage two times each, runs batted in three times, slugging percentage and doubles five times each, and hits and triples once each.  He even topped the circuit in stolen bases once.   Delahanty knocked in more than 100 runs and batted over .360 seven times each, scored more than 100 runs and finished in double-digits in triples ten times each, finished with more than 200 hits on four separate occasions, and totaled more than 40 doubles five times.

While it is true that Delahanty, along with the other hitters of his era, benefited greatly from the rules changes that were implemented during the 1890s, he stood out as the finest all-around hitter of the decade.  In fact, even after 1900, when the size of the strike zone was increased and pitching once again began to dominate the game, Delahanty remained an exceptional hitter, posting averages of .354 in 1901 and .376 in 1902.

Crazy Schmit, who pitched for the Giants and Orioles, said of Delahanty, "When you pitch to Delahanty, you just want to shut your eyes, say a prayer  and chuck the ball.  The Lord only knows what'll happen after that."

Tommy Leach, an infielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates, suggested, "He was everybody's hero.  It got so that's all Dad could talk about – Ed Delahanty, Ed Delahanty, Ed Delahanty.  That's all we heard."

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Tagged:
Baseball History, Ed Delahanty, Ohio State League, Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Quakers, Washington Senators

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