The Brothers Delahanty

Baseball boasts many brothers: The original Wright brothers, George and Harry, 19th century innovators of the game; the Waner brothers, Paul and Lloyd, both in the Hall of Fame; Paul Dean and his brother Dizzy; Phil and Joe Niekro; Gaylord and Jim Perry. And who could forget the triple set of siblings—Vince DiMaggio and his brothers, Dominic and Joe?

But no set of big-league brothers claimed more than the five Delahantys—Tom, Joe, Frank, Jim, and Ed, whose collective careers bridged the 19th and 20th centuries. They were five of 10 children born to James and Bridget Delahanty, Irish immigrants who came to Canada, then finally settled in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Lesser Delahantys:

TOM played only three years in the bigs (1894-97). A middle-infielder, be batted .239 in his brief career. In 1898-99 he, along with Jim and Joe, played for the Allentown Peanuts in the Atlantic League. He worked as a boilermaker, machinist, and toolmaker in Cleveland after he retired, then spent his final years in Florida running a fishing camp and general store. He died in 1951. He was 78.

JOE, the last to reach the bigs, also played only three years, batting.238 for the St. Louis ballclub. He was well behaved, unlike his brother Frank. After retiring in 1907, he ran a saloon with another brother, Willie, who played baseball in the minor leagues. Joe died from a stroke at 60 in 1936.

FRANK, by all accounts, was a good-looking guy, a mediocre ballplayer, and a scoundrel. A tempestuous player, he once pulled off the mask of an umpire and spat in his face over a disputed call. Later in his six-year career, he again pulled off an arbiter’s mask and punched him in the face. Opposing players were also targets; he attacked one, conking him with a bat. After he retired in 1918 he got a law degree and married a pretty woman and sired three kids. He went into politics and was elected to the Ohio legislature, where he used his position to enrich himself. Soon he was convicted of influence peddling and bribery. He spent a year in prison. When he got out he joined a boot-legging scheme and was caught. His wife divorced him in 1930 and he turned to drink. Reaching 50, he went straight and lived the rest of his life as an exemplary citizen, dying at 83 in 1966, the last Delahanty brother.

The Greater Delahanty:

JIM was a solid ballplayer with a 13-year batting average of .283. He played for eight clubs from 1901 to 1915. After a short stint in the minors, he retired and worked for the Cleveland Street Repair Department as a truck driver. He died in 1953 after a prolonged illness. He was 74.

The Greatest Delahanty:

ED was not only the greatest Delahanty, he was the greatest player of the 19th century, playing from 1888 to 1903, mostly with the Phillies. He was a five-tool guy: he hit for average, hit with power, fielded well, was fast, and possessed a rifle arm. A Hall of Famer with a lifetime batting average of .346, he batted over .400 three times in the 1890s and once led the league in stolen bases and triples.

He was also a troubled man, a drinker. He had threatened to leave the Phillies, and did so in 1902 by jumping to the Senators in the new American League, where he made more money. Then his wife fell ill. He began drinking more and gambling. He went broke. In 1903, he started acting strangely and giving away things to his teammates, including a gold watch. He took out a life insurance policy, naming his daughter as the beneficiary. He increased his drinking and threatened to jump teams again, this time to the New York Giants. The baseball brass denied his attempt.

He played his last game for the Senators when the team was in Cleveland, then accompanied the team to Detroit. On July 2, 1903, he left the team and took a train bound for New York, under the delusion that he could play for the Giants. He left his belongings in his Detroit hotel room. While on the train, he misbehaved and drank heavily. Drunk, he entered an already occupied berth and had to be restrained by three men. He was ordered off the train at the next stop near the Canadian border. In darkness, the train crossed the International Railway Bridge into Buffalo.

Still drunk, Ed left the train and walked back onto the bridge. According to a night watchman, Big Ed was standing alone on the edge, staring down into the water. When the watchman approached, they scuffled and the watchman fell down. Delahanty then ran to the edge and either jumped or fell into the river. Seven days later his naked body was found 20 miles downstream at the base of Horseshoe Falls. Ed Delahanty died at 35. Two of his brothers, Frank and Tom, thought he’d been the victim of foul play, although this was never proved.

Source: Data from SABR Bio Project, available at BaseballReference.com.

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